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 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:
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.
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.
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