Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Biden Assails Putin, Pledges Inflation Fight in State of Union

US President Joe Biden speaks about Russia and Ukraine in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Biden is addressing the situation in Ukraine, with the U.S. expected to announce new sanctions after the European Union and the U.K. set out an initial set of penalties targeting Moscow.

Vladimir Putin “badly miscalculated” with his invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden said in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, calling the Russian leader a “dictator” and warning that the war will leave his country weaker.

In a show of solidarity with Ukraine, Biden asked the audience for his speech to stand. Many lawmakers and guests held Ukrainian flags. Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, was present and Biden also announced that the U.S. will close its airspace to Russian airlines, following the lead of more than a dozen European countries.

“He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people,” he said. “He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And he thought he could divide us at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready.”

Tuesday night’s speech was not the first time Biden has called Putin a dictator. He slapped the label on the Russian leader as a presidential candidate in May 2019, and has also called him a “killer” and an “autocrat.” But the comments will take on new weight given the war in Europe.

Though the war in Ukraine forced the White House to recast Biden’s speech, he spent less than 10 minutes discussing the conflict and Putin before turning to the issue Americans care most about: the economic hardships of the pandemic.

“We meet tonight in an America that has lived through two of the hardest years this nation has ever faced,” he said. “The pandemic has been punishing.”

President Biden Delivers State Of The Union Address
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Biden’s first State of the Union address comes against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. and its allies.

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Looming over Biden’s domestic woes are fears that the war could spiral into a wider conflict. During his campaign, the president said his decades of foreign policy experience made him best equipped to guide America’s role in the world. But the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan shook public confidence in his leadership, precipitating an erosion of his approval rating.

“I want you to know that we are going to be okay,” Biden said.

Biden sought to signal to the nation that it’s time to resume normal social and work life after the pandemic. He said Americans should return to offices after working at home.

“It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” he said. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office.”

Pills to treat Covid-19 will soon be available on-demand at any pharmacy immediately after testing positive, Biden said. Pfizer Inc. is working to ramp up production of its pill, which has been shown to be highly effective at preventing severe disease and death in clinical trials, and is aiming to deliver a million courses of the treatment this month and over two million in April, Biden said.

He also called on Congress to dedicate new funding for Covid-19 initiatives, including efforts to prepare for the arrival of any new variant.

Read More: Biden Steps to Mic Under Shadow of Inflation, Putin’s War

The speech, Biden’s second to a joint session of Congress, comes at a perilous moment for his presidency. Most Americans remain deeply pessimistic about the direction of the pandemic-weary country and state of the economy, and harbor doubts about his leadership and that of his fellow Democrats, polls show.

The president outlined a new economic plan to replace an earlier proposal, “Build Back Better,” that was rejected by Republicans and a key Senate Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. The measures in his rebranded plan are aimed at two issues at the front of mind for most Americans: rising consumer prices and the still-lingering pandemic.

Inflation Plan

But the re-branded agenda includes few new offerings, raising immediate questions about whether it can gain traction in Congress. He repeated calls to pass stalled legislation on voting rights, gun control and immigration. He also asked Congress to raise taxes on high earners and corporations to fund his social initiatives, a move opposed by Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

“I may be wrong, but my guess is if we took a secret ballot in this floor, that we’d all agree that the present tax system ain’t fair. We have to fix it. I’m not looking to punish anybody but let’s make corporations and wealthy Americans start paying their fair share,” Biden said.

Consumer prices rise fastest since 1982 amid aid spending

He called for moves to boost U.S. manufacturing, shore up supply chains, lower costs for health care and elder care and reduce the federal budget deficit. It’s a set of policies that may be aimed at appealing to moderates like Manchin, who has cited deficit and inflation concerns for his opposition to Build Back Better.

“One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer,” Biden said. “I think I have a better idea to fight inflation. Lower your costs, not your wages.”

While Biden’s political standing has taken a beating over the past six months, he defended his handling of the economy and the pandemic and brushed back criticism that his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan caused inflation to spike. He said the virus aid package helped the economy achieve its fastest job growth in American history and the fastest growth in output in nearly 40 years.

“We needed to act, and we did. And it worked. It created jobs. Lots of jobs,” Biden said.

At the same time, the president sought to recognize Americans’ suffering, likening the economic pain and uncertainty many Americans are feeling to when his father lost his job.

“The pandemic has been punishing,” Biden said. “I understand.” He vowed that getting inflation under control would be his “top priority.”

“With all the bright spots in our economy, record job growth and higher wages, too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills. Inflation is robbing them of the gains they might otherwise feel,” Biden said.

Gallery

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