WASHINGTON — President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday night to condemn Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, rally global support for the beleaguered country of Ukraine and convince Americans that his administration has made progress towards a period of economic and social prosperity.
The hour-long address, delivered to a mostly maskless audience of lawmakers and others in the House chamber, was sort of two separate speeches: the first half focused on the unfolding of the war in Europe, followed by a second half aimed at reviving his stalled domestic policy. agenda in Washington.
Mr Biden drew bipartisan ovations following some statements, including comments about the need to defund the police, keep schools open and support Ukraine. But Republicans sat stone-faced on their hands when the president called for more spending on child care and criticized a Trump-era tax cut.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, interrupted Mr. Biden twice, once when she tried to throw a “Build the wall!” singing during remarks on immigration, and again when she suggested that Mr Biden put servicemen killed in Afghanistan in graves, shouting: “You put them in – 13 of them!”
The start sent a message to Russia.
The president began his speech with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, speaking even as bombs continued to fall on that country’s capital, Kyiv. For Mr. Biden, the moment was something of a culmination of decades of foreign policy experience as a senator, vice president and now president.
He vowed to make Mr Putin “pay the price” for the invasion, and he announced that he would ban Russian planes from flying over the United States. He made a strong assertion that Mr Putin would regret the decision to send his forces across a sovereign border.
“He miscalculated,” Mr Biden said. “He thought he could roll in Ukraine and the world would turn upside down. Instead, he encountered a wall of force he never expected or imagined. He encountered the people of Ukraine.
The speech was something of a dismissal of criticism that his administration had followed, rather than led, the allies as they sought to deter and then punish Mr. Putin for his aggression. It is not, he said.
“Like many of you, I have spent countless hours uniting our European allies,” he said. “We countered Russia’s lies with the truth.”
Domestic issues dominated the second half.
The rest of Mr. Biden’s speech was more of a traditional State of the Union, moving swiftly from one part of his domestic policy agenda to another.
Prior to the events in Russia, the White House had hoped the president could use the speech to jump-start his stalled domestic agenda. That’s exactly what he attempted to do on Tuesday, renewing his call for elements of his failed “Build Back Better” plan that was shut down by Republicans and two holdout Democratic senators.
His pitch included a renewed call for expanded child care, elder care, pre-school education, climate change initiatives and reductions in prescription drug prices. But he gave no indication of why he thought he could get support for the programs this year when he couldn’t last year.
“What are we waiting for?” he asked lawmakers. “Let’s do it.”
A few centrist questions drew applause from both sides.
The biggest standing ovation during Mr Biden’s speech came when he forcefully rejected demands from some liberal Democrats to “defund the police”, trying to make it very clear that his administration – and most Democrats – didn’t embrace that part of a part of the party agenda.
“We should all agree: the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police,” he said. “Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with the resources and training, resources and training they need to protect their communities.
The timing was a direct challenge to Republicans who have sought to cast Mr. Biden and his administration as card-carrying members of the far left. He called for hundreds of millions more dollars to be sent to the police department, although he insisted that there was no need to “choose between safety and equal justice”.
He also embraced his domestic centrism in other parts of the speech, calling for a four-point plan to work with Democrats and Republicans to come up with solutions to long-standing issues.
He called on Congress to fight the opioid crisis, help people beat mental illness, support veterans and end cancer.
“A program of unity for the nation,” he said. “We can do it.”
“We will remain on our guard” regarding Covid.
Last summer Mr Biden said the country had achieved ‘independence’ from the coronavirus – a July 4 moment he came to regret when the Delta, then Omicron, variants flooded the country and brought back restrictions.
In his Tuesday speech, Mr Biden sought to toe a more cautious line, telling Americans the country is “safely moving forward, returning to more normal routines”.
White House officials are eager for the pandemic to be over, saying publicly that Covid exhaustion has weighed heavily on Mr Biden’s approval ratings. But the president avoided saying there was nothing more to worry about.
“We will continue to fight the virus as we do against other diseases,” the president said. “And because it is a virus that mutates and spreads, we will remain on our guard.”
He said a new program will distribute Covid antiviral pills to people who test positive at pharmacies. But he especially urged the patience of members of the public.
“I can’t promise a new variant won’t come,” he said. “But I can promise you that we will do everything in our power to be ready if that is the case.”
The barely mentioned topics included some of the most important on the Democrats’ agenda.
There were few topics that were not mentioned in Mr. Biden’s speech. But some of the top items on the Democratic Party’s agenda — like climate change, immigration, gun control and abortion rights — have received only cursory treatment.
On climate change, which is perhaps one of the party’s most unifying issues, he refrained from calling for wide-ranging action. Instead, he focused mostly on limited actions he urged lawmakers to take by passing parts of his social spending legislation.
“Let’s provide investments and tax credits to weatherproof your homes and businesses so they’re energy efficient and you get a tax credit; doubling America’s clean energy production in solar, wind and more,” he said.
Mr Biden urged lawmakers to pass an overhaul of the immigration system, but he also gave a nod to the need for border security, a message that is likely to draw criticism from immigration campaigners who already criticize him for maintaining certain Trump-era immigration restrictions. .
As the Supreme Court debated whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, Mr Biden briefly called for preserving “a woman’s right to choose”. And he called for the passage of the Equality Act, which would protect transgender Americans from discrimination.
He mentioned suffrage and gun control, but didn’t dwell on either. And just days after appointing a black woman to serve on the Supreme Court for the first time in history, he only spent a moment saluting her legal credentials and never mentioned she was black. , nor history made by his choice.