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 threat.
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.
Speaking to Congress, Biden stressed the courage of Ukrainian defenders and the determination of the re-intensified Western Alliance, which worked to rearm the Ukrainian military and cripple 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.
Many lawmakers wore pins on their lapels in honor of Ukraine.
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.
“We have a choice,” Biden said. “One way to fight inflation is to cut wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation. Reduce your expenses, not your salaries. ”
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, Energy Minister Gina Raymond was kept in a safe place during a speech ready to take over the government in the event of a disaster, a legacy of the Cold War, which has taken on new significance in light of Putin’s threats.
In an interview with CNN and Reuters, Zelensky said he called on Biden to convey a strong and “useful” message about Russia’s invasion. On the eve of the speech, the White House announced that Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova will join First Lady Jill Biden in the galleries to watch Biden’s address.
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 geopolitical crisis in Eastern Europe may have helped ease guerrilla tensions in Washington, it has not removed the political and cultural discord that calls into question Biden’s ability to deliver on his promise to promote national unity.
Biden spoke to the American public, disappointed by his speech. 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 protracted 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.
Biden aides say they believe the national psyche is a “lingering indicator” that will improve over time. But the president does not have enough time to save his first-term program to revive his party’s political situation ahead of the November by-elections.
Before Biden’s speech, Republicans in the House of Representatives said the word “crisis” describes the state of the union under Biden and the Democrats – from energy policies that allow Russia to sell oil abroad, to problems in the country because of jobs and immigration.
“We are going to push the president to do the right thing,” said Kevin McCarthy, a minority leader in the House of Representatives.
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.
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.
The speech came at a time when progress on Biden’s many other legislative priorities remains deadlocked on Capitol Hill after Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin rejected a broad bill on “Back Better” spending that Biden advocated last fall.
Speaking to voters, Biden sought to revive components of the legislation, but with a new focus on how proposals such as expanding the tax credit for children and reducing childcare costs could bring relief to families as prices rise. He was also told how his proposals on climate change would cut costs for low- and middle-income families and create new jobs.
As part of this push, Biden called for lower health care costs by unveiling its plan to allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs, and to expand more generous health insurance subsidies, which are now temporarily available in the Affordable Care Act markets. where 14.5 million people get coverage.
He proposed new mental health initiatives, coupled with growing bipartisan interest in Congress amid evidence that the pandemic has damaged the national psyche, and discussed new ways to improve access to health care for veterans affected by burning waste during service, officials said. .
Biden also called for action on voting rights, gun control and police reform that failed to gain significant Republican support.
The president also pushed the Senate to have Federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson approve as the first black woman in the Supreme Court. He singled her out last week.
A congressional doctor recently overturned a House of Representatives request to close his face after the government softened its recommendations on wearing masks. Wearing a mask is now optional in the House of Representatives, which was open to all members of Congress but not to their guests. Before the performance, those present had to pass tests for COVID-19.
For some members of Congress who are in the Coronavirus Protocol Hall, this is their first time in a third-floor gallery since they took refuge there during the January 6, 2021 uprising, hiding from the crowd advocating for Trump.
The number of seats for Biden’s speech at the joint session of Congress in April last year was limited to about 200, which is about 20% of the usual opportunity for a presidential speech. White House aides were worried that a repeat Tuesday would ruin the message the president was trying to convey.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Lisa Mascara of Washington and Jason Dyren of New York contributed to this report.