In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden attacked Russian President Vladimir Putin while voicing support for Ukraine, painted a cautiously optimistic picture of COVID-19 moving forward and empathized with Americans about inflation.
What You Need To Know
- There were some topics President Joe Biden glossed over or didn’t address at all during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, drawing criticism from members of both parties
- He once again pitched in the stalled Build Back Better bill, but he did not explain how he hopes to revive the package
- The president mentioned climate change just twice; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it a “lost opportunity"
- Republicans are criticizing Biden for not acknowledging last summer’s tumultuous troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the 13 service members killed in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport or the Americans who were unable to evacuate
There were some topics, however, he glossed over or didn’t address at all, drawing criticism from members of both parties.
Build Back Better's future
Biden never uttered the phrase “Build Back Better” during the speech, but he did once again propose that Congress pass many of the items in the stalled bill as a way of helping families financially, especially as they’re grappling with rising prices. Those items include limiting child care costs, lowering prescription drug costs, renewing the expanded child tax credit and offering tax incentives for weatherizing homes, among others.
But Biden did not explain how he hopes to revive the package, which was doomed when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he would not support it in the 50-50 Senate.
Manchin told The Hill after the speech, “They just can’t help themselves” by reviving talk of the package, adding, “Nothing’s changed” about how he views it. The senator told Politico he has had “no formal” talks recently with the Biden administration about a budget reconciliation bill and that he has bigger concerns, namely inflation.
The president mentioned climate change just twice — once while touting the national network of electric vehicle charging stations being added through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and again when discussing cutting energy costs to help families financially.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called it a “lost opportunity.”
“There is profound bipartisan support a long-term shift away from fossil fuels,” she said during an interview with MSNBC. “ … Not only that, but the opportunities to build wind and solar out, as well as many other forms of clean energy, can have the potential to create millions of union jobs in the United States.”
She said the International Energy Agency’s announcement Tuesday that the U.S. and other major oil-producing countries are releasing 60 million barrels of oil from their emergency stockpiles is only a short-term solution aimed at preventing price shocks.
“But at the end of the day, if we are really building out infrastructure only speaking to ways in which we are going to be increasingly reliant on fossil fuels, we're only going to, I think, contribute to increased volatility in the future,” she said.
Republicans are criticizing Biden for not acknowledging last summer’s tumultuous troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the 13 service members killed in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport or the Americans who were unable to evacuate.
“It was tremendously upsetting that the President didn’t recognize the American service members who died under his watch because of his mishandled Afghanistan withdrawal,” tweeted Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.
“It’s sad & disgraceful that @POTUS did not acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by 13 American soldiers in Afghanistan during August’s withdrawal,” Rep. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y. “They are true heroes who gave their lives under his watch. They should have been recognized tonight.”
While Biden was discussing health care for veterans, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., heckled the president, shouting: “You put them there (in coffins)! Thirteen of them!”
After being criticized by advocates for not making voting rights a higher priority, Biden declared in a January speech in Atlanta that he was “tired of being quiet” on the subject.
But he dedicated just 40 seconds of his speech Tuesday to voting rights, as he called for Congress again to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Those bills also are languishing in Congress, where Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have resisted calls to allow a carve-out of the 60-vote filibuster rule in order to pass them.
“He omitted things that were really important to those progressives like spinning four lines on voting rights tonight,” Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who served as deputy press secretary to former House Majority Leader Harry Reid, told CBS News.
“This was a night for unity, but that's very important, that democracy agenda,” Payne added. “You want to talk about democracy in Russia, but you’ve got to talk about it here in the United States as well.”
Last year, a wave of states with Republican legislatures passed laws restricting vote.
In an interview on “CBS Mornings” on Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris insisted that protecting voting rights is not on Biden’s backburner.
“We have made very clear that this is about protecting America's democracy against those various states in particular and state legislators and governors who are in a full-on assault on the right of every American who is eligible to actually be able to vote,” she said.
Student loan forgiveness
The president did not mention the possibility of forgiving student loan debt, a popular cause among progressives.
In a speech following Biden’s address, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., called on the president to use his executive powers “now” to cancel student loan debt.
“I was disappointed to hear the lack of intention to #CancelStudentLoans as promised from @POTUS in #SOTU,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tweeted: “yes, #CancelStudentDebt. Let’s get it done.”
Some Democrats have called for Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt through an executive order. Biden has expressed reservations about forgiving debt over $10,000, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the president “has conveyed he’d be happy to sign a bill into law that all of those members could work to get passed.”
In a speech that at times seemed aimed at countering conservative talking points, Biden again made clear that he does not support defunding police departments.
“We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police,” he said. “ … Fund them with resources and training — resources and training they need to protect their communities.”
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a Black Lives Matter activist who supports defunding the police, called out Biden for not addressing Black victims of police violence.
“With all due respect, Mr. President. You didn’t mention saving Black lives once in this speech,” she tweeted. “All our country has done is given more funding to police. The result? 2021 set a record for fatal police shootings.”