In his annual address to the US Congress, President Joe Biden said Tuesday (7) that the United States is better positioned for economic growth “than any country on earth,” despite the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Democrat also sent a message to China, after ordering the destruction of an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over American territory last week.
(RFI) Heloisa Villela
The American middle class was at the center of Joe Biden’s speech, which lasted just over an hour. He did not ignore the reactions of opposition congressmen and senators, and even established a dialogue that is rare in such speeches.
Biden provoked the Republicans with the discussion about the budget. He accused the opposition of advocating cutting social services to balance the country’s accounts, instead of raising taxes on the rich. Some Republicans booed, such as radical right-winger Marjorie Taylor Green, who called the president a “liar.” Biden was not intimidated. On the contrary, he used the reaction and responded with a beautiful political-diplomatic ballet, saying that the two sides were in agreement, in favor of maintaining the benefits to the population and charging big companies the taxes they should pay. The president was applauded by a large majority of Democrats and Republicans.
Biden pointed out that in 2020, 55 companies on the list of the nation’s largest made $40 billion in profits and didn’t pay a penny in taxes. “How can that be?” he asked. Last year, he managed to pass a law in Congress that forces companies to pay at least 15 percent in taxes.
Still addressing the middle class, he recalled the falling inflation in the last six months, the unemployment rate at 3.4%, the lowest in the last 50 years, and listed the laws he has already passed to reduce medicine prices, guarantee fast internet throughout the country, rebuild bridges and roads, and generate jobs. Among these laws, he highlighted the one on the production of semiconductors and chips in the United States. Biden said that the country invented chips and manufactured 40% of world production. But today, it accounts for only 10% of all semiconductors manufactured in the world.
Support for Ukraine
The presence of Ukraine’s ambassador to Congress, Oksana Markarova, underscored the country’s investment in supporting the Ukrainian government in the war with Russia. Biden said the United States will support Kiev “as long as it takes” to fight the Russian invasion. “Our nation works for more freedom, more dignity, more peace, not just in Europe, but everywhere,” Biden said, addressing the Ukrainian ambassador.
Among the White House guests at the speech were the parents of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, father of a 4-year-old boy, who was beaten by Memphis, Tennessee police officers in January and died three days later. Biden did not call for reduced policing in American cities, but for better training for officers and punishment for police abuses.
To talk about investments in health research, he presented a couple whose daughter was diagnosed with cancer in the first year of life. Despite the difficult outlook, today the child is 4 years old and is being cured.
Paul Pelosi, husband of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, also gained prominence because he suffered a violent attack, inside his home, by a man who repeated what was said by some invaders of the Capitol last year. It was the moment to talk about the defense of democracy, an issue that, according to Biden, cannot be partisan, but everyone’s concern. To this day, many elected officials deny the Democrat’s victory by saying that the election was rigged.
Biden opened his speech with a joke. He told Kevin McCarty, the Republican who now chairs the House of Representatives, “I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I can’t wait to work with you!” Throughout the speech, the president put a lot of emphasis on the fact that he has passed several laws with the support of some Republican members of Congress. He even repeated what has become a catchphrase: “united, the country can do everything”.
With this formula of political rhetoric, Biden usually invites the opposition to work with him to address the needs of the population. In this context, he mentioned the timid law, passed by both parties, to make it harder for young buyers to sell guns, a first step to limit easy access to them. But he stressed that the work is not over, and called for automatic weapons to be banned for good. As an example of what the country is capable of doing when it is united, he cited support for the Ukrainian government.
Message to China
Biden further warned China that it will act if the sovereignty of the United States is threatened. After ordering the air force to shoot down a suspected Chinese monitoring balloon last Saturday (4), the Democrat said he would not hesitate to defend American interests against Beijing. But he kept the doors open for dialogue with the main competitor on the international scene. Washington suspects that the equipment was used for espionage.
“I am committed to working with China wherever it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” Biden said. “But make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And that is what we have done,” he declared amid applause.
Biden stated that the country needs unity to “win the competition” with China. “I’m not going to apologize that we are investing to make America stronger: investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future that China intends to dominate.”
Meanwhile, the Democrat refrained from using warmongering language when mentioning by name Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he met at length in November in Indonesia. Biden claimed to have told Xi that he seeks “competition, not conflict.”
China and Ukraine were among the few foreign policy issues Biden mentioned at a time when the president is considering announcing he will run for re-election in 2024.
Pentagon says China rejected talk
An American fighter jet shot down the alleged spy balloon, which according to the Chinese was monitoring the weather, when the object was over the Atlantic Ocean. The episode prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a visit to Beijing aimed at lowering tensions by accusing China of violating US sovereignty.
Blinken said he intended to maintain an active channel of communication with China. But at the Pentagon, a spokesman said Beijing declined a request to talk about the case. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin requested a secure liaison with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, after Washington shot down the balloon, said General Pat Ryder. “Unfortunately, the PRC rejected our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue,” Ryder added, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
China claims it was a roving weather observation balloon with no military purpose, but Washington classified it as a high-altitude spy vehicle that flew over top-secret military installations.
Austin and Wei met in Cambodia last November as Washington and Beijing tried to calm tensions after a visit to Taiwan by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi angered China.
*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI team ***