President Joe Biden addressed the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, said the United States has “reached a new moment” in the COVID-19 pandemic, and called on Congress to approve piecemeal elements of his stalled agenda to deal with the increasing costs for Americans in his first State of the Union Address on March 1.
Biden led the speech with Russia–Ukraine, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a dictator and condemning Putin’s attack against Ukraine as “premeditated and unprovoked.” He also said multiple times that the United States will stand with the people of Ukraine and vowed to continue sending aid to the country, in addition to the $1 billion that the United States has already sent in direct assistance.
Biden also announced in the speech that the United States would be closing its airspace to all Russian flights.
This comes in addition to sanctions already imposed by the United States and its allies against Russian financial systems, as well as individual Russian oligarchs, and steps that have been taken to cut off exports to the country.
“When the history of this era is written, Putin’s war in Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger,” Biden said.
He also showed softening rhetoric as it relates to the spread of COVID-19. In December 2021, his administration promised that those who hadn’t been vaccinated against the virus would experience a winter of “severe illness and death,” but on March 1, he said the country is “moving back safely to a more normal routine.”
“We’ve reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19, where severe cases are down to a level not seen since July of last year,” Biden said.
The declaration comes a few days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance relaxing its recommendation on mask-wearing. Congress also moved to drop its masking requirement just days before the speech.
While touting the approval of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which was meant to address hardship from the pandemic, Biden also announced a new chief prosecutor for pandemic-related fraud under the Department of Justice meant to chase after those who stole billions of dollars from those relief funds.
Biden also spoke about the country’s rising inflation rate, which has reached a 40-year high of 7.5 percent.
“I get it,” Biden said. “That’s why my top priority is getting prices under control.”
The president went on to attribute the rising costs to disruptions related to the pandemic, singling out supply chain issues related to semiconductors that drove up the cost of automobiles.
He then called for lawmakers to approve measures that were included in his “Build Back Better” agenda—a massive social spending package that ultimately failed in Congress. While the package as a whole failed, Biden is still pushing for his plan to reduce drug prices, reduce the cost of child care, and provide tax incentives for households that are more energy efficient.
Biden also made a call to increase domestic manufacturing, touting recent private sector investments in tech manufacturing, and called on Congress to approve the $250 billion Bipartisan Innovation Bill.
“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,” he said.