United States President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union speech began with the crisis in Ukraine and went on to address the US economy and his domestic agenda.
In a wide-ranging speech Tuesday night, Biden announced closing US airspace to Russian aircraft, urged bipartisanship in Congress to lower drug prices, called for raising the minimum wage to $15, and promised to boost research to cut cancer rates.
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Here are some of the highlights:
- Biden says US will defend “every inch” of NATO territory.
- President announces closing US airspace to Russian aircraft.
- Putin is isolated, Biden says.
- Biden urges Congress to lower drug costs.
- Biden claims credit for US economic recovery.
- “Fund the police”: Biden rejects “defund the police” slogan.
- US president urges Congress to lower divisions.
- Biden asks Congress to reform US immigration system.
- Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds delivers Republican response.
Below are updates from the speech as it unfolded:
Republican rebuttal: Iowa governor says Biden a failed president
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds delivered the televised Republican response to the president’s State of the Union Address, criticising Biden for failing overseas and at home.
“We’re now one year into his presidency and instead of moving America forward, it feels like President Biden and his party have sent us back in time to the late 70s and early 80s when runaway inflation was hammering families and a violent crime wave was crushing our cities,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds hit Biden for “the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal” and “waving sanctions on Russian pipelines, while eliminating oil production here at home, focusing on political correctness, reacting to world events instead of driving them”.
Biden’s speech not likely to improve his poll numbers: analyst
“As with most political speeches, those who back the speaker will like it, and those who do not, will not. Biden has weak numbers,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“He’s not going to do much better with Republicans, but he has some weaknesses with independents and even some Democrats. Maybe this speech helps a little bit in that regard, but Biden is in a deep hole, and speeches generally don’t move the numbers much,” Kondik told Al Jazeera.
Biden unifies Democrats, Republicans on Ukraine; straddles domestic divides: Analyst
President Joe Biden showed unifying leadership condemning Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine while seeking to rally both Democrats and Republicans around his domestic policy proposals, said David Schultz, a professor of politics at Hamline University.
“No surprise Biden leads with a threat to Putin and defence of Ukraine. It is the issue of the day and perhaps the one bipartisan issue there is to unite America,” Schultz told Al Jazeera.
Biden’s message was “straddling the centre and progressives” within his Democratic Party by saying “don’t defund police but he also wants gun control”.
Biden says US aims to cut cancer rates
“Let’s end cancer as we know it,” Biden told lawmakers, saying the disease is personal to him as well as Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris lost her mother to cancer, and Biden’s son Beau also died of the disease.
“Cancer is the number two cause of death in America, second only to heart disease. Last month, I announced the plan to supercharge the ‘Cancer Moonshot’ that President Obama asked me to lead six years ago,” the president said.
“Our goal was to cut cancer death rates by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years. I think we can do better than that.”
The programme aims to speed the progress of research into cancer treatments and a possible cure.
Biden promised to address ‘burn pit’ exposure for US veterans
Biden spoke of his late son, Beau Biden’s potential exposure to toxins while stationed near a “burn pit” waste incineration site while deployed in Iraq. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.
And he called on a guest in the audience, Danielle Robinson, the widow of an Army combat medic who had served in Iraq near “burn pits the size of football fields”. Her husband, Heath, later died of lung cancer.
“Tonight, I’m announcing we’re expanding eligibility to veteran suffering from nine respiratory cancers,” Biden said.
“I am calling on Congress – pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve.”
Biden says abortion rights ‘under attack as never before’
The president said “we must protect access to healthcare, preserve a woman’s right to choose,” as conservative members of the Supreme Court, who are set to rule on cases that could sharply restrict access to abortion, looked on.
Biden asks Congress to reform US immigration system
Biden urged US legislators to break the logjam in Congress on immigration reform.
“If we are to advance liberty and justice, we need to secure the border and fix the immigration system,” said Biden. “We can do both.”
Biden’s administration has been challenged by wave of migration at the southwest US border with Mexico, prompting sharp criticism from Republicans who want a tougher policy. Democrats support a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers living in the US.
‘Fund the police,’ Biden says
Biden rejected the “defund the police” slogan that emerged after racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
“We should all agree the answer is not to defund the police. It is to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them with resources and training, resources and training they need to protect our communities,” the US president said.
Biden calls on Congress to lower divisions, work together
Biden called on members of Congress to cooperate across partisan lines to address crime and pass voting reforms.
“Let’s stop suddenly seeing each other as enemies, start seeing each other for who we really are – fellow Americans,” Biden said.
“We can’t change how divided we are. But we can change how we move forward,” Biden said.
Biden offers ‘common sense steps’ on COVID-19
As he touted new guidelines that allow Americans to go mask-free, the US president offered steps to “move forward safely”:
- Stay protected with vaccines and treatments
- Prepare for new variants
- Use tools US already has to reopen businesses and schools
- Continue vaccinating the world.
Biden calls for $15 minimum wage
Biden has called for passing his ambitious social agenda, which had stalled in Congress, urging raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“Let’s pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and paid leave, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and extend the Child Tax Credit, so no one has to raise a family in poverty,” he said.
Biden urges Congress to lower drug costs, fund childcare
Biden targeted the high costs of medicines in the US, pointing out a 13-year-old boy in the audience, Joshua Davis, who suffers from inherited Type I diabetes.
“Imagine what it’s like to look at your child who needs insulin to stay healthy and have no idea how in God’s name you’re going to be able to pay for it,” Biden said, asking Congress to cap insulin costs at $35 per month.
Biden further called on legislators to lower the price of childcare for working parents. “The best thing we can do to change the standard of living for hard-working folks is cut the cost of childcare,” Biden said.
‘We’re going to be OK,’ Biden promises Americans
Biden tried to allay fears about rising fuel prices amid the Ukraine crisis, saying that the US is set to release 30 million barrels of oil from its strategic reserve to stablise the energy market.
“These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home. But I know news about what’s happening can seem alarming to all Americans,” the US president said.
“But I want you to know: We’re going to be OK. We’re going to be OK. 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 claims credit for US economic recovery
Biden touted his administration’s work with Congress to pass COVID-19 relief legislation and economic support for the US.
“The pandemic has been punishing. And so many families are living pay cheque to pay cheque, struggling to keep up with the rising cost of food, gas, housing, and so much more,” Biden said.
“Because people were hurting. We needed to act, and we did,” Biden said, claiming credit for creating 6.5 million new jobs in 2021 and boosting economic growth to the fastest level in 40 years.
Biden says US will defend ‘every inch’ of NATO
Biden vowed, while the US would not send forces into Ukraine to confront the Russian military, the US would join with NATO allies to defend the alliance.
“Let me be clear, our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine,” Biden said.“Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies – in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west. Every single inch.”
Putin is isolated, Biden says
Biden started his speech addressing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He voiced support for the Ukrainian people and talked up the sanctions by Washington and its allies against Moscow.
“Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever,” Biden said. “Together along with our allies, we are right now enforcing powerful economic sanctions. We are cutting off Russia’s largest banks from the international financial system. Preventing Russia’s central bank from defending the Russian rouble, making Putin’s $630bn ‘war fund’ worthless.”
The US president also announced closing US airspace to Russian aircraft. “Tonight, I’m announcing that we will join our allies in closing off American airspace to all Russian flights, further isolating Russia and adding an additional squeeze on their economy,” Biden said. “He has no idea what’s coming.”
Ukrainian ambassador receives standing ovation from Congress
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, received a standing ovation from the US Congress at the behest of Biden to show Ukraine “that we we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people”. Markarova is attending as guest of First Lady Jill Biden.
US legislators not wearing masks at presidential address
With the Omicron variant fading and the lifting of mask mandates, the majority of legislators attending Biden’s address were not wearing masks. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last week eased mask mandates for indoor spaces, marking a new turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden arrives to deliver speech
Biden has arrived at the US Capitol to deliver his first State of the Union address. The US president was introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
For the first time in US history the president will be flanked by two women while delivering the annual address – Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris. Last year, Biden also delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress with the vice president and the House speaker behind him.
US lawmakers sport yellow and blue in support of Ukraine
Several US legislators from both major parties are wearing yellow and blue outfits, scarves and handkerchiefs – the colours of the Ukrainian flag – in an apparent message of solidarity with Ukraine. Biden left the White House and is set to arrive at the US Capitol shortly to deliver the speech.
Biden to focus on Ukraine, domestic achievements: Correspondent
Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Congress, says Biden is expected to focus on the Russian assault on Ukraine during his speech, while also promoting his domestic policy achievements.
“We know that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and Russian aggression that the United States has been so concerned about … is expected to be one of the major features in this speech,” Halkett said.
On domestic issues, she said Biden would tout a massive infrastructure bill passed last year and how it “will create jobs for Americans, will lift up working families in the United States”.
Speech comes at ‘good time’ for Biden: Political scientist
Amid low approval ratings, the State of the Union will offer Biden a chance to highlight his accomplishments to a large audience, experts say.
“The [speech] comes at a good time,” John Geer, a political scientist and an expert in public opinion at Vanderbilt University, told Reuters. “He needs to grab the national stage and set a course that offers a brighter future.”
Biden addressing nation amid low approval ratings
The United States president is delivering his first State of the Union address amid low approval ratings.
A CBS News poll conducted in late February and released on Tuesday showed only 44 percent of respondents approved of the job Biden is doing, with 56 percent disapproving. Approval for the president’s handling of the Ukraine crisis is even lower, at 41 percent.
What is the State of the Union?
The State of the Union is a constitutionally mandated annual statement that the US president must deliver to lawmakers, briefing them about the country’s state of affairs.
Early US presidents handed written speeches to legislators, but delivering the address to a joint session of Congress became a tradition over the past century.
President Harry Truman delivered the first televised State of the Union speech on January 6, 1947.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds to deliver Republican response
The opposition US political party traditionally outlines its own vision for the nation in a response to the State of the Union. On Tuesday evening, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is set to deliver a Republican rebuttal after Biden concludes his speech.
Biden affirms support for Ukrainian counterpart
Hours before taking the stage at the US Capitol, Biden spoke by phone to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“President Biden underscored the United States’ sustained help for Ukraine, including ongoing deliveries of security assistance, economic support and humanitarian aid,” the White House said in a statement describing the talks.
“The leaders discussed how the United States, along with Allies and partners, is working to hold Russia accountable, including by imposing sanctions that are already having an impact on the Russian economy.”
I just spoke with President Zelenskyy to discuss our continued support for Ukraine — including security assistance and humanitarian aid — as it defends itself against Russian aggression. We will hold Russia accountable, and our sanctions are already having a devastating impact. pic.twitter.com/9X9x07QbD0
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 1, 2022
Ukrainian ambassador joins US first lady for Biden’s address
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, will be attending Biden’s speech as one of First Lady Jill Biden’s special guests, the White House said.
Other guests include medical workers, community organisers and teachers.
Welcome to Al Jazeera’s live coverage of President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address.