There was no mistaking the tone of President Joe Biden when he delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. The president addressed the nation in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber with the world watching on as he reacted to the Russian invasion on Ukraine. The speech came at a pivotal time in his presidency with tensions high across the globe, inflation at all time highs, and the country trying to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror.
Biden Does Not Hold Back Against Putin
In normal times, the State of the Union primarily focuses on domestic issues. There is no doubt that the rapidly escalating situation in Ukraine took center stage at this year’s address. As the biggest platform of the year for Biden, he used the pulpit to come down hard on Russian President Vladimir Putin.Read More »
The speech was still being tweaked in the hours leading up to the address as the conditions changed in Eastern Europe.
Biden laid out how the U.S. is joining other nations from across the world in banning Russian aircraft from the U.S. airspace. The goal of this ban is to isolate Russia from the rest of the world and put more pressure on their struggling economy as a punishment for the acts against Ukraine.
Special Guests at State of the Union
As is tradition, first lady Jill Biden invited a handful of special guests to sit with her at the address. The Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, was a notable guest of the first lady. Other guests included some of the nation’s top educators, a union representative, an organizer of causes important to Native Americans, a health care worker, and a military spouse. The guests sat with the first lady in special seats above the dais.
Focus on COVID-19
Despite the speech being forced to take on a more global flavor, the president was still able to tout the successes of his administration over the last year. Biden recognized the major accomplishments of his team, including what many are finally seeing as a return to normalcy as COVID-19 cases continue to drop dramatically.
The scene was quite different in the halls of Congress on Tuesday when compared to his joint address last year. While masks were required last year and attendance was limited, attendees at Tuesday’s address did not have to wear masks.
The president said that most Americans can now safely remove their masks. He credited the availability of free vaccines, tests, and treatments for the dramatic drop in cases. Americans who have already ordered their allotment of government provided COVID-19 tests will be able to order more. Biden announced that the free tests will be available starting next week.
In addition, Biden said that his administration is rolling out a “Test to Treat” initiative. As part of this plan, Americans who test positive for COVID-19 at a pharmacy will receive free antiviral pills. Made by Pfizer, the pill known as Paxlovid has been demonstrated to reduce hospitalizations by up to 90%. The U.S. has ordered 20 million doses of this antiviral treatment.
Highlighting Achievements of Administration
The president also spent a considerable amount of time attempting to win political capital by touting the passage of two significant legislative packages in his first year in the Oval Office.
Not surprisingly, Biden also smartly used this Congressional audience to speak about last week’s historic nomination of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, a promise that he made when out on the campaign trail. A “consensus builder” is how the president described his nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson. In addition, he recognized the retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, urging him to stand up and accept the applause.
Inflation Takes Center Stage
Biden would have been remiss if he did not address inflation as a major issue facing Americans. The president laid out a plan to fight inflation by lowering costs rather than wages. According to Biden, this means that the country needs to make more goods domestically and create jobs through the building of infrastructure.
Part of the president’s plan to cut inflation will also come through his goal to cut childcare costs in half for American families. He also mentioned more than once that none of his proposed policies will raise taxes of families making less than $400,000 per year.
Other Topics Addressed in Speech
During the roughly one-hour address, Biden asked Congress to send him legislation designed to fight back on climate change. He also spoke about his administration’s attempts to reduce gun violence in the U.S., using the opportunity to once again put the onus on Congress to send legislation to his desk to sign.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the Republican response to the president’s speech. During her rebuttal, Reynolds criticized Biden’s approach to foreign policy. She also criticized Biden and the Democrats for moving the country back in time with inflation at historic highs. Reynolds said that Americans cannot be strong abroad if they are weak at home, alleging that Biden and his administration have mistakenly spent too little time last year on domestic issues.
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