Biden Backs Ukraine, Shrugs off Heckles and 3 Other Takeaways From State of the Union

POTUS also pushes for a “unity agenda” and basically begs the Senate to do its job

Joe Biden State of the Union Speech
President Joe Biden highlighted the junk fee campaign during his State of the Union address.

President Joe Biden gave his first official State of the Union address on Tuesday — and yes, we know it’s ridiculous that we pretend the speech presidents always give right after being elected somehow doesn’t count.

And even though it didn’t provoke crippling acid reflux the way Biden’s predecessor’s SOTU speeches tended to, it was a meaty hour-and-15-minutes of policy declarations and optimism about the future; albeit with the subtext that almost none of the policy agenda items he talked about are likely to become law. And he even shrugged off some attempted heckles.

Let’s break it down.

Ukraine, Russia, NATO — and Democracy vs Autocracy — Front and Center

Whatever Biden might have been planning for his first formal State of the Union address, no doubt Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine blew that up. So Biden used the first 25-ish minutes of the speech talking about the ongoing crisis.

Biden spoke in theatrical, but hugely accurate, terms about Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, including the memorable phrase that in invading Ukraine, Putin “sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated.”

Biden also spoke repeatedly about the valor and virtue of the people of Ukraine, whose “courage, their determination, literally inspires the world.” He also teed up a sincere standing ovation for one of his guests, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States.

Biden said “we, the United States of America stand with Ukraine,” but reiterated that he does not intend to send American forces into Ukraine itself. “Our forces are not engaged and will not engage in the 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.”

Instead, Biden emphasized America’s membership in the NATO alliance, touted his own coalition building for establishing the now fairly unified response from the west to the invasion, and listed the heavy economic costs Russia is enduring thanks to the sanctions imposed on it.

This included the announcement that U.S. airspace has been closed to Russian commercial flights, and a new Department of Justice task force aimed at Russian oligarchs and their wealth. As part of this, Biden also announced the release of 30 million barrels from the strategic oil reserve to ease rising fuel costs associated with the war in Ukraine, and promised “we are going to be OK. We are going to be OK.”

Biden — Yet Again — Says No to “Defund the Police”

As he did throughout the 2020 election and several times throughout his presidency, Biden said he doesn’t agree with the slogan “Defund the Police.”

“The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” Biden said. “I ask Democrats and Republicans alike: Pass my budget and keep our neighborhoods safe.”

Support for Trans People, Voting Rights, and a Plea for National Unity

Of course much of the speech was devoted to pushing Biden’s somewhat-stalled domestic agenda. He touted several accomplishments he said were bipartisan, especially the infrastructure bill, but also essentially begged the Senate to pass the rest of his agenda.

He also, as he did with his joint-congressional speech in 2021, expressed support for trans Americans, and condemned the growing number of laws against trans people in several Republican-controlled states.

“Let’s finally get the bipartisan Equality Act to my desk. The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong,” Biden said. “As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your President, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”

Biden also called out the various restrictions on voting rights being passed in Republican-controlled states and asked congress to pass pending laws to protect them, called for reductions in prescription drug costs, demanded new laws to reduce the epidemic of gun violence, and called for a more “fair” taxation system in which the incredibly wealthy pay “their fair share.”

And near the end of his speech, Biden announced what he called a “Unity Agenda,” comprised of
“four big things we can do together.” They were:

First, beat the opioid epidemic.

Second, let’s take on mental health. Especially among our children, whose lives and education have been turned upside down.

Third, support our veterans.

And fourth, let’s end cancer as we know it.

Looking Ahead (Realistically) to the End of the Pandemic

Biden also chimed an optimistic note about the eventual end of the COVID-19 pandemic, though instead of insisting it has ended, he offered a more realistic vision for how things will shake out.

“We are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines,” Biden said, later adding that “Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.”

But, he rejected the conservative calls to act as though COVID-19 isn’t a problem. “I know some are talking about ‘living with COVID-19.’ Tonight, I say that we will never just accept living with COVID-19. We will continue to combat the virus as we do other diseases. And because this is a virus that mutates and spreads, we will stay on guard,” Biden said.

And among other things, Biden announced a new round of free COVID-19 at-home tests, which Americans can order beginning next week.

The Usual Suspects Act Like Children

Finally, about that “Unity Agenda” Biden called for, you can probably guess not everyone in attendance during his State of the Union speech agreed; most notably Colorado congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who twice attempted to derail the speech with heckles that for the most part failed.

First, while Biden was talking about supporting veterans, he began to talk about his son Beau, who died of cancer he likely developed due to hazardous exposure during his military service. As Biden mentioned “a cancer that would put [soldiers] in a flag-draped coffin,” Boebert screamed “You put them in, 13 of them,” a reference to soldiers who died last year in Afghanistan.

She was overshadowed by boos and shut up.

But that wasn’t her only attempt. At one point while Biden was talking about the border, Boebert and equally uh grounded Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene tried to get a “build the wall” chant going. Alas, that fizzled out after, according to Daily Beast reporter Matt Fuller, someone from the Democratic party told them to “sit down.” Womp womp.