By: Stacy M. Brown
When President Joe Biden took the podium for the annual State of the Union Address, it marked the first time two women – Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – sat on the dais for the official address.
The President began by addressing the elephant in the room – or at least Eastern Europe.
He declared that the West had united in tackling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, noting that America would join a host of nations in banning Russian aircraft from its airspace.
“[Russian President] Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy,” President Biden declared. “He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And he thought he could divide us here at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready.” In both a symbolic move and a show of solidarity, the President entered the Joint Session of Congress escorted by Congresswoman Victoria Spartz (R-Indiana), a Ukrainian-American.
Outside the Capitol, a host of National Guard soldiers on high alert were stationed to provide extra security.
Domestically and briefly, President Biden called on the Senate to pass voting rights legislation.
“Tonight, I call on the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” President Biden insisted. “And while you’re at it, pass the Disclose Act so Americans can know who is funding our elections.”
He also spelled out his goal of putting a lid on inflation. He proposed cutting the cost of childcare, noting that those living in major cities pay as much as $14,000 per child each year.
“Middle-class and working folks shouldn’t have to pay more than 7 percent of their income to care for their young children,” President Biden asserted.
“My plan would cut the cost of childcare in half for most families and help parents, including millions of women who left the workforce during the pandemic because they couldn’t afford childcare,” he continued.
“[My plan] also includes home-and-long-term care. More affordable housing, Pre-K for 3 and 4-year-olds. All these will lower costs for families. Nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in taxes.”
The President also addressed his historic Supreme Court nominee, D.C. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, urging swift confirmation.
“No matter whatever your ideology, we all know one of the most serious constitutional duties a president has is nominating someone to serve on the United States Supreme Court,” the President declared.
“I’ve nominated Circuit Court of Appeals Ketanji Brown Jackson, one of our nation’s top legal minds who will continue in Justice [Stephen] Breyer’s legacy of excellence,” he stated.
“The former top litigator in private practice, a former federal public defender, from a family of public school educators and police officers. She is a consensus builder. “Since she has been nominated, she has received a broad range of support including the Fraternal Order of Police and former judges supported by Democrats and Republicans.” He also honored Justice Breyer, urging him to stand up and “let them see you.”
Turning his attention to the pandemic, the President said cases of Covid-19 finally are falling. “Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, Covid-19 need no longer control our lives,” President Biden offered.
“I know some are talking about ‘living with Covid-19.’ But tonight, I say that we will never just accept living with Covid-19.” He continued, “We’re launching the ‘Test to Treat’ initiative so people can get tested at a pharmacy, and if they’re positive, receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost.”
While Republicans will undoubtedly push back against the President’s address, several civil rights groups applauded him.
“As we assess the state of the union, without question, President Biden gets high marks for supporting legislation on childcare, voting rights, maternal health, abortion access, and worker’s rights,” said Marcela Howell, the President, and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.
“But the same senators who consistently block voting rights protections also block reproductive rights protections and safety nets for working-class families. Make no mistake, the enemies of equality are determined to shut down progress at every turn,” Howell stated.
She said it’s time to pass the President’s Build Back Better bill and protect the lives of all who live in the United States.
It is time to protect bodily autonomy and ensure all people have access to abortion services. It is time to pass a comprehensive voting rights bill that rejects the voter suppression tactics of the far right,” Howell demanded.
“Black women are even more determined to fight for our human and civil rights. We demand the right to exercise bodily autonomy, to have the resources to raise our families with dignity and to exercise our constitutional right to vote. And nothing will stop us.”
Howell continued, “Black women are putting politicians on notice; we are holding them accountable to their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. It is not an easy task. We invite the country to stand and fight with us to defend human and civil rights. Join us in demanding that elected officials uphold and abide by the Constitution. We will not stop until America’s promise of liberty and justice for all is our lived reality.”