Biden uses State of the Union to push

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In a State of the Union speech that brought both houses of Congress back to the Capitol, President Biden emphasized what unites the country while trying to reassure Americans worried about the Ukraine crisis, inflation and gas prices that “we are going to be OK.” 

But it wasn’t all unity and bipartisan support: Mr. Biden acknowledged that inflation is “robbing” Americans of economic gains. He also pushed his domestic policy agenda, saying Congress needed to pass key pieces of his Build Back Better agenda. He did not use the words “Build Back Better” together, since the plan has been stalled in the Senate. 

Mr. Biden dedicated the early part of his speech to showing support for Ukraine and condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin. He noted the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., a guest of the first lady, who received a standing ovation. Many members of Congress wore blue and yellow in support of Ukraine. 

“Putin has unleashed violence and chaos,” Mr. Biden said. “But while he may make gains on the battlefield – he will pay a continuing high price over the long run.” 

President Biden delivers his State of the Union address on March 1, 2022.

CBS News

Mr. Biden said the U.S. will join European allies in closing airspace to Russian planes. Additionally, he announced 30 million barrels of oil will be released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home. And I know the news about what’s happening can seem alarming, but I want you to know that we are going to be OK,” he said.

The full chamber – where members were not required to wear masks – stood in stark contrast to last year’s address. But members of Congress still did not bring guests, and attendees were seated with space between them. Mr. Biden kicked off the speech saying, “Last year COVID-19 kept us apart. This year we are finally together again.” 

Later in the speech, he said America had “reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19, with severe cases down to a level not seen since last July.” He announced the U.S. will be launching a “test to treat” plan and will provide free antiviral pills at pharmacies for people who test positive for COVID-19.

He announced an “unity agenda for the nation” with four parts: beating the opioid epidemic; tackling mental health; supporting veterans and ending cancer. He also spoke of a cause that is very personal to him: burn pits that cause cancer in veterans, which he said may have caused his son Beau’s deadly cancer. 

In sticking with unity, Mr. Biden did not mention one of the issues that has largely divided Democrats and Republicans: The January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

A CBS News poll released Tuesday found that Mr. Biden’s approval rating remained at 44%, a one point increase from last week but the same as his approval rating in January and November CBS News polls. 

The president’s approval rating started to fall last summer during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and fell even further as inflation became a bigger issue. 

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds delivered the GOP response. Reynolds, who was one of the first governors to open schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, issued a stern message that will likely be repeated by Republicans throughout the 2022 midterms: “Republicans believe that parents matter.”

Read CBS News’ fact-check of the State of the Union here.  

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