President Joe Biden held his first State of the Union address on March 1 to a mostly maskless audience. He touched on many points, reinforcing his urgency to pass the infrastructure bill and boasting about the success of his American Rescue Plan. His recurring call for unity was a major theme, which he also used in describing the situation with Russia and Ukraine. The commander-in-chief started and finished with big promises, pledging to help Ukraine and defend NATO countries, and even to end cancer in his plan to reset America.
Putin “Badly Miscalculated” His Invasion of Ukraine
Biden came out of the gate strong with stern words for Vladimir Putin. He said Russia’s president had invaded Ukraine “thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways, but he badly miscalculated.” Instead, “he met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.” Biden continued berating Putin’s invasion, saying the U.S. stands with the Ukrainians:
“Putin’s latest attack on Ukraine was premeditated and totally unprovoked. He rejected repeated efforts of diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. He thought he could divide us at home, in this chamber, in this nation. He thought he could divide us in Europe as well. But Putin was wrong. We are ready. We are united and that’s what we did, we stayed united.”
He added that Putin “is now isolated from the world more than he has ever been.” Biden outlined that together, with allies, “powerful economic sanctions” have been put in place to punish Russia for its invasion, including:
- Russia’s largest banks and international financial system have been cut off, “preventing Russia’s central bank from defending the Russian ruble” and making “Putin’s $630 billion ‘war fund’ worthless,” Mr. Biden explained.
- “We’re choking off Russia’s access to technology that will sap its economic strength and weaken its military for years to come.”
- Trading remains suspended.
- The U.S. will close airspace to all Russian flights.
So far, with the sanctions, the ruble has lost 30% of its value while the Russian stock market has lost 40%, Biden said.
More than $1 billion has been provided to Ukraine in the form of military, economic, and humanitarian assistance. The president promised to keep providing aid while the country fights for its freedom but adamantly stated no U.S. forces will go to battle on its behalf. “Let me be clear,” he explained, “Our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine.” However, preparations are being put into place in case Putin decides to keep moving west. Biden said the U.S. has mobilized American ground forces, air squadrons, and ship deployments “to protect NATO countries,” including Poland and Romania.
Inflation and the Economy
“A Russian dictator invading a foreign country has costs around the world,” Biden segued into the topic of the economy. He assured the American people that the sanctions only target the Russian economy and that his administration has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world. “America will lead that effort,” he promised, “and release 30 million barrels of our own Strategic Petroleum Reserve … [It] will help blunt gas prices here at home.”
Biden claimed the nation’s economy has “created over 6.5 million new jobs just last year. More jobs created in one year than ever before in the history of the United States of America.” He continued, saying the economy grew at a rate of 5.7% last year, “the strongest growth rate in nearly 40 years.” On the flip side, inflation is higher than it’s been in 40 years. The president also promised his plan to fight inflation “will lower your cost and lower the deficit.” The strategy is to:
- Cut the costs of prescription drugs and set a cap for insulin at $35 per month.
- Cut energy costs by $500 a year for families and offer a tax credit to weatherize homes. Lower prices of electric vehicles.
- Cut the cost of childcare so that parents won’t spend more than 7% of their income on this expense. “My plan will cut the cost in half for most families,” Biden promised.
- “Nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in new taxes.”
- Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“By the end of this year the deficit will be down to less than half of what it was before I took office,” Biden exclaimed, “The only president ever to cut the deficit by more than $1 trillion in a single year.”
Any Other Business?
When it came to tax discussion, Biden asserted that, last year, 55 of the Fortune 500 companies earned $40 billion in profit and paid $0 in federal tax. “I propose a 15% minimum tax rate for corporations,” the president said, adding that 130 countries agree on a global minimum tax rate.
“The answer is not to defund the police, it’s to fund the police, fund them with resources and training,” Biden stated. He suggested passing universal background checks, and the banning of ghost guns, “assault weapons,” and high-capacity magazines, once again saying that doing so would not go against Second Amendment rights.
“We need to secure the border and fix the immigration system,” the president announced. To do so, he said better technology has been instated, but more needs to be done such as the Pathway to Citizenship for Dreamers and a better system to help refugees escaping dangerous situations.
Biden announced that, under his administration, “the watchdogs are back” to keep track of those who have been wrongfully spending money meant for COVID relief. The Justice Department will be announcing a chief prosecutor to go after those who have been reported to commit pandemic benefit fraud. He also announced four “common sense” steps to move forward:
- Stay protected with vaccines. “We’ll never give up on vaccinating more Americans.” Anti-viral treatments will be immediately given for free after a person tests positive at a pharmacy or testing facility.
- Prepare for new variants and have a vaccine ready for the new strains within 100 days.
- End shutdowns of schools and businesses.
- Continue vaccinating the world.
The “Unity Agenda”
Finally, the president wrapped up his SOTU with a “Unity Agenda for the Nation” which includes four things “we can do together”:
- Beat the opioid epidemic.
- Take on mental health, especially among children.
- Support veterans.
- End cancer. The plan is to cut cancer death rates by 50% over the next 25 years. Biden asked Congress to fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health which he claims will “drive breakthroughs” in cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.
“Now is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time,” Biden concluded. “And we will, as one people. One America. The United States of America.”
~ Read more from Kelli Ballard.