In first State of the Union, Biden talks Ukraine, the economy, COVID-19 and much more
The speech before Congress, which lasted a little longer than an hour, tried to paint a picture of hope after two of the hardest years on record.
As he took the podium in front of Congress for his 2022 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden wasted no time before diving into the most pressing issue of the world — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In his view, and the view of U.S. intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin has “badly miscalculated” not only the response of Ukrainians, but also that of the international community.
“He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined,” said Biden in his opening remarks. “He met the Ukrainian people.”
According to U.S. intelligence and regular updates from journalists on the ground in Ukraine, Russia did not expect to face the resistance it has from Ukrainians who have valiantly defended their homeland amid Russia’s continued elevation of catastrophic measures to seize the country.
Biden tied that courage to the leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who remains in his country to lead his people despite offers to flee. He also recognized Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova, who was in attendance.
“From President Zelenskyy to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination, inspires the world,” he said.
On the international front, most of the rest of the world, including the EU, the U.S. and other leaders in the public and private sectors, have leveled the most severe sanctions against Russia in its history while also committing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Those sanctions targeting oligarchs, Putin himself, and more, have sent Moscow’s stock market into a nosedive, caused the stocks of some of Russia’s largest companies to crash, and devalued the Russian Ruble by 30%.
“We are inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine. Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever,” said Biden.
He also said the U.S. would ban Russian planes from its airspace, joining Europe, and mobilize American forces to support the protection of NATO countries on the Russian border like Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Biden also made clear that NATO and U.S. forces would not directly engage Russian forces invading Ukraine, meaning the country will have to survive with the continued military and humanitarian support.
The economy, jobs, inflation and infrastructure
The president then pivoted to talk about the U.S. economy. In his eyes, the economy is coming back stronger from the pandemic.
Biden lauded the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act to provide relief to Americans still amid the dark days of COVID-19, and his bipartisan infrastructure bill, which will update transportation infrastructure across the country.
“We’re done talking about infrastructure weeks. We’re going to have an infrastructure decade,” he said about the infrastructure bill.
On jobs, Biden cited his record in first year in office, which created 6.6 million new jobs across the country. To add to that, he implored Congress to pass his Bipartisan Innovation Act, which invests in emerging technologies and manufacturing. Biden also said the bill is necessary to compete with the ever-advancing China on the global stage, and help fight inflation by buying more products that are made on U.S. soil.
He acknowledged inflation as an issue, and attributed it to the pandemic’s interruption of global supply chains. In addition to asking Congress to confirm his Federal Reserve nominees, Biden said wages need to go up and costs need to go down to fight the problem.
Some of the costs he said could be lowered were for prescription drugs, energy used to cope with climate change, and children, who could get free pre-k while parents get an extended child tax credit.
The extended child tax credit would be part of the Paycheck Fairness Act that Biden advocated for in his speech, which would also raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He also mentioned the yet-to-be-passed PRO Act, which would empower worker unionization across the country.
Taxes and accountability
On the tax front, Biden spoke about imposing a minimum 15% tax on corporations, and also of a potential global tax rate so companies couldn’t escape them by shipping jobs and production overseas.
At the individual level, Biden also said no American earning less than $400,000 a year would face more taxes.
“I’m not looking to punish anyone. But let’s make sure corporations and the wealthiest Americans start paying their fair share,” he said.
Biden went on to decry the record profits made by corporations amid COVID-19 and the fraud committed by some using paycheck assistance and other relief programs during the pandemic.
In response, he announced both a Justice Department investigation into pandemic fraud, and a crackdown on foreign-owned businesses that overcharged U.S. businesses and consumers.
When talking about COVID-19, Biden offered a positive message in the continued fight against the virus, as the country has seen cases drop over the last month.
“Because of the progress we’ve made, because of your resilience and the tools we have, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines,” he said.
In addition to updated CDC mask guidelines, Biden also continued to push vaccination, other FDA-approved antiviral treatments, and free testing. Those vaccines would also be pushed to the world. Regarding new variants, he mentioned the possibility of new vaccines.
To get further back to “normal,” Biden echoed other leaders around the country about the importance of returning to in-person school for students, and for businesses to go back to the office.
On immigration, which has been a hot button issue so far ignored legislatively by Congress, Biden supported a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, and that’s where the pro-immigrant statements stopped.
In a seeming effort to appease Republicans in the chamber, Biden instead opted to talk more about the importance of “securing our border,” through more targeted efforts on drug and human traffickers, while also hiring more immigration judges to process cases.
To the dismay of many immigrant rights groups watching, Biden also made no mention of the continued immigrant detention in centers at the border and across the country.
Similar to immigration, Biden also attempted to walk a line when discussing nationwide police reform. He cited Justice Department requirements of body cameras for officers and bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
Biden also advocated the importance of community policing while pointing to the $350 billion the American Rescue Plan Act provided to cities and states to carry out that work.
With that funding in mind, the president shot back at the oft-repeated line of “defund the police.”
“The answer is to FUND the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” said Biden.
Other things Biden tackled in his speech included the growing threat to Roe v. Wade and abortion rights across the country, the nomination of Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court to replace outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer, the opioid crisis, privacy and mental health concerns on social media, and more support for veterans.
Needless to say, it was a lot considering all that happened in the past year, but as Biden tried to say to calm nerves about the Russia-Ukraine conflict:
“I want you to know that we are going to be okay,” he said.