(NewsNation Now) — In a wide-ranging speech that began with a rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin and ended with a call for unity at home, President Joe Biden addressed the nation and the world in his first State of the Union speech Tuesday evening.
Over the course of an hour, Biden commended the strength of the Ukrainian people and criticized Russian aggression before touching on most of his domestic policy goals, from curbing inflation to re-establishing America’s manufacturing might.
Biden’s address came at a crucial juncture in his presidency, with the first primaries of the midterm year kicking off in Texas, rising inflation becoming a top concern at home and a war in Europe. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval ratings are at historic lows, with more than 57% of respondents of a NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll saying they at least somewhat disapproved of his handling of the presidency, 55% saying he wasn’t a clear communicator and 54% saying they didn’t believe he was mentally fit.
Here are five takeaways from Biden’s speech:
1 – Putin ‘badly miscalculated’
Biden began Tuesday with strong words for Putin, calling his attack on Ukraine “premeditated” and “unprovoked,” and reaffirmed his commitment to defend “every inch” of NATO territory.
The president praised the spirit of the Ukrainian people and said Putin “badly miscalculated” when he attacked just six days ago. He emphasized the unity of western allies and said Putin “is now isolated from the world more than ever.”
“Together with our allies, we are providing support to the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom. Military assistance. Economic assistance. Humanitarian assistance,” he said. “We are giving more than $1 billion in direct assistance to Ukraine.”
The president maintained his position that U.S. troops will not be sent to engage with Russian forces in Ukraine. Instead, Biden underscored the sanctions he has put forward with the goal of squeezing the Russian economy.
“Together with our allies, we are right now enforcing powerful economic sanctions,” he said. “We are cutting off Russia’s largest banks from the international financial system. Preventing Russia’s central bank from defending the Russian ruble, making Putin’s $630 billion “war fund” worthless.”
Biden also announced that the U.S. would be closing American air space to all Russian flights moving forward. The decision follows a similar move announced by Europe and Canada on Sunday.
2 – The battle against inflation
On the topic that many Americans consider the most important issue in the country today, Biden said that getting prices under control is his “top priority.”
Biden acknowledged the pain Americans are feeling at the gas pump and grocery stores, attributing the rise in inflation, in part, to the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, consumer prices jumped 7.5% compared with 12 months earlier — the steepest annual increase in 40 years.
“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,” he said. “Inflation is robbing them of the gains they might otherwise feel. I get it. That’s why my top priority is getting prices under control.”
The president said he aims to curb inflation by lowering costs, not wages, and emphasized the importance of increased competition, taking direct aim at pharmaceutical companies and the meatpacking industry.
“Capitalism without competition is not capitalism. Capitalism without competition is exploitation,” Biden said.
In recent weeks, Americans’ concerns over inflation have grown. Nearly 88 percent of respondents of a NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll said they were at least somewhat concerned about inflation and 55 percent said it was a more pressing issue than COVID-19 or unemployment. This was a stark upending of sentiment from January when respondents of a NewsNation poll indicated COVID-19 was still top of mind.
3 – Bring back ‘Made in America‘
Biden said it’s time to retire the label “Rust Belt” and look toward the future of American manufacturing. America will have to rely less on foreign supply chains if it is going to compete with China, the president suggested.
“Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America,” he said.
The president used the opportunity to bolster his domestic policy agenda, pointing to the passage of the Bipartisan infrastructure bill last year.
Biden highlighted recent multibillion-dollar investments by Intel, Ford and General Motors, emphasizing the pride that comes with the label “Made in America.”
4 – Life after coVID
The president appeared to declare victory against coronavirus Tuesday night, praising the scientific progress made over the last two years and stressing that “COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.”
“It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced most Americans will no longer have to wear face masks after a significant decrease in cases in recent months.
Despite his optimism, Biden stressed the importance of remaining vigilant and outlined multiple ways the country can return to normal life safely, with the expectation that new variants could arise.
The president also announced plans to roll out, and make available, a new antiviral pill from Pfizer that has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by 90%.
By the end of the month, 1 million pills will be available, with double that ready in April, according to Biden.
5 – ‘Fund the police’
In a moment that received bipartisan applause, Biden called for more police funding, not less.
“The answer is not to defund the police, it’s to fund the police!” he emphasized. The remark comes in stark contrast to the ‘defund’ slogan that some Democrats have been looking to shake as of late.
“I know what works: Investing in crime prevention and community police officers who’ll walk the beat, who’ll know the neighborhood, and who can restore trust and safety,” he said. “So let’s not abandon our streets. Or choose between safety and equal justice.”
According to a recent report from the Council on Criminal Justice, homicides in major U.S. cities have increased 44 percent since 2019 and 5 percent since 2020.
The president also stressed the importance of community-driven solutions that are intended to break the cycle of violence and give young people hope. He said there does not need to be a choice between safety and equal justice, because both are possible.
Among legislative solutions, Biden asked Congress to pass universal background checks, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and repeal the liability shield “that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can’t be sued.”