Progressives are planning to counter President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1 with a speech highlighting roadblocks caused by conservative Democrats and ways that the country can move forward in pursuing the Democratic agenda.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) will deliver the speech on behalf of the Working Families Party (WFP). She is expected to praise Biden but point out that progressives have been the staunchest defenders of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. She will also give sharp criticisms of Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress, who have blocked progress on issues like lowering the cost of prescription drugs, addressing the climate crisis and decreasing child poverty.
“The overarching goal for the Working Families Party and for the congresswoman is to recenter Build Back Better, is to remind our base and remind our folks on the Hill in Congress, that this is so much more than just the President’s legislative agenda,” Natalia Salgado, director of federal affairs at WFP, told Truthout.
This will be the fifth time that WFP has countered the president’s State of the Union address with a progressive angle. Last April, the speech was delivered by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), who praised Biden but urged him to be bolder in pursuing an agenda centered on addressing the climate crisis and delivering racial justice.
This year’s speech comes at a critical time for the Democratic Party. The 2022 midterm elections are shaping up to be tough for Democrats, and the clock is ticking for Biden to solidify climate action and other priorities before he could potentially lose the majority in Congress.
Tlaib is expected to emphasize that Democrats can do more to pass proposals like the Green New Deal and to address issues like gun violence — but it’s crucial for more progressives to be elected to office so that the passage of such bills isn’t obstructed by a vocal minority of conservative Democrats.
“We are in a moment of urgency. We are in a moment of crisis, and the corporate democratic wing of the party needs to be reminded that the American voters, the American electorate, voted for us to govern effectively,” Salgado said. “Nothing makes voters more likely to stay home than feeling like the people that they voted into office, that are part of a majority, are still not able to respond to them.”
Tlaib emphasized on Twitter that the speech is “about the people who are hurting without [Build Back Better].”
“Despite some sensational coverage, it’s simple: I’m giving a speech about supporting President Biden and his Build Back Better agenda for the people,” Tlaib wrote. “Look past the headlines and hear progressives’ vision for working with the President and Congress to deliver for our residents.”
Indeed, millions of families are struggling financially without measures that would have been implemented in the Build Back Better Act. Last week, research found that child poverty increased by 41 percent after the expanded child tax credit expired, pushing tens of millions of children back into poverty. The Build Back Better Act would have extended the expanded tax credit and Democrats have sought to make them permanent, but conservatives and Manchin roundly rejected those proposals.
It’s unclear what issues Biden will address in his speech. He is likely to highlight the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was gutted by Republicans and conservative allies Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). He may address the situation in Ukraine, as this week, he announced sanctions against Russia for moving troops into the country. He could also tout vaccine statistics as the country comes off of its worst COVID wave yet.
But the glaring failures of Biden’s first year in office may go unaddressed. After passing one stimulus bill, many other financial safety nets, like the eviction moratorium, stimulus payments and the student debt repayment pause are either gone or are set to expire. Meanwhile, the president has skirted questions on his failure to cancel student loans, even though he pledged to do so on the campaign trail.