Tuesday night’s State of the Union address took on a markedly different tone than previously expected, and it took on a remarkably different look than many would have ever imagined. Against a backdrop that included two women one black, one white, President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address since taking office. As is tradition the president was flanked by the Vice President, Kamala Harris on his right and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on his left, which signaled a major change in tradition and the nation.
As expected though, President Joe Biden spent the first 12 minutes of the hour-long speech strongly redressing Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But as the POTUS continued several elements of the speech stood out and are of major importance to Black and Brown Americans.
1. He sang the praises of his exceptionally qualified nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated to the highest court in the land, touting her as a consensus builder.
“No matter your ideology, one of the most serious constitutional responsibilities a president has is nominating someone to serve on the United States Supreme Court,” Biden continued. “And I did that four days ago, when I nominated Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, one of our nation’s top legal minds, who will continue [retiring Supreme Court] Justice Stephen Breyer’s legacy of excellence.”
Biden also praised Jackson’s experience as a former federal public defender who hails from “a family of public school educators and police officers.”
2. The president pushed his domestic agenda – with a nod to his Build Back Better program – and outlined key provisions to improve the quality of life for all Americans, but specifically the underserved and the disenfranchised by raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, investing in HBCUs and increasing support for community colleges.
The president also pressed Congress to approve a host of other priorities, like renewing the expired child tax credit and a paid leave program.
3. Biden restated his opposition to calls from progressives to decrease funding for America’s police departments.
“We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police,” Biden said to cheers from even some Republicans, who have long accused Democrats of being soft on crime.
“The answer is to fund the police with resources and training … they need to protect our communities,” Biden added.
4. The president also called for passage of several pieces of legislation to protect voting rights. He implored lawmakers to pass critical voting rights measures including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. He also urged the passage of the Disclose Act, “so Americans can know who is funding our elections.”
During the speech Biden called the right to cast a ballot and to have it counted “the most fundamental right in America.”
“And look, it’s under assault,” Biden said. “In state after state, new laws have been passed, not only to suppress the vote — we’ve been there before — but to subvert entire elections.
Biden extended protections for the LBTQ+ community saying, “let’s finally get the bipartisan Equality Act to my desk. The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong.”
The president concluded the historic address by offering a Unity Agenda for the Nation for “four big things we can do together.” He promised to work to beat four national scourges he identified as; the opioid epidemic, mental health crisis, support for veterans and cutting cancer rates by 50 percent over the next 30 years.
Speaking directly to Congress, Biden said, “by the way, confirm my nomination for the Federal Reserve.” The nominee he’s referring to is Dr. Lisa Cook, who’s up for the Board of the Federal Reserve. If confirmed, she’d be the first Black woman to serve in the role, which Biden noted “plays a critical role in driving down inflation.
The millions of Americans who listened to the president speak last night may be at odds over whether or not his domestic agenda will resolve the challenges of inflation, post-pandemic upheaval and the many weighty issues at home and overseas. But one bright spot in last night’s SOTU is the administration’s unwavering and continued commitment to bringing color to this White House.