President Joe Biden, in his first State of the Union address, said Russian President Vladimir Putin “badly miscalculated” when he launched a “premeditated and totally unprovoked” attack on Ukraine a week ago. Instead of weakening NATO, Putin’s actions only strengthened the alliance, Biden said, and he vowed to protect “every inch” of allies’ territory.
“Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways,” Biden said. “But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he was met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.”
Ukraine’s strength and resolve in the face of Russia’s attack inspires the world’s democracies, Biden said, unifying and strengthening them.
Putin “thought the west and NATO wouldn’t respond. He thought he could divide us at home, in this chamber, in this nation,” Biden said. “He thought he could divide us in Europe, as well. Putin was wrong. We are ready. We are united.”
Noting that nearly 14,000 U.S. troops have either deployed or repositioned to NATO’s eastern flank, Biden emphasized they are not there to fight the war in Ukraine, but to protect NATO allies Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia and deter Russian forces from furthering their push west.
“I’ve made it crystal clear,” said Biden, “The United States and our allies will defend every inch of … NATO territory with the full force of our collective power—every single inch.”
Russian flights are now barred from U.S. airspace, he said, “further isolating Russia” and “squeezing” its economy. He said the U.S. Justice Department is forming a task force to go after Russian oligarchs, threatening to seize their “yachts, luxury apartments, and their private jets.”
“We are choking Russia’s access to technology that will sap [it] of the economic strength and weaken its military for years to come,” Biden said. “Tonight, I say to the Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who built billions of dollars off this violent regime, no more.”
Supporting Veterans Back Home
After 12 minutes on Ukraine, Biden spent the middle portion of his 62-minute speech on domestic affairs, pressing not just a Democratic agenda but exhorting non-partisan action on a range of issues from child care to tax fairness, the opiate crisis and prescription drug prices to the scourge of mental illness.
Then he pivoted again, praising America’s veterans as the “backbone and spine of this country,” and noting the nation’s “sacred obligation” to properly equip troops before they go to war and to care for them and their families when they return. He spoke of training, housing, and “debt-free” care for lower-income veterans.
Biden also addressed illnesses tied to burn pits, once a controversial health care issue that the Pentagon sought to minimize. Burn pits were widely used to dispose of all manner of waste during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Biden acknowledged that their fumes caused countless deaths and illnesses.
“When [troops] came home, many of the fittest and best-trained warriors in the world were never the same,” he said. “Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin. I know,” Biden added: “One of those Soldiers was my son, Maj. Beau Biden. I don’t know for sure if a burn pit that he lived near in Iraq and earlier… than that in Kosovo was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops. But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”
He announced the Department of Veterans Affairs will expand eligibility for care to veterans suffering from nine respiratory cancers and he called on Congress “to pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve.”
Biden concluded declaring that “The State of the Union is strong—because you, the American people are strong.
“We are stronger today than we were a year ago, and we will be stronger a year from now than we are today,” Biden said. “This is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time, and we will, as one people. One America. The United States of America.”