WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday during a time of global unrest, ongoing frustration over rising costs at home and a pandemic that hasn’t gone away.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said the president delivered a message of unity against Russia and a message of understanding the challenges people in middle America are facing.
Appearing on WGLT’s Sound Ideas, Duckworth said she was pleased Biden reasserted U.S. support for the “heroic” people of Ukraine as they fight back an invasion from Russia.
Listen to this interview here.
Illinois’ junior Democratic senator said the harshest sanctions ever imposed may help, but she wants the U.S. to do more. Duckworth said she’s calling on the U.S. Department of Defense to expedite its sale of military tanks to Poland to help neighboring Ukraine prevent a takeover of its capital.
“Russia has probably bit off a heck of a lot more than we can chew,” Duckworth said. “They may end up occupying Kyiv, but I don’t know they will be able to maintain that and if they put in a puppet regime, I don’t know that that puppet regime will be accepted by the Ukrainian people. I think it would be overthrown.”
Biden also reiterated the U.S. does not plan to send troops into Ukraine. Duckworth doesn’t believe that will further embolden Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“I don’t know how you can be any more emboldened than what they have already done, which is to just out of the blue invade a sovereign democratic nation that did them no harm,” Duckworth said. “Ukraine was never a threat to Russia.”
Duckworth said the U.S. must be prepared for Russia to cut off energy exports, adding Biden’s plan to release oil from the U-S strategic reserves should help tamp down gas prices.
During his address, President Biden pushed some domestic plans he’d like Congress to adopt, including the $2 trillion Build Back Better agenda. That plan stalled in the Senate after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin broke from the Democratic party and said he could not support it.
Duckworth said there are parts of Build Back Better that could still find enough support to pass when taken individually.
Duckworth said she wants Congress to provide more funding for home-and-community based care.
She noted more than 800,000 Americans are on waiting lists for these services. “Our elderly, people with disabilities who otherwise could lead full and productive lives — maybe even hold down jobs outside the home if they could get a little help with home health care, we should do that,” she said.
Duckworth said she also wants a cap on insulin prices at $35. That was another part of Build Back Better that stalled.
Biden’s first State of the Union came at a time when his approval ratings are at their lowest yet at 37%. A majority of Americans have called Biden’s first year in the White House a failure. High costs due to inflation are a big reason why.
Duckworth said the best way to address inflation is to expand U.S. manufacturing and rely less on China. “The way we fix that is to fix the supply chain issue,” Duckworth said. “Part of the reason we have inflation is because of the manufacturing supply chain. For far too long, large corporations have moved manufacturing away from made in America and manufacture overseas.”
Duckworth said the U.S. should push more incentives for products to be made in America.
There were a few points Duckworth said she wanted to hear more from Biden in his State of the Union, including ways to reduce student loan debt.
“I would love to really address that issue because we have to alleviate this crisis that we have on student loan debt. There’s more student loan debt held in this country than there is credit card debt,” Duckworth said. “That’s not sustainable.”
Duckworth said she also wants the Biden administration to address veterans’ concerns. Specifically, she wants to make it easier for veterans to receive health care outside of VA facilities.
Duckworth was an Army pilot who lost both of her legs when she served in the Iraq war.
Duckworth predicts President Biden’s choice for the U.S. Supreme Court will get some bipartisan support. Ketanji Brown Jackson would be the first Black woman to serve on the high court.
Duckworth called Jackson’s resume “incredibly impressive,” noting the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Jackson.
“She’s had a wide range of support from conservative judges to liberal organizations. I think because she has a proven record of getting a bipartisan majority of support in the Senate (in previous appointments), she should be able to get through with more than 51 votes,” Duckworth said.
Jackson’s Senate confirmation appears certain since it does not require any Republican votes in the Senate, where Democrats and the GOP both have 50 members.
Duckworth recently called on federal regulators to provide more clear guidance on the need for people who are immuno-compromised to get a fourth COVID vaccine dose. Duckworth said guidance from the FDA and CDC has often been hard to follow.
“As someone who has a daughter who is not yet 4, for parents of children under 5, it’s been really confusing,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth said some who are immuno-compromised are unaware they should get a fourth shot and some pharmacies have turned away some who are eligible for the additional dose.
Biden also announced during the State of the Union his administration was launching a “test-to-treat” initiative. It will provide free antiviral pills at pharmacies to people who test positive for the coronavirus.