President Joe Biden delivered the first State of the Union speech of his presidency on Tuesday (March 1). The speech comes amid a deadly invasion on Ukraine by Russia, record inflation, an ongoing pandemic and its continued impact on communities around the nation and world.
The president delivered remarks from the US Capitol, calling on lawmakers to approve more military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine while warning Americans about continued economic hardships as a result of Russia's invasion.
Biden vowed that Russian President Vladimir Putin will "pay a price" for his lethal actions, stating in excerpts released ahead of the 9 p.m. speech, "Throughout our history, we've learned this lesson –– when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos. They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising."
The global impact of Russia's war on Ukraine have already been seen in the tragic rising death toll and hours-long wait for the more than 600,000 people fleeing their homes in Ukraine to the surging price of oil. Agricultural commodities are also up in price, highlighting the fragile economic connection nations share across the globe.
As we've seen throughout our recent history, economic hardships for the US disproportionately effect vulnerable and marginalized communities. Here's what Biden said about and to Black America.
'Americans are living paycheck to paycheck'
"People were hurting and we acted," Biden said, refencing the American Rescue Plan that he said, "left no one behind." Biden attributed the legislation to the more than 6 million jobs created in the last year. Still, unemployment among Black people in the US remains twice the rate as white people in the US, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Biden talked plans to create more jobs, and retiring the name "Rust Belt" and instead replace it with manufacturing jobs so that products can be "proudly stamped 'Made In America.'"
"We're going to build America by buying American," Biden said after thanking lawmakers for their efforts pass the massive Infrastructure Plan. The president revealed that more than 65,000 miles of US highways and more than 1,000 bridges are set to be repaired through the infrastructure legislation.
Part of that plan also includes closing the digital divide, by opening access to wireless internet to communities that currently do not have adequate access. Advocate groups including the National Urban League created initiatives to support those efforts.
Lower Costs, Not Wages
Staying on the theme of American households' budgets, President Biden discussed several ways lawmakers and his administration could lower costs and not wages.
He tackled prescription drug prices, childcare, housing costs, and even lowering the price point of electric cars so that more Americans have access to saving money at the pump.
Biden vowed that "no one making less than $400,000 will have to pay a single penny more in taxes," while calling on corporations and wealthy Americans to "pay their fair share."
"We will grow the economy," he said. "What are we waiting for? We all know we have to make changes."
Speaking directly to Congress, Biden said, "by the way, confirm my nomination for the Federal Reserve." The nominee he's referring to is Dr. Lisa Cook, who's up for the Board of the Federal Reserve. If confirmed, she'd be the first Black woman to serve in the role, which Biden noted "plays a critical role in driving down inflation."
'Continue to Combat the Virus'
Biden laid out steps to get a handle on the Covid-19 pandemic: increasing vaccination rates in the US, prepare for new variants, end the shutdown of schools and businesses, and continue vaccinating the world.
Earlier this year, the Biden-Harris administration launched a free at-home testing program where tests can be delivered to homes. During his speech, the president said that people can order additional tests by visiting, www.covidtests.gov.
'Let's Not Abandon Our Streets'
Biden also addressed rising crime rates, calling the names of the two NYPD officers killed in the line of duty earlier this year. "Let's not abandon our streets," he said, adding that communities shouldn't have to "choose between safety and equal justice."
"Let's come together and protect our communities, restore trust, and hold law enforcement accountable," Biden said.
Biden drew mixed reviews from the audience after stating that the nation's police departments shouldn't be defunded.
Biden also talked about getting rid "outdated rules" that perpetuates the opioid crisis and addiction in the US. He called for increased funding for prevention and harm reduction while noting that the American Rescue Plan includes $350 billion to hire more police and implement a "more proven strategy" including crime prevention groups for youth.
President Biden called on lawmakers to pass two key pieces of legislation to protect Americans' right to vote: the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.
The call comes amid Texas' primary election and an impending contentious midterm election in November. Dozens of voting restrictions laws were passed following the 2020 election, advocates say will make voting harder for Black, Latino, Indigenous, and low income voters.