Legislative Advocacy

President Biden praises Ukraine, offers unity agenda in 2022 State of the Union address

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden trav­eled down Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue tonight to deliv­er his sec­ond address to a joint ses­sion of Con­gress as the nation’s chief exec­u­tive, urg­ing law­mak­ers to work with him on a wide range of issues to help Amer­i­ca heal from the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and improve peo­ple’s lives.

“In this Capi­tol, gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion, Amer­i­cans have debat­ed great ques­tions amid great strife, and have done great things,” Biden told law­mak­ers, Supreme Court jus­tices, and mil­lions of Amer­i­cans watch­ing at home.

“We have fought for free­dom, expand­ed lib­er­ty, defeat­ed total­i­tar­i­an­ism and ter­ror. And built the strongest, freest, and most pros­per­ous nation the world has ever known. Now is the hour. Our moment of respon­si­bil­i­ty. Our test of resolve and con­science, of his­to­ry itself. It is in this moment that our char­ac­ter is formed. Our pur­pose is found. Our future is forged. I know this nation.”

“We will meet the test. To pro­tect free­dom and lib­er­ty, to expand fair­ness and oppor­tu­ni­ty. We will save democracy.”

“As hard as these times have been, I am more opti­mistic about Amer­i­ca today than I have been my whole life,” Biden con­tin­ued, empha­siz­ing themes he cam­paigned on and has returned to many times since tak­ing office.

“Because I see the future that is with­in our grasp. Because I know there is sim­ply noth­ing beyond our capac­i­ty. We are the only nation on Earth that has always turned every cri­sis we have faced into an oppor­tu­ni­ty. The only nation that can be defined by a sin­gle word: possibilities.”

The first part of Biden’s speech empha­sized the work the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion has done to hold the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion account­able for Vladimir Putin’s hor­rif­ic war of aggres­sion in Ukraine.

Biden praised Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Zelen­skyy for his courage and resolve in the face of invaders, includ­ing assas­sins, com­mend­ed the Ukrain­ian peo­ple for show­ing equal­ly fer­vent brav­ery and deter­mi­na­tion, and announced that the U.S. will close its air­space to Russ­ian air­craft, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Cana­da and Euro­pean coun­tries. (Rus­sia is expect­ed to respond in-kind.)

Biden then spoke about the toll the pan­dem­ic has tak­en on Americans.

“We meet tonight in an Amer­i­ca that has lived through two of the hard­est years this nation has ever faced,” Biden remarked. “The pan­dem­ic has been punishing.
And so many fam­i­lies are liv­ing pay­check to pay­check, strug­gling to keep up with the ris­ing cost of food, gas, hous­ing, and so much more.”

“I under­stand.”

“I remem­ber when my Dad had to leave our home in Scran­ton, Penn­syl­va­nia to find work. I grew up in a fam­i­ly where if the price of food went up, you felt it.”

Biden urged Con­gress to act on cost of liv­ing con­cerns by adopt­ing leg­is­la­tion to respond to cli­mate dam­age, encour­age a revi­tal­iza­tion of the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor, and ensure Amer­i­ca can stay ahead tech­no­log­i­cal­ly. He also tout­ed the pos­i­tive ben­e­fits of the pas­sage of the Infra­struc­ture Invest­ment and Jobs Act.

Then he urged Con­gress to act on a long list of stalled pri­or­i­ties: pro­tect­ing repro­duc­tive rights and vot­ing rights, agree­ing on com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reforms, ban­ning assault weapons and high-capac­i­ty gun mag­a­zines, defend­ing trans­gen­der youth, and bol­ster­ing police accountability.

Before end­ing his remarks, Pres­i­dent Biden pro­posed a “uni­ty agen­da” for 2022 that has four ele­ments he believes Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans ought to be able to agree to pri­or­i­tize and fund before the midterms:

  1. Beat the opi­oid epidemic
  2. Take on men­tal health
  3. Sup­port our veterans
  4. End can­cer as we know it

These are all pri­or­i­ties that deserve more than lip ser­vice and it was encour­ag­ing to hear them dis­cussed at length by the Pres­i­dent in the State of the Union.

Sev­er­al Pacif­ic North­west law­mak­ers sent NPI their reac­tions to the speech.

“True strength isn’t beat­ing your chest or punch­ing down at those who have less than you. True strength is lead­ing – mobi­liz­ing oth­ers to take on the most impor­tant fights, build­ing for the long-term whether or not you get the cred­it now, show­ing respect and com­pas­sion for those who may have dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences or pri­or­i­ties, and accept­ing with humil­i­ty the will of the peo­ple. Tonight, Joe Biden demon­strat­ed that strength, and showed the world how a true leader gov­erns,” said Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley, D‑Oregon.

“Pres­i­dent Biden inher­it­ed from Don­ald Trump a coun­try in cri­sis, and tonight he gave a pow­er­ful speech on the progress made in vac­ci­nat­ing more than 200 mil­lion Amer­i­cans and end­ing the pan­dem­ic, rebuild­ing the econ­o­my and achiev­ing the best job mar­ket for work­ers in a gen­er­a­tion, and win­ning the fight between democ­ra­cy and author­i­tar­i­an­ism at home and around the world,” said Merkley’s seat­mate Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden, D‑Oregon.

“It was crit­i­cal that the Pres­i­dent dis­cuss his plans to low­er costs for Amer­i­cans. Eco­nom­ic trends and records are impor­tant indi­ca­tors, but many of my con­stituents aren’t feel­ing it yet,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er (D‑WA-08).

“And Wash­ing­ton fam­i­lies con­tin­ue to strug­gle with high prices. He and I agree that we must bring down the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs, espe­cial­ly life-sav­ing drugs like insulin, and bring down the costs of every­day goods like gas and gro­ceries. I’m glad that Pres­i­dent Biden specif­i­cal­ly addressed inter­na­tion­al ship­ping car­ri­ers, whose price gaug­ing has direct­ly impact­ed the cost of goods and allowed these com­pa­nies to make record prof­its over the last two years.”

“As Pres­i­dent Biden said, it is past time we deliv­er a land­mark invest­ment in cli­mate action and clean ener­gy,” said Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, D‑Washington. “Espe­cial­ly now, we need to redou­ble our efforts to tran­si­tion to low­er-cost, clean­er ener­gy so we aren’t as reliant on cost­ly for­eign oil. This is going to low­er costs in the long-term and strength­en our econ­o­my and our nation­al security.”

The White House has not yet pro­vid­ed a tran­script of Pres­i­dent Biden’s speech yet, but here is a word cloud that we cre­at­ed based on the remarks as pre­pared for deliv­ery. America/Americans/American were col­lec­tive­ly the most spo­ken words in the speech, exclud­ing very com­mon words like the.

A word cloud for the 2022 State of the Union, cre­at­ed by the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute (Click to enlarge)

The speech would have ben­e­fit­ed from a seg­ment dis­cussing and rebut­ting Repub­li­cans’ attacks on aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom and school curriculum.

Biden did men­tion that the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan gives schools mon­ey to hire teach­ers and help stu­dents make up for lost learn­ing, but he could and should have gone fur­ther than that. Edu­ca­tion has his­tor­i­cal­ly been an area the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has been com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing excel­lent lead­er­ship on, but that com­mit­ment has seem­ing­ly waned in recent years. It needs to be renewed.

Over­all, this was an effec­tive speech that cov­ered a lot of ground and fre­quent­ly used lan­guage that evokes pro­gres­sive val­ues and principles.

Biden’s con­dem­na­tion of trick­le-down eco­nom­ics and tax cuts for the rich was impor­tant and appre­ci­at­ed. As Biden said, trick­le-down result­ed in “weak­er eco­nom­ic growth, low­er wages, big­ger deficits, and the widest gap between those at the top and every­one else in near­ly a century.”

Biden’s over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage was that oppor­tu­ni­ties accom­pa­ny crises. As he said, there are oppor­tu­ni­ties for progress, and we should be work­ing togeth­er to real­ize those oppor­tu­ni­ties. The peo­ple’s needs should dri­ve the work of Con­gress, not tire­some polit­i­cal the­ater and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive gamesmanship.

Andrew Villeneuve

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