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3 issues we’d like to see in President Biden’s State of the Union address

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February 28, 2022

On March 1, President Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address. The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 3, clause 1) requires that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The State of the Union (SOTU) gives the president the opportunity to report to Congress and the American people on the current condition of the United States and provides a policy vision for the upcoming legislative year.

State of the Union addresses are typically delivered during the first two months of the year, and it’s unusual for a president to be invited by the Speaker of the House to deliver this speech in March as is the case this year.

Without a doubt, a large part of the speech will likely be dedicated to articulating the President’s views about the ongoing war in Ukraine, the largest foreign policy crisis of Biden’s term thus far. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine fundamentally challenges the post-Cold War world-order and presents a host of questions and unknowns for the United States and its NATO allies. Biden will be tasked with communicating a clear plan to address all of this and offering a compelling vision of why this matters to the American people.

Amidst these overarching issues of the war in Ukraine, record-breaking inflation, and a pandemic that continues to take American lives, Biden hasn’t been able to push forward his broad policy agenda. Democratic leadership had hoped to use a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation to pass the “Build Back Better” package that contained a number of Democratic priorities. However, moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have signaled their unwillingness to support this package as it currently exists. We anticipate portions of the President’s remarks to give some support to this liberal package. 

Beyond that, we anticipate President Biden to speak on the issue of abortion. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer brought the Women’s Health Protection Act to the Senate floor for a vote. While it failed to pass the Senate, this legislation is the most pro-abortion bill to ever pass the House of Representatives. It is a deeply disturbing bill and it would be concerning for this bill to be highlighted as an achievement in the President’s address. 

While we have many strongdisagreements with Biden, such as on the issue of abortion, we also see areas of potential cooperation and bipartisanship, where positive policies could be pursued by Congress and the administration. In this deeply divided Congress and with a stalled agenda, Biden ought to use this address to direct his administration’s and Congress’ focus away from areas of extreme partisanship and toward areas of potential bipartisan agreement. Three areas where we’d like to see him do that are on immigration reform, refugee resettlement, and countering China. We highlight these areas because they have been clearly addressed by the Southern Baptist Convention through resolutions passed at the convention’s annual meeting over the years. 

Immigration reform

Though immigration reform was a key promise in Biden’s campaign, little has been done on the issue since he took office. At the beginning of his presidency, he signed a number of immigration-related executive orders and sent his sweeping “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021” to Congress. However, that bill has not moved forward, and few efforts have been made to gain Republican support. 

Though there are areas of sharp disagreement between the two parties on the area of immigration, there are also significant areas of agreement that should be explored. There is bipartisan support for a permanent, legislative solution for Dreamers, such as the “Dream Act.” Other proposals to reform our asylum system and border security could receive bipartisan support as well through legislation such as the “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act.” And just recently, Republican Congresswoman Salazar (FL) introduced her “Dignity Act” which could prove to be a starting point for negotiations toward a legalization effort between the two parties. 

While none of these pieces of legislation are perfect, they demonstrate that ample ground exists where the two parties could come together and legislate reasonable solutions to these important challenges. In his address, Biden should encourage the two parties to find common ground on this issue and pass bipartisan, commonsense solutions on areas of agreement rather than using these vulnerable immigrants as political pawns and continuing to fail to address these issues that affect human lives.

Refugees

After resettling a record-low number of refugees in fiscal year 2021, Biden set an ambitious goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022. Despite this admirable goal, the United States has only resettled 4,362 refugees this fiscal year as of Jan. 31, and is on track to resettle well below that target. 

Under the previous administration, refugee resettlement was largely halted, and many resettlement organizations were forced to close offices and significantly reduce operations. The resettlement pipeline overseas and the resettlement program in the United States were both further decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Seriously restarting the refugee resettlement program and reclaiming the United States’ position as a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge is not as simple as flipping a switch and increasing the number of refugees we are willing to accept. Government agencies that handle refugee resettlement and resettlement organizations need serious direction and support to be able to adequately serve these vulnerable populations.

This is also partly due to the resettlement of tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans who were brought to the United States using humanitarian parole, rather than the formal refugee process, due to the urgency of their evacuation. Resettlement agencies have swiftly jumped in to provide resettlement services to these Afghans despite facing considerable challenges.

Biden must keep the United States’ promises to the Afghan people, particularly those who assisted our troops. He should direct his administration to expedite processing through the refugee resettlement program of Afghans still stuck in third countries or in vulnerable situations overseas and should urge Congress to provide resettlement agencies with the resources they need to fully rebuild. 

China

A third area we’d like to see discussed in President Biden’s State of the Union address is how he plans to bolster the United States’ policies countering China. Though the Biden administration ultimately claimed the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act at the end of last year as a victory, reporting suggests that they were working behind the scenes to delay and dilute the bill. Similarly, the administration diplomatically boycotted the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing but failed to effectively use their power to help persuade other countries to follow suit.

Throughout the first year of his presidency, the horrendous human rights abuses and genocide of the Uyghur people in China have at times been deprioritized to economic or climate concerns. More must be done to counter China morally. President Biden should use his State of the Union address to lay out plans to do just that. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was passed with broad, bipartisan support, and President Biden should encourage Congress to continue this cooperation to further hold China accountable for its abuses.

President Biden certainly has a difficult task at hand to bring the country together amidst the ongoing challenges in the world. Our hope is that he will pursue these policy areas where compromises can be made and divisions can be overcome, rather than pursuing divisive and extreme policies. Ultimately, Christians do not put their faith in any one leader but trust God and pray that he gives President Biden wisdom as he leads our nation during these difficult times.

Hannah Daniel

Hannah Daniel serves as a Policy Associate in the ERLC's Washington, D.C. office. She graduated with a degree in Economics from Union University in 2020. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is a member of King’s Church. Read More by this Author