WASHINGTON: All eyes will be on US President Joe Biden as he steps up to the lectern on Wednesday night to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress. Many ears will also be cocked to hear the US President essay an address crafted by Vinay Reddy, Biden’s chief speechwriter, whose job it is to translate the President’s ideas into words.
Reddy, a first generation Indian-American, whose official designation is White House Director of Speechwriting, has long been Biden’s man of words, having joined him as a speech writer during the latter’s second term as vice-president in the Obama White House. After a stint as vice president of strategic communications for the National Basketball Association, he is back at the helm of the White House team of wordsmiths, kicking off with Biden’s Inaugural address, praised for its elegance and healing touch after four years of rambling speeches by the previous incumbent.
A man of few (spoken) words, Reddy abjures publicity, declining interviews and making very few public appearances. But he commands enormous respect from the covey of presidential speechwriters.
“You may not know Vinay – he’s not on Twitter (smart!) and doesn’t seek the limelight. But he’s had a hand in nearly every major Biden speech, is a brilliant writer, and is incredibly kind and decent. So happy for him,” Obama’s principal speechwriter Jon Favreau said when Reddy was appointed to head the White House speechwriting team in January. And from Ben Rhodes, another top Obama aide: Biden couldn’t have chosen a better director of speechwriting than Vinay Reddy – a brilliant writer and even better guy who knows his boss, is exceedingly smart about policy and messaging, and is in it for all the right reasons.
Both the policy chops and smart messaging will be on test on Wednesday night in a speech that is expected to herald profound changes in America, bringing about what could arguably be the greatest wealth redistribution in US history packaged as relief. Parent of two small kids, Reddy is well-placed to appreciate one of the central ideas in Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” that focuses on “once in a generation” investment to provide free or subsidised childcare and education to low- and middle-income families.
White House officials said the President has been working on the speech over the last few weeks with senior adviser Mike Donilon and Vinay Reddy involved in “line editing” meetings. “The President will also use the speech as an opportunity to talk about many of his other priorities, including police reform, immigration, gun safety, his ongoing work to get the pandemic under control and to putting Americans back to work,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Tuesday, adding that there would also be a foreign policy section in the address.
Son of immigrants from India, Reddy was raised in Dayton, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree from Miami University and a Juris Doctor from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. His father Narayana Reddy, who hails from Telangana’s Pothireddypeta village in Karimnagar, migrated to the US in 1970 after completing MBBS from Hyderabad. The family retains ties with the village, where Vinay’s grandfather Thirupathi Reddy was the sarpanch.
Contrary to some reports, Reddy is not the first US presidential speechwriter of Indian-origin. That honor belongs to Sarada Peri, who served in Obama’s speech writing team. But Reddy got called out to prominence for his Indian heritage by Biden himself during one of the President’s typical gaffes.
“It’s amazing. Indian-descent Americans are taking over the country — you, my vice president [Kamala Harris], my speechwriter, Vinay [Reddy],” Biden said impromptu, off-the-cuff remarks last month to NASA scientist Swati Mohan, who headed the Mars Rover guidance lead, adding. “I tell you what. But thank you. You guys are incredible.”
Left to Vinay Reddy, he could have expressed it more elegantly.