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SOTU Report Card: Biden talks lower inflation, police reform

(NewsNation) — President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday, asking Republicans to help him “finish the job” he started two years ago of rebuilding the economy and unifying a country beset by deep political divides during a pandemic that has claimed more than a million lives.

The speech was Biden’s first in front of a GOP-controlled House that has placed much of the blame for record-high inflation on Democratic policies. He urged his colleagues across the aisle to set aside political differences and deliver results for the American people.

During last year’s State of the Union, Biden made separate promises centered on holding Russia accountable, addressing gun violence, police reform and funding, and immigration.

Here’s what the president said Tuesday night about those promises:

Inflation and economy

Biden touted an economic plan he said is about “investing in places and people that have been forgotten.”

During his tenure the president has been contending with inflation that reached a four-decade high earlier this summer. It’s since come down but still remains elevated — prices were up 6.5% in December compared to the same month a year prior.

The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates to stem consumer demand and bring down prices, targeting a 2% inflation rate. A better-than-expected January jobs report shows the economy is still strong, and unemployment is at its lowest level since 1969.

“Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years,” Biden said. “This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”

Biden emphasized the 12 million jobs that have been added in the past two years, but most of that was added back from the 21 million lost during the pandemic. Roughly 12 million were gained back before Biden took office, and employment reached pre-pandemic levels in February 2022. As of today, there’s about 5 million more jobs that been added above the pre-COVID level.

Republicans argue that things aren’t as rosy. The economy was a central focus of the midterm campaigns, and congressional candidates tried to make the case that Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act did just the opposite.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the Republican response to Biden’s speech.

“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country,” Huckabee Sanders said.

Police reform

The president’s speech came nearly a month after the death of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by police during an arrest Jan. 7 in Memphis. He died days later in a hospital, and multiple officers have been charged with second-degree murder.

Biden said what happened to Nichols happens too often, an adverse effect of police officers being asked to do too much.

“We know police officers put their lives on the line every day, and we ask them to do too much — to be counselors, social workers, psychologists; responding to drug overdoses, mental health crises, and more,” Biden said. “When police officers or departments violate the public’s trust, we must hold them accountable.”

Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget requests a fully paid investment of about $35 billion to support law enforcement and crime prevention.

“All of us in this chamber, we need to rise to this moment,” he said. “Let’s come together and finish the job on police reform.”

Biden has sought to thread the needle between supporting law enforcement and promoting accountability, rejecting calls to “defund the police” coming from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

“After years of Democrat attacks on law enforcement and calls to ‘defund the police,’ violent criminals roam free, while law-abiding families live in fear,” Huckabee Sanders said. 

Russia and Ukraine

Biden vowed continued support for Ukraine, which has been fighting a Russian invasion that began Feb. 24, 2022. What was initially thought would be a quick and decisive victory for Russia has turned into a drawn-out slog for control of territory in the eastern part of the country.

The United States has provided more than $24 billion in aid for Ukraine, and Biden remained steadfast in his commitment for future help.

“We will stand with you as long as it takes,” Biden told Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., who was in attendance.

But he may find resistance in Congress. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has previously said he won’t supply a “blank check” for Ukraine, and hardline Republicans have voted against previous aid packages and called for audits of the money and equipment being shipped to Ukraine.

Gun violence

Referencing the May 2022 shooting that killed 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Biden renewed his call for a ban on all assault weapons.

After decades of deadlock on gun reform, Congress came together after the shooting to pass the most significant federal gun restrictions bill in nearly 30 years.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act requires people younger than 21 to undergo enhanced background checks, funds crisis intervention and distinctly classifies gun trafficking and straw purchases as federal crimes.

The legislation, which came on the heels of the deadly shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, didn’t go as far as Biden had hoped. The president initially asked Congress for a ban on all assault weapons.

He renewed that call Tuesday night.

“We did it before. I led the fight to ban them in 1994,” Biden said. “In the 10 years the ban was law, mass shootings went down. After Republicans let it expire, mass shootings tripled.”

Immigration

Immigration policy has been one of the biggest challenges for the Biden administration. Migrant encounters at the southern border topped a record-high 2.3 million in fiscal year 2022, and numbers remain high so far in 2023.

Most recently, Biden announced the U.S. would deny entry to Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico without authorization, which expanded on an earlier effort to restrict Venezuelans.

Biden noted that policy as resulted in a 97% drop in unlawful migration from those countries, and he called on Congress to make immigration “a bipartisan issue like it was before.”

“If you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border,” Biden said, “and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers.”

Huckabee Sanders in her response criticized the administration

Despite Democrats’ trillions in reckless spending and mountains of debt, we now have the worst border crisis in American history,” Huckabee Sanders said. “100,000 Americans a year are now killed from drug overdoses, largely from fentanyl pouring in across our southern border. Yet the Biden administration refuses to secure the border and save American lives.”