Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) delivered the Working Family Party’s response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, telling the current commander-in-chief that progressives are ready to work with him to deliver on the many popular promises he made as a candidate for office in 2020.
Tlaib, who introduced herself as a mother of two boys and “the proud daughter of Palestinian immigrant parents that grew up in the most beautiful, Blackest city in the country — Detroit,” noted that too many Americans are struggling economically.
“In the richest country in the world, it shouldn’t be this hard for so many to have a good life,” Tlaib said early on in her speech.
“Our government must put the needs of working families first,” the congresswoman added.
Tlaib’s speech was not hugely critical of Biden, but rather encouraged him to renew the push for many of the social reforms and progressive proposals that were included in his Build Back Better spending package last year. That package failed after corporate-backed Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said that he couldn’t vote for the bill, supposedly due to its costs.
Biden’s initiatives early on in office, including taking quick action on the coronavirus pandemic and delivering economic aid to Americans, “showed the potential of an administration and Congress that can act together at the scale of the challenges we all face,” Tlaib said.
“We showed how our government can be in the service of the working class majority, not just the wealthy few,” Tlaib said. “And it worked: President Biden and Congress stopped what could have been economic freefall.”
The policies that were included in the Build Back Better package would have been “life changing,” Tlaib maintained, laying out a range of beneficial outcomes, including expanding “access to healthcare and lower prescription drug costs” and fighting “climate change with major investments in clean and renewable energy, green jobs, and clean water that would transform our communities.”
Tlaib added that the social spending bill, had it passed Congress, “would [have] uplift[ed] our nation by preserving and building affordable housing, and investing in children and families with affordable childcare, universal pre-k, paid leave and free community college.”
“No one fought harder for President Biden’s agenda than progressives,” she said, but “two forces stood in the way” of Build Back Better’s passage — “a Republican Party that serves only the rich and the powerful, and just enough corporate-backed Democratic obstructionists to help them succeed” — a comment that likely alluded to Manchin and other right-wing Democrats in the Senate.
Those forces would continue to repel good policy so long as undemocratic rules in the Senate remained in place, Tlaib said. Describing the filibuster as a “tool perfected to defend Jim Crow” that is now being “used to block progress,” Tlaib said it was time to “abolish it in the Senate.”
Tlaib also described in great detail what a “working families majority” in Congress would look like. On health care, it would guarantee coverage and care “as a basic right.” Lawmakers would stand up to Big Pharma, she said, and make life-saving medications like insulin affordable. A working families majority would also pass legislation to make abortion care a fundamental right, which would ensure that abortion protections couldn’t be undone through a Supreme Court ruling.
Tlaib discussed progressives’ aims to end child poverty by making permanent the monthly payments families with dependents received in the second half of last year. A Congress dedicated to working families instead of corporate interests would raise the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour, tying future raises to inflation, she said. It would also ensure that workers who wanted to create a union could do so “without harassment or intimidation.”
On the climate crisis, Tlaib said a working families majority in Congress would take on “corporate polluters who get rich poisoning us.” Lawmakers would also establish a Green New Deal that would create millions of union jobs, turning the “rust belt” into a “green belt.”
While discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tlaib expressed solidarity with the people of Ukraine. But she noted that calls for sanctions should be targeted, and should “put pressure on Russia’s billionaires, not the everyday Russians who had no choice in this conflict and are courageously protesting the war as we speak.”
“We need a humanitarian response to this crisis, and we must welcome Ukrainian refugees from all walks of life to the United States,” she added.
Tlaib also called for reductions to the U.S. military budget. “We can’t seek peace by continuing to spend three-quarters of a trillion dollars every year on weapons of war, making defense contractors and companies wealthier,” Tlaib said.
Tlaib went on to call for desperately needed changes to the country’s approach to safety. “The path to community safety is investing in what people need to thrive, like access to jobs, quality education, and real opportunities,” she explained. “We can’t police away homelessness, poverty, or mental health crises in our country. Care, not more criminalization, is how we ensure lasting safety for all.”
And on rising costs of products, Tlaib endorsed an opinion that a majority of Americans already hold: that inflation is being driven by corporate greed, not any policy enacted by the Biden administration.
“As profits skyrocketed, corporations had the nerve to blame inflation while increasing prices on essential goods and services. This is more than simple corporate greed — it’s extortion,” she said, adding that one solution to the problem was to tax wealthy individuals and corporations that don’t pay their fair share of taxes.
Tlaib addressed Republicans’ continued marching toward undemocratic ideals, noting their repeated downplaying of the attack on the U.S. Capitol building by a mob of Trump loyalists last year. But democracy was endangered in other ways, too, she said, including through legislation passed in a number of GOP-run states that have disenfranchised voters.
“The Republicans act like the real danger to our democracy is having enough voting booths in Black neighborhoods, mail-in ballots, fair district lines,” Tlaib said. “If we really wanted a democracy that responds to the will of the people, then we need voting rights protections and democracy reforms immediately.”
Tlaib also criticized Biden for not taking action on promises he made that he could fulfill without Congress’s approval — including fixing labor rules, regulating carbon emissions, and forgiving student debt, which the Michigan Democrat said could help stimulate the economy.
Finally, Tlaib made an appeal for voters to elect progressives to Congress in this year’s midterms. She warned that Republicans would “protect the rich and target the rest of us” if they won Congress this year by “[undermining] voting rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, immigrants, people of color and our LGBTQ community, and block progress on climate change.”
But “blocking the far-right is not enough,” Tlaib emphasized. “We also need to elect the next generation of working families champions.”
“When we connect with one another, building our solidarity, we can outwork the hate, and show that the very people who want to ensure we never have a seat at the table, we can show them that we aren’t going anywhere,” she concluded.