President Biden addresses Congress, Cabinet at State of the Union

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President Biden's first State of the Union address focused on both national and international issues.

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President Joe Biden gave his first official State of the Union address March 1 at the U.S. Capitol, covering topics from conflict in Ukraine to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In his address, Biden condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s action against Ukraine. He went on to discuss the nation’s current economic status amid the pandemic, as well as vaccination efforts and what Biden called “building a better America.”

“We’re giving more than a billion dollars in direct assistance to Ukraine,” Biden said in his address. “We’ll continue to aid the Ukrainian people as they defend their country and help ease suffering.”

The Biden Administration also granted Ukrainian nationals Temporary Protected Status on Thursday upon request by Immigration Chairs U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-CA, and U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA. This order, issued by the nation’s executive office, protects Ukrainians residing in the United States from deportation to a country in turmoil.

Biden very briefly mentioned climate change, which Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison said is relevant to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

“The issue of war and climate change are not separable,” Harrison said in an email. “The use of fossil fuels (in addition to other factors) drive international crises such as that in Ukraine.”

Harrison noted Ukraine utilizes large lithium deposits essential to battery technology, while Russia relies heavily on fossil fuels.

The U.S. and 30 other countries will release 60 million barrels of oil from their reserves around the world, 30 million of which will come from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Biden is also working to impose economic sanctions on Russia with the assistance of many other countries. Biden emphasized Switzerland’s involvement in the conflict is significant, because they are breaking their 200 year neutrality policy.

Recent economic growth, spurred by the nation’s recovery from the effects of COVID-19, was also a topic of conversation. The U.S. economy grew 5.7% from last year and created over 6.5 million new jobs, the most substantial increase since 1982.

“We’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans — modernizing roads, airports, ports, waterways — all across America,” Biden said in the address. “We’ll do it to withstand the devastating effects of climate crisis and promote environmental justice.”

The address touched on various other initiatives Biden’s administration hopes to implement, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and increasing Pell Grants.

Pell Grants covered more than 75% of the cost to attend university in 1980, but only cover 28% today, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.

“During his first State of the Union address, President Biden called on Congress to increase funding for Pell Grants,” Robinson said in an email. “This is huge, and it’s time for Congress to deliver on that promise.”

Contact Anoushka Jasuja at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @anoushkajasuja.