President Joe Biden delivered his first formal State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. He tried to convince Americans that a recovering pandemic-era economy is due to his work in the White House so far, as the country struggles amid rising inflation. The conflict in Ukraine also took up a significant spot in the address, as Biden works to convince Americans that the Russian invasion can be controlled with sanctions and diplomacy.
The State of the Union speech
With a plethora of issues facing the nation, it could be a hard sell for Biden to reassure Americans that there will be great improvements to come in the months and years ahead. With an approval rating hovering around 40%, which has been going down since the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a number of major issues will have to be tackled as the president makes his case.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova was invited to be a guest of first lady Jill Biden, joining her for the Tuesday evening speech. She received a standing ovation as she was introduced. The invitation was a show of solidarity between the White House and Ukraine as fears mount that Putin could increase his attacks on Russia's neighbor.
Members of Congress wore blue and yellow ribbons during the address in a show of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine and its government. Some wore blue and yellow suits, while others wore the ribbons, pinned to their lapels.
Biden said during Tuesday's speech, addressing the invasion of Ukraine, "Throughout our history, we’ve learned this lesson: When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos. They keep moving. And, the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising."
He said, "That’s why the NATO Alliance was created to secure peace and stability in Europe after World War II. The United States is a member along with 29 other nations."
"We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning and precisely how we would try to falsify and justify — how he would try to falsify and justify his aggression," Biden said.
Biden gave one strong assurance to Ukraine and NATO allies saying during the speech, "As I have made crystal clear: The United States and our Allies will defend every inch of territory of NATO countries with the full force of our collective power. Every single inch."
The president acknowledged that Americans are "tired, frustrated, and exhausted" after having dealt with more than two years of life during a pandemic. But urged voters to trust that the country is moving forward and progressing.
Biden said, "We’ve reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19, with severe cases down to a level not seen since last July. Just a few days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, issued new mask guidelines."
"Under these new guidelines, most Americans in most of the country can now be mask free. And based on the projections, more of the country will reach that point across the next couple of weeks," the president said.
He urged Americans to get vaccinated and said that the U.S. has ordered more Pfizer anti-viral treatment pills than any other country, promoting the "Test to Treat" initiative which aims to provide more testing at pharmacies and provide antiviral treatment pills, at no cost, for those who test positive.
Biden's top domestic agenda priorities
The president also implored Congress to act and pass legislation that will address high priorities for the administration like dealing with rising costs for families, the country's deficit, lowering energy costs, and improving family and medical leave for working Americans.
The president touted his American Rescue Plan saying, "Few pieces of legislation have done more in a critical moment in our history to lift us out of crisis."
Biden was expected to promote his work as the U.S. economy worked to recover, and he did. The president said, "Our economy grew at a rate of 5.7% last year, the strongest growth in nearly 40 years, the first step in bringing fundamental change to an economy that hasn’t worked for the working people of this nation for too long."
And China came up as Biden said, "As I’ve told Xi Jinping, it is never a good bet to bet against the American people. We’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans, modernizing roads, airports, ports, and waterways all across America."
Speaking on improving U.S. roads and other crucial elements of the country's infrastructure the president said, "I'm announcing that this year we will begin fixing over 65,000 miles of highway."
The president said, "When we use taxpayers' dollars to rebuild America, we're going to do it by buying American, buying American products," as he signaled possible further efforts to heavily boost manufacturing in the U.S.
Rising costs for families, inflation, gas prices
The president also addressed income inequality, taxing the wealthy, and various price hikes for goods during the pandemic. Biden said that the U.S. Department of Justice will announce a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud to uncover crimes during the pandemic.
Biden urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 and increase the Child Tax Credit, building off previous pleas to lawmakers during his speech to work to make childcare more affordable for American families.
The president said, "I can announce that the United States has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world. America will lead that effort, releasing 30 million barrels from our own Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And we stand ready to do more if necessary, unified with our allies."
He said, "These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home. And I know the news about what’s happening can seem alarming. But I want you to know that we are going to be OK."
The opioid epidemic, drug addiction and mental health
Biden said that beating the opioid epidemic is a top priority for his administration urging law enforcement and state and local government to work together to also go after drug traffickers. He urged lawmakers to also focus more on mental health resources in their communities.
"We'll meet the test, protect freedom and liberty expand fairness and opportunity and we will save democracy," Biden said, wrapping up his address with a final plea of hope and optimism for the American people.
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How to watch
The speech began live on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, streamed here and on Facebook.
First formal State of the Union
In 2021, President Biden delivered his first joint address to Congress, which was similar to a State of the Union address. Attendance at that speech was limited because of the pandemic, but for this year's State of the Union the entire congressional body was invited, with just their guests being limited for safety.
All attendees had to submit a negative PCR test a day before the speech and masks were optional, NPR reported.
On Tuesday it was a much different atmosphere than last year as a noticeably smaller group of those in attendance were seen wearing masks. And the image of lawmakers and others without masks echoed portions of Biden's speech trying to reassure the country that a recovery from the pandemic is happening and that Americans would soon get back to more normalcy.
The Republican response
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds would deliver the Republican response after President Biden's speech. Gov. Reynolds will deliver the speech from Des Moines, Iowa.
Security is high
In a move that has now become a normal sight around the Capitol Complex since the Jan. 6 siege, a large fence will remain up. The fence has disrupted daily life for those who live in the neighborhood around the U.S. Capitol.
Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee said on Monday, as the AP reported, “We regularly handle peaceful demonstrations and welcome all to the nation’s capital to exercise their First Amendment rights,” he said.
Contee went on to say that officers are “prepared to take swift law-enforcement actions for violations of our local and federal laws, if necessary.”