Legislative Advocacy

President Biden: “This is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time”

Amer­i­cans wit­nessed basic Joe Biden in this week’s State of the Union speech, the uni­fi­er who has ral­lied NATO and brought the world’s democ­ra­cies clos­er togeth­er in response to Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, and the frus­trat­ed would-be heal­er of a nation’s hurts while deal­ing with a pro­longed pandemic.

The 46th Pres­i­dent was inad­ver­tent­ly aid­ed, by the blun­ders of Putin’s aggres­sion and by a fum­bling Repub­li­can response. Fox per­son­al­i­ties could and did sneer at his ver­bal stum­ble of “Iran­ian” for “Ukrain­ian” peo­ple, but who could argue with what fol­lowed: “We coun­tered Russia’s lies with truth and now that he has act­ed, the free world will be hold­ing him accountable.”

Pres­i­dent Biden and mem­bers of Con­gress show their sup­port for Ukraine dur­ing 2022 State of the Union address (Offi­cial White House photo)

Thir­ty-six years as a Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor pre­pared Biden for the task of alliance rebuild­ing, after Don­ald Trump ridiculed NATO and embraced the word of Putin over his own intel­li­gence agencies.

As the Pres­i­dent accu­rate­ly put it: “We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was plan­ning and pre­cise­ly how he would try to false­ly jus­ti­fy his aggression.”

The Pres­i­dent had extremes to play off, speak­ing in a House cham­ber attacked by a mob last year. There was Trump’s pre-war descrip­tion of Putin as “very savvy” and a “genius” for rec­og­niz­ing the two break­away “peo­ple’s republics” in east­ern Ukraine. Or ex-Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo call­ing Putin an “ele­gant­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed coun­ter­part” and “very shrewd.”

Tuck­er Carl­son has been fran­ti­cal­ly back­track­ing since accus­ing the U.S. of stag­ing a “coup” in Ukraine eight years ago.

Biden did not men­tion the Jan­u­ary 6th insurrection.

He didn’t need to, not with mil­i­tant extrem­ists Lau­ren Boe­bert (R‑Colorado) and Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene (R‑Georgia) shout­ing at him. Nor with the bulk of the Repub­li­can cau­cus mak­ing their vocal dis­agree­ment known when he point­ed out that their 2017 tax cut show­ered ben­e­fits on the rich.

Biden was a uni­fi­er dur­ing those thir­ty-six years a sen­a­tor, get­ting in hot water for effus­ing over his work­ing rela­tion­ships with South­ern seg­re­ga­tion­ists. He tried the role on Tues­day night, talk­ing of a coun­try com­ing out of a pan­dem­ic. “Last year COVID-19 kept us apart,” he said. “This year we are final­ly togeth­er again.”

But not so fast. Biden must still con­tend with a pre­de­ces­sor who won’t admit he lost, And a vicious, unre­lent­ing oppo­si­tion to what Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Vir­ginia Foxx, R‑North Car­oli­na, described in a tweet as “Biden’s degen­er­ate agenda.”

Sneered Fox’s Lau­ra Ingraham:“They’re [Democ­rats] so excit­ed that Joe didn’t fall down the aisle tonight.”

Biden was care­ful to occu­py high ground, issues where Amer­i­cans should be togeth­er. He called for Con­gress to per­mit Medicare to nego­ti­ate drug prices with Big Phar­ma. One gallery star was thir­teen year-old Joshua Davis, a young man with Type I dia­betes whose fam­i­ly was vic­tim­ized by high drug prices.

Big Tech was anoth­er care­ful­ly, wise­ly cho­sen tar­get. “We must hold social media plat­forms account­able for the nation­al exper­i­ment they’re con­duct­ing on our chil­dren for prof­it,” said Biden, one of the night’s best lines. “It’s time to strength­en pri­va­cy pro­tec­tions, ban tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing to chil­dren, demand tech com­pa­nies stop col­lect­ing per­son­al data on our children.”

Repub­li­cans have labeled Democ­rats as ene­mies – rather than reform­ers – of the nation’s police offi­cers. Biden was a polit­i­cal ally of the cops and fire­fight­ers while in Con­gress. The 46th Pres­i­dent used his 2022 State of the Union to lay out a posi­tion sim­i­lar to that of new­ly elect­ed New York May­or Eric Adams, a for­mer police cap­tain and a police reformer.

“The answer is not to defund the police,” Biden declared. “The answer is to fund the police with the resources and train­ing they need to pro­tect our communities.”

Reac­tion came from two parts of the chamber.

The Repub­li­cans roared approval before Biden reached the end of his sen­tence, while the Democ­rats cheered the push to pro­vide train­ing and resources.

One mem­ber of the squad was unmoved. “Defund the police and invest in our com­mu­ni­ties,” tweet­ed Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cori Bush, D‑Missouri.

The Pres­i­dent spoke to caus­es that move ordi­nary peo­ple – a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage, extend­ing the child tax cred­it – but are unlike­ly to move in Con­gress. Uni­ver­sal back­ground checks for gun own­ers was cham­pi­oned by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma after the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School killings nine years ago.

Sad­ly, it has gone nowhere fast.

The sight of Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin, D‑West Vir­ginia, yukking it up with Sen­a­tor Mitt Rom­ney, R‑Utah, made me despair for child tax credits.

Still, it was refresh­ing to hear a Pres­i­dent speak of a “bot­tom-up and mid­dle-out” eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy, and decry coun­ter­pro­duc­tive tax cuts which “weak­en eco­nom­ic growth, low­er wages, trig­ger deficits and the widest gap between those at the top and every­one else in near­ly a century.”

The Russ­ian attack on Ukraine has pro­duced just a hint of the com­mon pur­pose with which Amer­i­ca has treat­ed past aggressors.

A good, healthy roar greet­ed Biden’s line: “He (Putin) thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he nev­er imag­ined, the Ukrain­ian people.”

The Pres­i­dent even had Repub­li­cans stand­ing with a pledge to go after the yachts, pri­vate jets and lux­u­ry apart­ments of Russia’s oligarchs.

A key test of State of the Union speech­es is follow-through.

On Wednes­day morn­ing, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment unveiled a new fed­er­al “Klep­to­Cap­ture” task force aimed at those oli­garchs who enrich and have been enriched by Putin. “To those bol­ster­ing the Russ­ian regime through cor­rup­tion and sanc­tions eva­sion: We will deprive you of safe haven and hold you account­able,” said Deputy Attor­ney Lisa Mona­co. “Oli­garchs be warned: We will use every tool to freeze and seize your crim­i­nal proceeds.”

While we can’t seem to per­suade Con­gress to slap a min­i­mum tax on major U.S. cor­po­ra­tions, and our bil­lion­aires gained vast rich­es dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, we can at least go after Russia’s rich guys.

Joel Connelly

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