Last night, President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address. Gina Raimondo, the Secretary of Commerce, a Cabinet member since March 2021, was the designated survivor. Over the course of his hour-long speech in the House chamber, President Biden focused on both his domestic and international agenda for the remainder of his tenure in office.
Here are ESSENCE’s five key takeaways from the President’s remarks.
Biden addressed the elephant in the room head on— “For more than two years, COVID-19 has impacted every decision in our lives and the life of the nation. And I know you’re tired, frustrated, and exhausted. But I also know this: because of the progress we’ve made, because of your resilience and the tools we have, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines. We’ve reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19, with severe cases down to a level not seen since last July. Just a few days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the CDC—issued new mask guidelines. Under these new guidelines, most Americans in most of the country can now be mask free.” Indeed, it was an historic occasion as President Biden addressed both chambers of Congress, many of whom in the audience remained unmasked, in accordance with the masks-optional guidance issued by the Capitol’s attending physician earlier this week. This seemed to echo the sentiments of many Americans, most of whom “are ready to move on.”
Ukraine and Russia
In the wake of the recent developments with the Ukraine and Russia conflict, Biden was able to draw upon a surprising unity between the Democratic and Republican parties, calling the war a “battle between freedom and tyranny.” He asked Members of Congress to “rise if you are able and show that, ‘Yes, we are the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people…’ In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security. This is a real test. It’s going to take time. So let us continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people.”
Supreme Court Justice Nomination
During his remarks, the President honored retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and thanked him for his service. Bident also made note of his recent nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently serving as a judge on the Circuit Court of Appeals, to the high court, stating, “One of our nation’s top legal minds, who will continue Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence. A former top litigator in private practice. A former federal public defender. And from a family of public-school educators and police officers. A consensus builder. Since she’s been nominated, she’s received a broad range of support—from the Fraternal Order of Police to former judges appointed by Democrats and Republicans. According The Hill, Jackson is expected to be confirmed by the mid-April recess and stands a good chance of picking up bipartisan support to become the first Black woman to serve on the high court.
Build Back Better
Per a PBS article, West Virginia Sen. Joe Machin has pronounced BBB [Build Back Better] “dead with nary a eulogy,” and this phrase was noticeably absent from Biden’s remarks. Biden instead pivoted to, “I call it building a better America.” He spoke about fighting inflation to both lower costs for Americans as well as the deficit, in addition to cutting costs for prescription drugs. What this means for the future of the Biden agenda, is an extremely pared and slimmed down version of his originally ambitious plan for social policies to improve the lives of Americans.
Moving to the right of the Progressive party
Despite the call from many in the Black Lives Matter movement, in a surprising move, President Biden neglected to mention a specific path forward for people of color regarding our broken criminal justice system, stating instead, “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to FUND the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities. I ask Democrats and Republicans alike: Pass my budget and keep our neighborhoods safe. And I will keep doing everything in my power to crack down on gun trafficking and ghost guns you can buy online and make at home—they have no serial numbers and can’t be traced.”