Biden’s SOTU Address: Dems laud economic revival, Reps see inflation, Ukraine crisis as failures

Ritu Jha-

With two strong California women in the background, U.S. President Joseph R Biden delivered his first State of the Union address highlighting plans to deal with the war in Europe and rising crime at home, March 1.

While the President announced more and stronger sanctions against Russia to try and end the war, on the home front, he differed from some members of his Democratic Party who have advocated defunding and defanging the police and said “not to defund the police”.

He expressed sympathy for the Ukrainians, who are under attack by Russia, but did not say America would send troops to defend them. Nor did he specify how he would control rising inflation that threatens to sink already wounded small businesses and a middle class still overcoming the pandemic. He did not talk about resolving the decades-long immigration issue either.

Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans were largely divided on the impact and import of the speech as well as in their analyses of where things are going wrong. indica reached out to a few Indian American party advocates from either side of the divide for their reactions.

Amar Shergill, California Democratic Party progressive caucus chair, said President Biden had not done enough for some of the priorities of his campaign like immigration reform and student debt relief but said he was right in his emphasis on manufacturing in America, a minimum tax on corporations, and prescription drug price relief for working families.

“Sadly, Republicans continue to block legislation supported by Americans and they are joined by Democrats Manchin and Sinema,” Shergill said, referring to Senator Joe Manchin III from West Virginia and Senator Krysten Sinema from Arizona, who have been refusing to toe the party line on increased government spending and higher taxes on the rich.

“It’s time for President Biden to get tough on Democrats who don’t support his agenda,” Shergill said, adding that “the failure to mention climate change is a sad statement on the reality that this Congress will do nothing significant to save our planet.”

Rajiv Bhateja, co-founder of They See Blue, a Silicon Valley-based national organization to mobilize South Asians in America, had a more positive reaction. He said Biden’s strategy to address inflation appears to be to fix the supply chain by manufacturing more in America, increasing competition and investing in infrastructure.

On the crime wave, he pointed out that the President wants to ban the sales of military-grade assault weapons and make gun manufacturers responsible for carnages while continuing to fund the police and holding them accountable.

He is also convinced that the President wants to fix the broken immigration system, allow essential workers an easier path into America and to citizenship, and eliminate the years-long wait for family reunions.

“I thought it was an outstanding speech,” Bhateja said, “not only in standing firm against Russian aggression and for a strong and united NATO, but also in how he reached out to Republicans. I was impressed by how many times the Republicans applauded. I mean, Ted Cruz applauding a Democratic President?! Wow. That was amazing.”

Senator Cruz was not, however, too pleased with Biden’s speech. In an interview with Sean Patrick Hannity on Fox News, he said Biden did acknowledge issues like galloping inflation, skyrocketing gas price,s and the crisis at the southern border, but did not say how he was going to fix any of these. The Texas senator was also miffed that Biden did not mention China even once or acknowledge Afghanistan and Israel.

Virginia Republican Puneet Ahluwalia went further and described the address as a farce. “We see the real State of the Union when Americans struggle every day with rising gas prices, increasing cost of groceries and products with challenges in sourcing essentials due to supply chain issues,” he said.

He blamed Biden for failing to deter Russia from attacking Ukraine, resulting in the killing of “freedom-loving Ukrainians”, displacement of families, and signaling to “bad actors” around the world that “we are weak”.

“As proud first-generation Americans,” Ahluwalia said, “We should fight against the teaching of Critical Race Theory to our kids in school or at workplaces. We should ensure that our republic is thriving with our active participation and ideas. We should stand for legal immigration and rule of law. We should be part of the solution to the challenges faced by Americans and freedom-loving people around the world.”

Ritesh Tandon, another Republican and a congressional candidate from California’s 17th district, said, “We had hoped to hear a message of unity that offered real solutions to our nation’s problems, but we are left sorely disappointed after President Biden’s divisive, partisan State of the Union address that reinforced his Administration’s failures.”

Pointing to inflation, he said, “In just 13 months, we have seen inflation hit a 40-year high, a supply chain crisis, record-high gas prices, surging crime and disastrous foreign policy decisions that have embarrassed our nation on the world stage.”

Tandon hoped that in November, voters in California and around the country would hold Biden and the Democrats accountable and reject their “failed agenda” and elect Republicans “who are ready to put us back on a pathway to success”.

But Ajay Bhutoria, recently named to President Biden’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, reminded the country that “our” best days lie ahead, and that Biden’s presidency is about giving everyone a fair shot – “because when given half a shot, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

Bhutoria believes Biden had spoken directly to the people about his vision to build a better America. He talked about the progress made last year in the face of grave challenges; the character, courage, and resilience of the American people; and his optimism for the future and his resounding belief that it’s never a good idea to bet against Americans.

He said the President laid out US efforts to rally the world to stand up for democracy against Russian aggression. He said Putin’s unprovoked war was unifying and strengthening the West, and will leave Russia weaker. He said the bravery of the Ukrainian people had inspired the world and the U.S. stands with them and will provide military, economic and humanitarian assistance.

Bhutoria was impressed that from the floor of the Capitol, the President said democracy will prevail over autocracy. He said Biden-Harris’s economic strategy was producing historic results and the President also laid out his plan to tackle the work left to do.

In large part due to the American Rescue Plan, the economy achieved its fastest job growth in American history, the fastest economic growth in nearly 40 years, and a faster recovery than every other advanced economy in the G7, Bhutoria pointed out.

He said the President had laid out his plan to lower costs for American families while continuing the historically strong economic recovery by making more things in America, strengthening supply chains and moving goods faster and more cheaply.

He said the administration is also focused on reducing the cost of everyday expenses working families face – including energy costs, child and elder care, and prescription drugs – while reducing the country’s deficit and avoiding the cost of inaction on climate change; promoting fair competition to lower prices, helping small businesses thrive, and protecting consumers; and eliminating barriers to good-paying jobs for workers all across America.

Unlike Shergill, he felt the President had made some historic progress tackling climate change but agreed that Congress needs to act to meet the moment and seize the economic opportunity.

In his address, President Biden also announced a unity agenda, consisting of four areas where Americans have historically been able to come together and find agreement regardless of party affiliation. He called upon Congress to send pending bills to his desk quickly to deliver progress for the American people.