With the Russo-Ukrainian War suddenly rearing its ugly head on Thursday (24 Feb), the domestic agenda that was supposed to be the centrepiece of United States (US) President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union was pushed aside to the latter half.
Meanwhile, the tough stance against Russia and the provision of troops to Europe took the forefront, becoming the opening, and one of the few topics, that both Republican and Democrats can agree on.
Here’s what he said, summarised and simplified for you.
Bipartisan Support for Ukraine
First and foremost, the unifying speech that President Biden gave highlighted the exigency that the Russo-Ukrainian War has brought forward:
The fight between the ideologies of democracy and autocracy—a country that is governed by one person with absolute power—is no longer an abstract concept but an urgent reality.
Biden makes use of the first half of his speech reiterating the battle between the value of liberal democracies and autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin being one of the greatest foreign policy tests that the world is currently faced with.
There is a clear Villain who was mentioned 12 times in his speech, and his name is Vladimir Putin.
Biden continues this narrative by stating what his administration has done thus far:
- Imposing withering sanctions on Russia, from their financial institutions to key oligarchs
- Signing an Executive Order banning trade, investing, financing, to and from Russia
- Closing off the US airspace from any Russian flights
- Gathering countries from around the world to concurrently place hard-hitting sanctions
- Sending more American troops to Europe to reassure and protect NATO allies
In his show of support for Ukraine, Biden urged the members of the Congress: “Let each of us if you‘re able to stand, stand and send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world.”
In response, the lawmakers in the room stood up to applaud Ukraine, many waving Ukrainian flags and cheering in the House of Representatives.
Some, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had gone as far as wearing a blue jacket and pinning the Ukrainian flag on her lapel to show her support.
The First Lady Jill Biden had a sewn yellow sunflower—Ukraine’s national flower—on the wrist of her dress, even inviting Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova to Washington.
President Biden then reassures the American public that American troops are being sent to Europe not to fight in Ukraine, but to protect their NATO allies like they had sworn to.
Besides that, he announced that the US has given more than $1 billion in assistance to Ukraine, and will continue to aid the Ukrainians as they defend their country.
Presently, Moscow is already feeling the ill-effects of the sanctions:
The Russian stock market has fallen by 40%, the Russian currency has plummeted by 30% on Monday (28 Feb), which makes it worth less than 1 US cent.
Much of its trading relations have been suspended.
The alleged $360 billion war bank that the Kremlin touts has all but been frozen as 28 countries and counting sanction their financial institutions, and Russia has been expelled from The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a financial system that facilitates smooth and fast transactions and payments worldwide.
Biden also praises the Ukrainian people for their courage in these difficult times.
“[Putin] thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined.” Biden added, “He met the Ukrainian people.”
Lowering Oil Prices
Another pressing issue that has been cropping up since the last quarter of 2021 were the significant increase of Brent oil prices on the international market.
A concern that many Americans have, since it has led to a direct increase in fuel prices, and the United States’ main form of transport is cars.
Biden acknowledges that the Russo-Ukrainian War has only exacerbated and heightened the prices, but he swore that he would lower the costs by increasing the oil supply.
With America taking the lead, the US government will be releasing 30 million barrels from its own Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while working with 30 other countries to release a total of 60 million barrels of oil onto the international market.
This will help to ease the growing demand and assuage the worries of shortening oil supplies.
It is especially important to blunt the prices now, especially given that Russia is the second largest oil-producing country, and isolating Russia also means cutting off the world’s heavy reliance on their energy resources, albeit in a costly and painful manner.
The third topic that the Biden administration has been plagued with ever since his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America is the pandemic.
Let’s not sugar coat the fact that Biden had been dropped into a mess.
Mask wearing had been turned into a political debate when this was a non-negotiable and preventative measure for public health and safety, the healthcare system was under immense strain due to the surge in COVID-19 infection numbers, only worsened by the fact that Trump had stripped the foundations of Obamacare.
However, Biden acknowledges that 2022 is different from 2020.
At least 75% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated and boosted. America has dealt with the waves of COVID-19, the Delta and Omicron variants long enough to understand how to cope with it.
In his speech, Biden suggests a gradual shift back to normalcy, where schools and businesses can be reopened, and masks are no longer necessary.
“I cannot promise a new variant won’t come, but I can promise you we’ll do everything within out power to be ready if it does.”
He lives up to those words by following up with the promise that anyone who does contract COVID-19 in the future, they will be prescribed a Pfizer antiviral pill immediately, which will reduce the chance of hospitalisation by 90%.
Next, to relieve the strain on the hospital system, he is launching the “Test to Treat” initiative, wherein people can get tested at local pharmacies and receive the antiviral pills in timely order.
As for self-testing, the government has made hundreds of millions of tests available for the American public to order for free.
They can be collected by ordering from covidtests.gov starting next week.
Lastly, the US President asks for the COVID-19 to stop being viewed as a divisive subject.
Rather, he wishes for the American public and lawmakers to see it for what it really is: “A God-awful disease.”
After addressing the abrupt initiation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, and the pandemic that has beset his administration from the beginning of time, Biden moves on with his domestic agenda.
It can be summed up in a four-point plan involving housing education, and climate: moving goods cheaper and faster; reducing everyday costs; promoting competition; and eliminating barriers to jobs.
The end goal is to reduce the cost of living for Americans.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
In a bold fashion, Biden announces that rather than having infrastructure weeks, his administration is determined to form a long-term plan of an “infrastructure decade”.
Ultimately, the investment into infrastructure aims to modernise roads, airports, ports, and waterways all across America, while ensuring that these improvements can withstand the climate crisis and promote environment friendliness.
Among many things Biden proclaimed:
- Poisonous lead pipes will be replaced to ensure every American has access to safe and drinkable water at home
- A national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations will be built
- Technological infrastructure will be ramped up, so that every American can afford high-speed internet regardless of where they’re located at
- 65,000 miles of highway will be fixed
- 1,500 bridges will be repaired
The cherry on top is that these large-scale and state-wide projects will use taxpayers’ money to benefit the public and generate more jobs.
Raising Wages and Increasing Subsidies
Although President Biden simply lists out a whole bunch of initiatives he would like to increase support for without actually stating how he was going to have the Parliament approve of his plans, many of them are worth noting.
For instance, he wants to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act where the minimum wage is increased to $15 an hour.
He wants to increase Pell Grants, a subsidy that the feudal government provides for students that need to pay for college to offset the high tertiary education fees.
Besides that, he wants more investment into education, like into the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and community colleges.
Moreover, he suggests the extension of the Child Tax Credit, which essentially grants tax rebates and helps ensure that families don’t have to raise their children in poverty.
Lowering the Costs of Living
Another suggestion that Biden brings to the table Is not exactly new from Trump’s administration, but framed in a better light.
Rather than “Make America Great Again”, Biden calls it “building a better America”.
President Biden’s plan to fight inflation and simultaneously lower costs and trading deficits is quite simple, which is to start manufacturing the goods within America again.
Apart from the grand infrastructure projects, another obvious shift towards greener technology is in how Biden brings up the changes and improvements he wants to encourage in the manufacturing sector.
For example, he speaks of how Ford and GM have invested $11 billion and $7 billions respectively into improving and making electric cars, which will create 15,000 jobs at least.
In moving towards electric cars from combustible engines reliant on fuel, it will save Americans $80 per month from the gas pump.
Biden’s plans to lower costs is to rely less on exports and have more products made in America.
That way, more goods will move faster and cheaper in America, more jobs where people can earn a good and proper living will be in America.
It’s a win-win situation where costs are driven down while wages are being driven up, though the economic policy might take a while before seeing its results.
Prescription Drugs and General Health Conditions
Another problem that Biden brings up are the exorbitant prices of medication in the United States.
Statistically speaking, one in ten Americans suffers from Diabetes.
It takes $10 to be a vial of insulin, but pharmaceutical companies can charge their customers up to 40 times more than the cost of making the product.
Therefore, Biden intends to cap the cost of insulin at $35 per month to ensure that everyone can afford it.
The drug companies will face lower profit margins, but they will still do well.
Of course, insulin is just one of the examples that Biden states, since he intends to have Medicare negotiate and subsidise the prices for prescription drugs.
Then, Biden addresses the opioid epidemic.
To solve the problem of opioid addiction that has plagued America, he intends to increase funding for prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery.
He even adds mental health to the list, acknowledging that the pandemic has overturned education and caused much stress amongst people.
Biden argues that Americans should be allowed access to the mental health services they need, and there should be a full parity between physical and mental health care.
Lowering the Costs of Child Care
Shockingly enough, many families can pay up to $14,000 a year for childcare per child.
In Biden’s opinion, middle-class and working families shouldn’t have to use more than 7% of their income for the care of young children.
The president doesn’t go into detail, but he intends to cut the costs by half and help parents, of which include the millions of women that left the workforce during the pandemic because they couldn’t afford the childcare.
Beyond that, Biden wants to make home and long-term care and housing more affordable.
Kindergarten should be compulsory as well.
Funding the Police and Gun Control
Where funding or defunding the police is concerned, Biden hears the liberal democrats asking for the police to be defunded, but he asserts a firm “No”.
Instead, his answer was to “FUND the police with resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
Biden even provides concrete details, calling the initiative the American Rescue Plan, which provides $350 billion to cities, states, and countries to hire more police and invest in tried-and-true strategies that can interrupt community violence.
Only by doing so, can the cycle of violence and trauma be broken, and give the younger people hope.
The funding will also go towards the Justice Department, wherein Police officers will have to be equipped with body cameras, which will ensure that police perform their duties with due diligence and propriety, whilst ensuring that evidence of foul play by offenders are captured.
While Biden’s speech to fund the police earned a round of applause from the Republicans, the next portion of his speech proceeded to deflate them.
Once more, like President Barack Obama, he promised that he will do everything in his power to crack down gun trafficking and introduce measures for gun control.
“Pass universal background checks,” Biden states. “Why should anyone on a terrorist list be able to purchase a weapon?”
Now that’s a tough narrative for any Republican fighting for the second amendment to argue against.
Furthermore, Biden places the banning of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines on his agenda, as well as repealing the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers impossible to be sued.
“These laws don’t infringe on the Second Amendment. They save lives.”
Immigration Reforms and Equality
One of the immigration reforms that Biden will be establishing is a panel of immigration judges dedicated to families fleeing persecution and violence.
Simultaneously, in hearing the Republican’s more nationalistic beliefs, Biden took a more centrist stance, stating that human and drug trafficking will instead be impeded with the installation of “cutting edge scanners to better detect drug smuggling” and setting up joint patrols with Mexico and Guatemala to catch human traffickers.
Quintessentially, the tough restrictions on immigration that Trump has set up in his four years in the Oval Office will be quietly demolished, reinstating a pathway to citizenship for the American Dreamers.
Besides holding onto the old ideals of their forefathers who were also immigrants once upon a time, Biden argues that it’s the economically smart thing to do to draw over foreign and talented manpower.
In Biden’s long history in politics, he has always been a proponent of equality:
The 46th US President desires to strength the Violence Against Women Act he draft three decades ago.
He was the Vice-President when gay marriage was legalised, and he would like to do more for the LGBTQ+ Community by approving of the bipartisan Equality Act, which will save transgenders from the trench of state laws that work against them.
Biden also declared that in 2021, he had signed 80 bipartisan bills into law which ranged from stopping government shutdowns to protecting Asian-Americans from hate crimes and reforming military justice.
If you would like to read President Joe Biden’s full speech, you may do so here.
Or if you prefer to listen/watch it:
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