Biden promises to stop Russia and fight inflation – Press Enterprise


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden addressed a concerned nation and world in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, vowing to control Russian aggression in Ukraine, tame rising U.S. inflation and deal with the fading but still dangerous coronavirus.

Biden stated that he and all members of Congress, regardless of their political differences, “are united in an unwavering resolve that liberty will always triumph over tyranny.” He asked lawmakers packed in the House of Representatives chamber to stand and salute the Ukrainians as he began his speech. They stood and cheered.

It was a remarkable sign of unity after a long year of bitter acrimony between Biden’s Democratic coalition and the Republican opposition.

Biden’s 62-minute speech, split between attention to the war abroad and concerns at home, reflected the same balancing act he now faces in his presidency. He must muster the resolve of allies against Russia’s aggression while also tackling inflation, COVID-19 fatigue and falling approval ratings ahead of the midterm elections.

Aiming to build on the momentum of the speech, Biden will travel to Wisconsin on Wednesday to show Americans his domestic political agenda is working. His vice president and cabinet members will swarm across the country to get the message across.

Biden once again goes to an old bridge in need of repairs — increasingly a symbol of his administration, a tangible testament to the nation he is working to update. This time it’s a wrought-iron bridge connecting Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, across St. Louis Bay.

The bridge will be replaced with funds from the massive infrastructure plan that was signed into law last year, a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation and proof – says Biden – that the GOP and Democrats can still work together.

In his speech on Tuesday, Biden highlighted the courage of Ukraine’s defenders and a revitalized Western alliance that has been working to upgrade Ukraine’s military and cripple Russia’s economy through sanctions. He also acknowledged the cost to the American economy but menacingly warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression would not be contained without consequences on Ukraine.

“Throughout our history, we’ve learned this lesson — when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said. “They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world continue to mount.”

As Biden spoke, Russian forces escalated their attacks in Ukraine after bombing the central square of the country’s second-largest city and Kyiv’s main television tower, killing at least five people. The Babi Yar Holocaust memorial was also damaged.

Biden announced that the US is following Canada and the European Union in banning Russian planes from their airspace in retaliation for invading Ukraine. He also said the Justice Department was setting up a task force to crack down on Russian oligarchs, whom he described as “corrupt leaders who have extorted billions of dollars from this violent regime.”

“We come for your ill-gotten gains,” he said, assuring that US and European allies are after their yachts, luxury apartments and private jets.

In his speech, Biden swung from the problems abroad to those at home. Prices for American families were already rising before the Russian invasion caused energy costs to skyrocket, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hurt families and the country’s economy.

Biden outlined plans to fight inflation by reinvesting in American manufacturing capacity, speeding up supply chains and reducing workers’ burden of childcare and elder care.

“Too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills,” Biden said. “Inflation robs them of the gains they might otherwise feel. I get it. So my top priority is getting prices under control.”

In a sign of national progress on the pandemic, Biden entered the House of Representatives without a mask as coronavirus cases tumble and new federal guidelines try to get the public back to pre-pandemic activities. But there were also signs of ongoing tensions: The Capitol was refenced for security reasons after last year’s riot.

Amid domestic unrest and danger abroad, the White House took Tuesday night’s speech as an opportunity to highlight the improving outlook for the coronavirus, re-identify Biden’s domestic policy priorities and chart a path to lower costs for families living with the virus struggling with rising inflation. But events took a turn on world affairs with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling last week.

As usual, a cabinet secretary, in this case Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, was kept in a safe place during the speech to take over government in the event of a disaster.

The State of the Union address is usually an address aimed at a national audience, but this year the whole world was watching. In an interview with CNN and Reuters, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Biden to deliver a strong and “useful” message about the Russian invasion. In a show of unity, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova joined First Lady Jill Biden in the gallery of the House of Representatives to deliver the speech.

In a rare discordant moment, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert yelled that Biden was responsible for the 13 soldiers killed during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan last August.

“They put her in. Thirteen of them,” Boebert yelled when Biden mentioned his late son Beau, a veteran who died of brain cancer and served near toxic military burn pits used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden is pursuing laws to help veterans suffering from exposure and other injuries.

While the crisis in Eastern Europe may have helped cool tensions between the parties in Washington, it hasn’t allayed the political and cultural discord that cast doubt on Biden’s ability to deliver.

A February AP-NORC poll found that more people disapprove of the way Biden is going about his work than approve, 55% to 44%. That’s down from a 60% positive rating last July.

Biden used his remarks to highlight the progress made a year ago – with the majority of the US population now vaccinated and millions more people working – but also acknowledged that the job is not done, a recognition of America’s Discontent.

“I came to report on the status of the union,” Biden said. “And my report is: The state of the Union is strong – because you, the American people, are strong. We are stronger today than a year ago. And we will be stronger in a year than today.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, chosen to deliver the Republican response, said Biden’s speech was a blast from the past, with rising inflation, rising crime and a resurgent Russia making it feel more like the 1980s than feel today.

“Even before he took the oath of office, the President said he wanted – quote – to respect America again around the world and unite us here. He failed on both fronts,” she said.

Biden used his speech to push the country back “to more normal routines” after the coronavirus transformed American life.

“It’s time for Americans to get back to work and repopulate our great inner cities,” he declared. He said people could order another round of free tests from the government and that his government had launched a “test-to-treat” initiative to make free antiviral pills available in pharmacies for those who tested positive for the virus to deliver.

While his speech to Congress last year called for the introduction of a massive welfare spending package, this year Biden largely packaged previous proposals in search of viable measures he hopes will win bipartisan support in a bitterly divided Congress ahead of the election be able.

The president also highlighted investments in everything from broadband internet access to building bridges from November’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill as an example of the government building consensus and bringing about change for the nation.

As part of his pitch to voters, he also put a new focus on how proposals like extending the child tax credit and reducing childcare costs could ease the burden on families as prices rise. He was told his climate change proposals would reduce costs for low- and middle-income families and create new jobs.

Biden called for a reduction in health care costs and unveiled his plan to authorize Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and expand more generous health insurance subsidies now temporarily available through Affordable Care Act marketplaces, which cover 14.5 million people .

Biden also called for voting rights measures that did not win the support of the GOP. And as gun violence rises, he returned to calls to ban assault weapons, a blunt call he hadn’t made in months. He called for “funding police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”

He led Congress in a bipartisan tribute to retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and highlighted the biography of federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, his nominee being the first black woman on the High Court.


Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Fatima Hussein, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Lisa Mascaro in Washington and Jason Dearen in New York contributed to this report.


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