In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden looked to revive pieces of his domestic agenda while highlighting pandemic recovery and steps taken to deter Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said Biden and Democrats have no further to look than Nevada for a success story regarding the pandemic, though she cautioned that more needed to be done.
Biden attributed the nation’s recovery to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP), which provided funding to increase vaccinations, testing and economic recovery. It became law in March and provided $6.7 billion for Nevada.
He got a big boo from Republicans when he unfavorably compared the GOP 2017 tax cut with the ARP.
“[U]nlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefitted the top 1 percent of Americans, the American Rescue Plan helped working people—and left no one behind,” Biden said. “And it worked.”
Biden also called for the passage of legislation to boost domestic manufacturing of semiconductors. The bill could help Nevada's economy by spurring the need for domestically sourced rare earths. Both the House and Senate have passed their respective versions. The two sides need to settle the differences before sending the measure to Biden.
The president reflected on recent new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxing mask requirements. But the House sergeant-at-arms, William Walker, the House's chief law enforcement and protocol officer, did not take any chances. While masks were optional, all attendees were required to take COVID tests 24 hours before the speech to attend.
Asked Tuesday off the House floor if he would wear a mask, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) said, “It depends on who I sit next to.”
Five members tested positive for COVID ahead of the speech.
Seating for the speech was assigned this year, breaking a recent tradition of Democrats and Republicans making a point of sitting together by choice as a show of bipartisanship. Members typically bring guests to highlight issues of interest. But this year, members’ guests were required to attend virtually.
Horsford invited Nevada resident Anna Marie Binder, who benefited from the enhanced child tax credit enacted in the ARP. Lee's guest was Las Vegas nurse Liz Bolhouse. Titus left her virtual seat empty to honor the 1 October mass shooting victims. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) invited Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District Chief Charles Moore. Sen. Jacky Rosen's (D-NV) guest was Communication Workers of America Local 9413 President Marc Ellis.
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), who skipped the speech, said in an interview Monday that with inflation at a 40 year high, energy prices rising, a surge of undocumented immigrants at the southern border and strife abroad, he does not see much room for bragging.
“[T]his is a pretty unsettled time,” Amodei said. “I don't know what the bright spots are, I guess your Supreme Court nominee, but after that the report card is not good.”
Biden recently named Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. She would be the first African-American woman to serve on the court if confirmed by the Senate.
The speech was also an effort to help Biden lift his low approval ratings, which could be a drag on Democratic candidates running in the midterms
According to Real Clear Politics' average of recent national polls, only 40.6 percent of voters approve of the job Biden is doing. Things are a little better for the president in Nevada. A Nevada Independent/OH Predictive Insights poll released last month found that 52 percent of registered Nevada voters disapproved of the job Biden has done so far, while 41 percent approve.
Biden also touted the passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law in November. The law provided $4 billion over five years to Nevada for highways, transit, broadband, airports and drought mitigation.
Under the law, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration awarded $7.3 million to expand broadband in Spring Creek, Nevada. The award was announced last week and would fund Elko County's Spring Creek Area project, which will serve 5,568 households across the county and 169 businesses and 21 community institutions within the proposed area.
But Biden's speech comes as his roughly $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act (BBB), which would provide child care, health care and climate change subsidies, has stalled in the Senate. The opposition has come from his party, namely Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who criticized the bill for its scope and cost.
He touted pieces of the plan, including more affordable housing and Pre-K for every 3- and 4-year-old, as ways to help Americans deal with the highest levels of inflation in 40 years.
Nevada’s congressional Democrats have also called for passage of the measure.
Horsford said in an interview Tuesday that he wants aid to address a lack of affordable housing in his Fourth Congressional District, particularly a steep rise in rents.
The speech also comes as Biden is helping lead a coalition of allied nations that have imposed a series of crippling sanctions against Russia. These include cutting off Russian banks from a secure messaging platform used by the world financial industry, known as SWIFT, and sanctions against President Vladimir Putin himself.
He got bipartisan applause for calling for economic consequences for Putin and Russian oligarchs.
Biden announced that the U.S. has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world.
“These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home,” Biden said. “And I know the news about what’s happening can seem alarming. But I want you to know that we are going to be okay.”
His announcement comes as gas prices in Nevada have been steadily rising. According to AAA, the average cost of a gallon of gas in Nevada was $4.04. That’s more than the $3.96 cost a week ago.
Biden also announced that the U.S. would join its allies in closing off American air space to all Russian commercial flights – further isolating Russia – and adding an additional squeeze on their economy.