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Biden Calls for Defending Democracy in State of Union Address

Written by on March 7, 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden concluded his State of the Union address Thursday night as he began it: highlighting the importance of defending democracy at home and around the world.

“I see a future where we defend democracy, not diminish it. I see a future where we restore the right to choose and protect other freedoms, not take them away,” Biden said as he wrapped up his speech.

Earlier in the night, Biden began by emphasizing what he said are threats facing democracy around the world and calling on Congress to approve additional aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia.

“I say this to Congress: We have to stand up to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Send me a bipartisan national security bill,” he said.

House Republicans are blocking a Senate-approved $95 billion foreign aid package that includes $61 billion to help Kyiv in its fight against Russia.

“My message to [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin, who I’ve known for a long time, is simple: We will not walk away. We will not bow down,” Biden said.

More broadly, Biden said that democracy and freedom are under threat around the world.

“What makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas at the very same time,” he said.

The president also lauded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, which he called “the strongest military alliance the world has ever seen.”

He pointed out Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who attended the address as a guest of first lady Jill Biden. Sweden officially joined NATO on Thursday.

First lady Jill Biden applauds Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, as President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol, March 7, 2024.
First lady Jill Biden applauds Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, as President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol, March 7, 2024.

Biden took his time walking down the chamber aisle as he stopped to greet, talk and take photos with various lawmakers and other individuals. A collection of attendees began clapping and chanting, “Four more years,” as Biden walked toward the lectern.

The president’s entrance into the chamber was preceded by that of his Cabinet, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, who entered and shook hands with lawmakers as they walked to their seats.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was the designated survivor, which refers to the single member of the president’s Cabinet who does not attend the State of the Union address to ensure that someone in line for presidential succession is safe in the potential event of a catastrophic incident during the address.

Biden’s speech comes as lawmakers work to fund the government and avoid a shutdown, and the Biden administration urges Congress to pass security aid for Ukraine and Israel.

He addressed the ongoing war between Israel and the militant group Hamas near the end of his speech. He called on Hamas to release all of the Israeli hostages still being held by the group.

“I pledge to all the families that we will not rest until we bring their loved ones home,” Biden said.

But Biden also emphasized that Israel has a responsibility to protect civilians in Gaza. “It’s heartbreaking,” Biden said about the civilian crisis, which has seen more than 30,000 Palestinians killed.

Biden announced that the U.S. military will establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean Sea on the Gaza coast that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters for civilians in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.

Elsewhere in his speech, Biden drew attention to the Supreme Court’s 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to abortion.

“Clearly those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America. But they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and won in 2022, 2023, and they will find out again in 2024,” Biden said.

“If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you: I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again,” he continued.

Several Democratic women are dressed in suffragette white, part of a tradition that began in opposition to former President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are wearing buttons and T-shirts that reference Laken Riley, the 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia who was killed in February. Authorities charged a Venezuelan migrant who entered the United States illegally and was later released on parole in the case.

Some conservative lawmakers have blamed Riley’s killing on White House immigration policies. During his address, Biden urged Congress to pass the border security fund bill.

“I will not demonize immigrants saying they are ‘poisoning the blood of our country,’” Biden said. “I will not separate families.”

Earlier in his address, Biden took credit for improving the country’s economy and guiding it out of the pandemic-caused slump.

“I came to office determined to get us through one of the toughest periods in our nation’s history. And we have. It doesn’t make the news but in thousands of cities and towns the American people are writing the greatest comeback story never told,” he said.

He went on to cite 15 million new jobs in three years, unemployment at a 50-year low, and a record 16 million Americans starting small businesses.

Biden also committed to protecting the Affordable Care Act.

Also in his sights: halting tax breaks for major corporations and billionaires.

“No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a teacher, a sanitation worker, a nurse,” he said, before going on to say he has proposed a minimum 25% tax for billionaires.

Whereas the wars in Ukraine and Gaza featured significantly in Biden’s address, the president only briefly discussed China, which some lawmakers view as an existential adversary to the United States. But Biden projected confidence.

“For years, all I’ve heard from my Republican friends and so many others is China’s on the rise, and America is falling behind. They’ve got it backward. America is rising,” he said.

“We want competition with China, but not conflict,” he added.

Following Biden’s address, Alabama Senator Katie Britt is due to give the Republican response.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

 


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