President Joe Biden addressed a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night to give the annual State of the Union address. The national atmosphere in the lead up to the speech was one filled with difficulty for the president, as war in Ukraine, high energy prices, and increasing frustration with pandemic policies face the United States.
In the lead up to the speech, speculation swirled as to what would be Biden's focus, but the one thing that pervaded the anticipation across partisan lines was a sense of uncertainty as to what the future holds, and how Biden will manage at the helm when his leadership has shown so much weakness.
The cheers and hollers were uproarious from the Democrat side of aisle. Biden spoke of his intentions toward unity, and the "unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny."
Biden said that Putin "sought to shake the very foundations of the free world," but that Putin had "badly miscalculated," and that he was "met with a wall of strength he could never have anticipated or imagined," and that this was "the Ukrainian people." Biden said the Ukrainian efforts to prevent Russia from taking over their nation "inspired the world." He quoted Ukrainian President Zelensky, who said "light will win over darkness" in a speech to the European Parliament.
"We the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people," he said, praising the NATO alliance and their efforts against dictators. Biden spoke about Russian President Putin, saying that "we are ready, and we are united, and that's what we did, we stayed united." Biden said that "freedom loving nations" in Europe had formed a coalition, and said "we shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning."
"The free world is holding him accountable," Biden said, noting that "Putin is more isolated from the world more now that he has ever been."
Biden touted the sanctions against Russia, specifically in banking. "We're choking Russia's access to technology," Biden said. To Russian elites and leaders, he said "no more." And received a standing ovation. "I mean it," Biden said.
Biden said that the Department of Justice will be coming after the assets of Russian citizens, their luxury items as well as financial assets. American airspace, Biden said, would closed to all Russian flights.
The US, he said, would not be fighting on behalf of Ukraine, but that troops would be deployed to Germany to protect NATO countries. "Our forces are not going to Europe to fight Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west.
As he spoke about the Ukrainian people, he accidentally confused them with the Iranian people.
Congress gave up their mask mandate only one day prior to the State of the Union, and legislators were able to go unmasked on the floor of the House, without facing fines, for the first time since House Speaker Pelosi instituted the mask mandate in July 2021. The lawmakers' bare faces gave a clear indication that the administration is making its way out of the pandemic.
Biden said that there would soon be named "a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud," to go after those who filed false claims to gain Covid relief.
As to masking and CDC guidance, Biden said "Just a few days ago the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new mask, new guidelines. Most Americans and most of the country can now go mask free. And based on projections for the next couple of weeks. Thanks to the progress we've made in the past year, Covid-19 no longer need control our lives."
Biden said the new goal is to live with the virus as part of American lives. He pressed for vaccinations and treatment, as well, and said that vaccines would be available for children soon, if the scientists who are "working hard to get that done" approve it.
"We have the tools we need," Biden said, to open up offices again, and said that "the vast majority of federal workers will work in person." He spoke to the need to bring people back to the downtowns of cities. "Our schools are open. Let's keep it that way," he said.
Biden bragged about the US efforts to "vaccinate the world."
"You can't build a wall high enough to keep out the vaccine," Biden said.
"Let's use this moment to reset," Biden said. "And stop seeing Covid as the dividing line. And see it for what it is, and awful disease. Stop seeing each other as enemies and start seeing each other for who we are, fellow Americans."
Biden said that Americans have "lived through two of the hardest years this nation has ever faced," and touted his American Rescue Plan while slamming former President Trump's tax cuts. "It worked, it worked, it worked," he said, talking about jobs growth and economic growth.
Biden pushed for his climate change agenda, as well, including EV charging stations for American highways.
Biden pressed his economic plans as growing "from the bottom up and the middle out," as well as praising his own infrastructure plans and spending bills.
As Biden went through his own record, claiming wins in each area that he and his administration had tackled, it was hard not to see the many, many issues that had not been addressed satisfactorily.
Biden said that the goal in spending is to "buy American," and that "we're actually doing it."
"We'll buy America," Biden said. This means everything, "all of it, all of it," he said. The Bipartisan Innovation Act, Biden said, is the next big spending plan he'd like to push through Congress. A new semiconductor mega site will be built in Ohio, giving 10,000 new jobs with salaries of over $100,000 each.
This will be the "revitalization of American manufacturing," he said.
He said his "top priority is getting prices under control."
To employers, he said, in his classic whisper "lower your costs not your wages."
Democrats began chanting "USA."
"My plan to fight inflation will lower the cost and lower the deficit," he said, citing experts.
"Cut the cost of prescription drugs," Biden said was the first part of his plan. He spoke about personal stories of people who are impacted by high drug costs, such as insulin for those with type 1 diabetes. Biden said insulin should be capped at $35 per month "so everyone can afford it." He also said that Medicare should "negotiate the price of prescription drugs."
The second plan is a tax credit to weatherize American homes and increase clean energy production. AOC clapped and stood up for that one.
Third, he said, is to cut the cost of childcare. This way, Biden said, women who left the workforce during the pandemic could go back to work and would be better able to afford to outsource the raising of their children to someone else.
Biden got Senator Elizabeth Warren to her feet when he demanded that "corporations pay their fare share."
Much of what Biden had to say was what he said during the run up to the 2020 presidential election, including plans for community college funding, and labor initiatives.
On energy, Biden said "Tonight, I can announce the United States has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world to the petroleum reserve and we stand ready to do more as necessary, united with our allies." This, he said, would help with high gas prices at home.
Much of his plans for energy involve sustainable energies, despite the current need for natural gas and oil.
"Let's not abandon our streets, or choose between safety and equal justice," Biden said after saying that Americans need to get back into their downtown areas.
"The answer is not to defund the police, it's to fund them," Biden said, noting that they need "resources and training."
He used this opportunity to press for his gun control measures to be passed through Congress.
Biden spoke about his visit to New York City in the days after the funerals of two New York City Police officers who were killed while responding to a 911 call. He said he promised the officers' families that the administration would work to "carry on their mission to restore the trust and safety that every community deserves."
He spoke about community policing, the need for officers to "know the neighborhood." But he also said that America must "not abandon our streets, choose between safety and equal justice. Come together, protect our communities, restore trust, and hold law enforcement accountable. That's why the Justice Department has required body cameras, banned choke holds, and restricted 'no knock' warrants for its officers. That's why the American rescue plan provided $315 billion that cities and states and counties can use fire more police invest in more proven strategies."
"We should all agree, the answer is not to defund the police, but fund the police," Biden said.
"At our border," Biden said, "we've installed new technologies like cutting edge scanners to better detect drugs. We've set up joint patrols in Mexico and Guatemala to get more human traffickers. We're putting in place dedicated immigration judges, a significantly larger number, so families fleeing persecution and violence can have their cases heard faster and those who don't legitimately belong here can be sent back." He said that there were partners in Central and South American to "host more refugees and secure their own borders."
American can do this, he said, "while keeping lit the torch of liberty."
Biden pressed so many of his typical issues, many of which he has not been able to get through Congress, such as protections for abortion, sweeping federal election laws that would overturn states' rights to make their own.
Biden also held up LGBTQIA+ rights, saying "Continue to advance maternal health care. Folks, LGBTQ plus Americans, let's finally get the bipartisan Equality Act to my desk, as the onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans especially to our younger transgender Americans, always have your back as your president. So you can be yourself can reach your God given potential," Biden said.
When addressing mental health and veterans who come home damaged from war, one legislator, Rep. Lauren Boebert, called out about the 13 soldiers who were killed during the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August. Boebert was booed, and Biden continued unabated.
Much of Biden's speech was about the many, many ways in which he and his administration would like to expand the reach of the federal government and increase spending. Many of his plans are the same as those he promised during his campaign and was unable to get Congress to pass. Rhetorical flourishes were matched equally by gaffes and moments of confusion.
"We will save democracy," said the democratically elected president of the oldest democracy on earth.
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