Zick Miller and KOLIN LONG
WASHINGTON (AP) – Addressing a troubled nation and a troubled world, President Joe Biden promised in his first address on the state of the Union on Tuesday night to curb Russian aggression in Ukraine, curb inflation in the US and fight a fading but still dangerous crown.
Biden said he and all members of Congress, regardless of their political differences, unite “with an unwavering determination that freedom will always prevail over tyranny.” He asked lawmakers, who crowded the House of Representatives, to stand up and say goodbye to Ukrainians when he began his speech. They stood and greeted each other.
It was a notable demonstration of unity after a long year of brutal thieving between Biden’s Democratic Coalition and the Republican opposition.
Biden’s 62-minute speech, which was divided between focusing on the war abroad and caring at home, reflected the same balance he now faces during his presidency. He must express his allied determination against Russia’s aggression, while leaning towards inflation, fatigue from COVID-19 and lowering approval ratings ahead of the by-elections.
Biden stressed the courage of Ukrainian defenders and the commitment of the newly intensified Western Alliance, which worked to rearm the Ukrainian military and defeat the Russian economy through sanctions. He also warned of spending on the US economy, but ominously warned that without consequences, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression would not be contained in Ukraine.
“Throughout our history, we have learned this lesson – if dictators do not pay the price for their aggression, they cause even more chaos,” Biden said. “They keep moving. And the cost and threats to America and the world continue to rise. ”
While Biden said, Russian forces are stepping up their attacks in Ukraine, shelling the central square of the country’s second largest city and Kyiv’s main TV tower, killing at least five people. The Holocaust Memorial in Babi Yar was also damaged.
Biden has announced that the United States is following Canada and the European Union, which has banned Russian planes from entering its airspace in retaliation for invading Ukraine. He also said that the Ministry of Justice is setting up a task force to investigate the crimes of Russian oligarchs, whom he called “corrupt leaders who have extracted billions of dollars from this violent regime.”
“We are coming for your wrong income,” he said, promising that the United States and European allies would come for their yachts, luxury apartments and private jets.
“Putin may surround Kyiv with tanks, but he will never win the hearts and souls of the Ukrainian people,” Biden said. “He will never extinguish their love of freedom. He will never weaken the determination of the free world. “
Even before the Russian invasion led to a sharp rise in energy prices, prices for American families rose, and the COVID-19 pandemic continued to harm families and the economy.
Biden outlined plans to fight inflation by reinvesting in U.S. manufacturing facilities, speeding up supply chains and reducing the burden of caring for children and the elderly.
“Too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills,” Biden said. “Inflation deprives them of the profits they might have felt otherwise. I understand. That’s why the main priority for me is price control. “
Biden has entered the House of Representatives without a mask, reflecting a reduction in coronavirus cases and new federal recommendations aimed at pushing the public to take action before a pandemic. But after last year’s uprising, the Capitol was recently fenced off due to security concerns.
Against domestic unrest and danger abroad, the White House conceived Tuesday night’s speech as an opportunity to highlight improving the coronavirus outlook, change Biden’s domestic policy priorities and show a way to reduce costs for families struggling with high inflation. But it has taken on new significance with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week and Putin’s rattling of a nuclear sword.
As usual, one cabinet secretary, in this case Trade Minister Gene Raymond, was in a safe place during the speech, ready to take over government in the event of a disaster.
In an interview with CNN and Reuters, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had called on Biden to convey a strong and “useful” message about Russia’s invasion. In a demonstration of unity, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova joined First Lady Jill Biden at the gallery.
At a rare inappropriate moment, a spokesman for Laurent Bobert of Colorado shouted that Biden was guilty of 13 servicemen who were killed during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last August.
“You put them on. Thirteen of them, ”Bobert shouted when Biden mentioned his late son Bo, a veteran who died of brain cancer and served near toxic military pits widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden is finalizing legislation to help veterans suffering from exposure and other injuries.
Rising energy prices as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine risks exacerbating inflation in the United States, which is already at its highest level in 40 years, eating away at people’s incomes and threatening economic recovery after the pandemic. And while the crisis in Eastern Europe may have helped cool guerrilla tensions in Washington, it has not eradicated political and cultural differences that call into question Biden’s ability to act.
A February AP-NORC poll found that more people disapprove than approve of how Biden handles his work, with 55% to 44%. That’s less than 60% of the favorable rating last July.
Ahead of the speech, White House officials acknowledged that sentiment in the country was “sour”, citing a pandemic and inflation. Biden used his remarks to highlight the progress made a year ago – most of the U.S. population is now vaccinated and millions of people are working – but also acknowledged that the work has not yet been done, acknowledging American discontent.
“I came to report on the state of the union,” Biden said. “And my report is this: the state of the union is strong because you, the American people, are strong. Today we are stronger than a year ago. And in a year we will be stronger than today. “
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, elected to respond to Republicans, said Biden’s appeal was a blast from the past with rising inflation, rising crime and a resurgence of Russia, making it more like the 1980s than it is today.
“Even before taking the oath, the president said he wanted – I quote – to make America respected again around the world, and unite us here. He failed on both fronts, ”she said.
At least half a dozen lawmakers, including representatives of Jamie Ruskin and Pete Aguilar, both members of the committee investigating last year’s riots in the Capitol, and Senator Alex Padilla, California, tested positive for COVID-19 and were not expected to speak at the Capitol.
“Tonight, I can say that we are moving forward safely, returning to more normal routines,” Biden said, outlining his administration’s plans to continue the fight against COVID-19 and saying: “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and refill our big centers. cities “. ». He announced that people will be able to order another round of free tests from the government and that his administration is launching a “test for treatment” initiative to provide free antiviral pills in pharmacies to those who test positive for the virus.
While a large package of social spending was rolled out in Congress last year, this year Biden has largely repackaged past proposals in search of achievable measures that he hopes will be able to gain the support of the two parties in a heavily divided Congress ahead of the election.
The president also noted investments in everything from broadband Internet access to building bridges from the November $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law as an example of government consensus and change for the nation.
He also urged lawmakers to compromise with competitiveness bills passed by the House of Representatives and Senate aimed at reviving high-tech U.S. manufacturing and supply chains in the face of growing geopolitical threats from China.
“Instead of relying on foreign supply chains, let’s do it in America,” Biden said.
As part of his speech to voters, he also emphasized the new ways in which proposals such as expanding the tax credit for children and reducing the cost of childcare could bring relief to families as prices rise. He said his proposals on climate change would cut costs for low- and middle-income families and create new jobs.
Biden called for lower health care costs by unveiling his plan to allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs, and to expand more generous health insurance subsidies, which are now temporarily available through the Affordable Care Act markets, where 14, 5 million people receive coverage.
He proposed mental health initiatives that combined the two parties’ growing interest in Congress amid evidence that the pandemic had damaged the national psyche, and discussed new ways to improve access to health care for veterans affected by incineration during service.
Biden also called for measures on voting rights that failed to gain the support of the Republican Party. And as gun violence grows, he has returned to calls to ban assault weapons, a rude request he hasn’t made in months. He called for “funding the police with the resources and training needed to protect our communities.”
In addition, Biden led Congress in a two-party tribute to retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and highlighted the biography of Federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, his candidacy becoming the first black woman in the Supreme Court to replace him.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Fatima Hussein, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Lisa Mascara of Washington and Jason Dyren of New York contributed to this report.