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Biden promises to counter Russia, strengthen economy, move on from COVID

President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., look on. (Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., look on. (Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
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WASHINGTON (TND) — President Joe Biden noted how far America has come since he took office and promised to advocate for democracy, beat back Russia's aggression, strengthen American manufacturing and to move on from a pandemic that has overtaken lives around the world.

In a 62-minute speech, Biden tackled the challenges currently facing his presidency: a Russian invasion of Ukraine, a receding but still dangerous global pandemic and a fragile economy recovering from a recession combined with record inflation.

He opened his address attacking Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, while praising Ukrainian citizens for defending their homeland.

"Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson – when dictators do not 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 keeps rising.”

The tradition of keeping one member of the Cabinet in a secure location took on new significance amid Putin's ominous threats of Western resistance to the invasion of Ukraine. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was chosen this year.

Biden commended the unified response from the West in economic sanctions against Russia, and noted America's importance in being an active member of international diplomacy.

"Putin is now more isolated from the world more than he has ever been," the president said.

The president announced Russian planes will no longer be allowed to fly in American airspace, joining European allies in enacting the sanction meant to further isolate Putin from the rest of the world. He also said the Justice Department is working to seize assets from Russian oligarchs who have enabled Putin, warning, "we are coming for your ill-begotten gains."

The economic sanctions against Russia have already had global consequences in spiking energy prices, which had already been steadily rising throughout Biden's first year in office. Energy costs are one of the biggest factors in record-high inflation hitting Americans as the economy recovers from the pandemic-induced recession.

To combat the rise in oil costs due to sanction, Biden announced the U.S. led an effort to release 60 million barrels of oil.

Addressing issues within the United States, Biden noted how difficult the past two years has been for Americans as they have gone through a global pandemic that upended lives, businesses and the way the world operates.

He credited the coronavirus relief package passed shortly after taking office for helping people overcome the adversity the coronavirus brought their way, and for the economic recovery America has made.

"Few pieces of legislation have done more in a critical moment in our history to lift us out of crisis," he said. "It fueled our efforts to vaccinate the nation and combat COVID-19. It delivered immediate economic relief for tens of millions of Americans. Helped put food on their table, keep a roof over their heads, and cut the cost of health insurance."

With his signature Build Back Better plan stalled in Congress due to infighting within his own party and staunch Republican resistance, Biden called on Congress to pass legislation aimed at making America more competitive in the global market and bringing more manufacturing within the U.S.

"Invest in America. Educate Americans. Grow the workforce. Build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down," he said.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill, Biden's signature domestic achievement to this point, is the first investment America made to compete in the 21st century economy, the president said.

“We have a choice. One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation,” Biden said. “Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America.

“More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains – let’s make it in America.”

To combat inflation, Biden proposed different elements that were included in his Build Back Better plan that stalled out in the Senate due to resistance from moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Some of those elements include a $15 minimum wage, extending the child tax credit, increasing government Pell Grants.

"When we invest in our workers, when we build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out together, we can do something we haven’t done in a long time: build a better America," Biden said.

Biden walked into a packed House chamber maskless along to speak to a mostly maskless crowd, a stark difference from his first address to Congress last year. He noted America's progress in fighting the coronavirus in his remarks and promised that he will never accept just living with COVID.

"It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again," Biden said. "People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office."

He outlined the plans his administration is going to take to keep the virus at bay and to deal with future variants, which include a strong vaccination push and a healthy supply of antiviral pills.

“I have come 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. We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we will be stronger a year from now than we are today.”

Biden also announced a new "test to treat" initiative, where people can get tested at a pharmacy and receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost if they are positive. He also announced the government is making COVID tests available to Americans again starting next week.

"Let’s use this moment to reset," he said. "Let’s stop looking at COVID-19 as a partisan dividing line and see it for what it is: A God-awful disease. Let’s stop seeing each other as enemies, and start seeing each other for who we really are: fellow Americans."

Other domestic priorities Biden called for Congress to send to his desk are bills targeting gun violence, voting rights and providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. He asked Congress to work to lower health care costs using his plan to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and extending subsidies available through the Affordable Care Act.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered the Republican response to Biden’s speech, where she said Biden and Democrats in Congress have failed Americans.

"Instead of moving America forward, it feels like President Biden and his party have sent us back in time to the late ’70s and early ’80s, when runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map,” Reynolds said.

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