Biden targets Putin, Russian oligarchs in first State of the Union

The president announced that America will ban Russian flights from US airspace.

 US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, US, March 1, 2022 (photo credit: VIA REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, US, March 1, 2022
(photo credit: VIA REUTERS)

As Russian troops invade Ukraine and inflation continues to put pressure on the economy, President Joe Biden made his first formal State of the Union address to the nation on Tuesday night in the bitterly divided US Capitol in Washington, DC. 

The annual speech comes at a time when Biden faces low approval ratings and growing voter frustration, after two years of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic. Public opinion polls have shown that the president has been out of favor with the majority of Americans for months. A CBS News poll showed that 62% of Americans disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy.

Ukraine-Russia war

The first chunk of Biden's address focused on the situation in Ukraine, reassuring support for the Ukrainian people and against Russian President Vladimir Putin, which mostly has bipartisan support. 

"While he may make gains on the battlefield – he will pay a continuing high price over the long run,"  Biden vowed.

"Let each of us, if you're able to stand, stand and send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world," Biden said. The lawmakers stood and applauded, many of them waving Ukrainian flags.

Ahead of Biden's arrival, the flags were passed out in the House chamber, the venue for his speech. Several female members of Congress arrived wearing the flag's colors of yellow and blue.

"Tonight I say to the Russian oligarchs who made billions of dollars off of this regime: no more. We're coming for you," Biden said to another standing ovation by Congress. He announced that the United States will ban Russian flights from US airspace, following the EU and Canada. 

 A blast is seen near a TV tower adjacent to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 1, 2022.  (credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters) A blast is seen near a TV tower adjacent to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 1, 2022. (credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Infrastructure

Veering from Ukraine, Biden endorsed his American Rescue Plan legislation and infrastructure law, the latter of which he received support from Republicans to pass in the evenly divided Senate.

“I want to thank members of both parties who helped make it happen,” Biden said. “We’re done talking about infrastructure week. We’re talking about the infrastructure decade.”

"Build it in America"

Inflation, one of Biden's biggest political problems, also dominated his address. "More jobs in America instead of foreign supply chains," Biden said as the audience broke out in a roaring "USA" chant. 

"We have a choice. One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation," the president said. "Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America."

Four steps for combating coronavirus 

"We've reached a new moment," Biden said as he outlined his four-step plan for recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.  "Severe cases are seen down at the lowest since July. Most Americans can now go mask-free under new guidelines. Thanks to the progress we made, COVID-19 no longer controls our lives. We'll continue to combat the virus as we do other diseases," he said. 

"First, stay protected with vaccines and treatments," Biden said. "We know how incredibly effective vaccines are. If you’re vaccinated and boosted you have the highest degree of protection. The scientists are working hard to get that done and we’ll be ready with plenty of vaccines when they do.

"We’re also ready with anti-viral treatments. If you get COVID-19, the Pfizer pill reduces your chances of ending up in the hospital by 90%. We’ve ordered more of these pills than anyone in the world. And Pfizer is working overtime to get us one million pills this month and more than double that next month.  

"We're launching the 'Test to Treat' initiative so people can get tested at a pharmacy, and if they're positive, receive antiviral pills on the spot, at no cost," he announced. 

"Second – we must prepare for new variants. Over the past year, we’ve gotten much better at detecting new variants," Biden said.   

"Third – we can end the shutdown of schools and businesses. We have the tools we need. It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.  People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office.  We’re doing that here in the federal government. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.

"Our schools are open. Let’s keep it that way. Our kids need to be in school. And with 75% of adult Americans fully vaccinated and hospitalizations down by 77%, most Americans can remove their masks, return to work, stay in the classroom and move forward safely. We achieved this because we provided free vaccines, treatments, tests and masks." 

Biden's fourth step, he said, is to "continue vaccinating the world.  We’ve sent 475 million vaccine doses to 112 countries, more than any other nation.  And we won’t stop. "

Members of Congress who attended Biden's Tuesday night speech were not required to wear masks for the first time in months, a sight that could provide useful publicity for the president. 

Other declarations

Biden vowed that he will do everything in his power to crack down on gun trafficking and ghost guns you can buy online and make at home — which have no serial numbers and can’t be traced. 

"We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to FUND the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities." the president said.

"Veterans are the best of us," Biden said as Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) interrupted with the claim that Biden put Americans in flag-draped coffins, right before he mentioned his veteran son who died of cancer, to which lawmakers hushed Boebert and called shame.

Other notable promises from the president included a plan to address cancer as we know it, protect women's and LGBTQ+ rights, secure the US border and fix the immigration system. 

Reuters contributed to this report.