Rashida Tlaib: Here’s Where Biden’s SOTU Fell Short

With a stroke of a pen, President Biden could improve lives for millions of working people. To strengthen the state of the union, now is the time for transformative action.

Rashida Tlaib

(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

In response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on March 1, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) delivered this response on behalf of the Working Families Party:

I’m Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. I am the proud daughter of Palestinian immigrant parents that grew up in the most beautiful, Blackest city in the country — Detroit. I am honored to be with you tonight to elevate the voices of the families and communities across the country that continue to be left behind. As the mother of two boys and the eldest of 14 children, I have been taking care of people all my life. My service in Congress is guided by my roots. That’s why I’m committed to standing up for communities that just want the opportunity to thrive. 

In the richest country in the world, it shouldn’t be this hard for so many to have a good life. Tonight, I am proud to deliver a response on behalf of the Working Families Party — a voice for the multiracial working class, fighting for a nation that cares for all of us. 

Two years ago, we couldn’t have imagined a pandemic that has taken nearly a million lives here at home and nearly six million around the world. When President Biden took office just over a year ago, he took action. He started getting shots in arms, and acted quickly to deliver emergency relief. Congress approved direct relief checks. We helped our working parents. Stopped evictions. Sent resources to our schools and our local and state governments. 

We showed the potential of an administration and Congress that act together at the scale of the challenges we all face. We showed how our government can be in the service of the working class majority, not just the wealthy few. And it worked: President Biden and Congress stopped what could have been economic freefall. Not a single Republican voted for that relief package — not one.

President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation brought people together. We saw people who want to see child care in the same room with those working on climate. Folks working on housing justice in the same room as those working on health care. The President did that. Build Back Better did that. 

Build Back Better’s investment increases access to healthcare and lower prescription drug costs would be life changing. It fights climate change with major investments in clean renewable energy, green jobs, and clean water that would transform our communities. It would uplift 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. And these popular investments would be paid for by making the wealthy and giant corporations pay their fair share. 

No one fought harder for President Biden’s agenda than progressives. We rallied with our supporters, held town halls in our communities, engaged new people and we even played hardball in Congress.

Some important parts of the President’s agenda became law with the infrastructure bill, but we campaigned on doing even more. Roads and bridges are critical, but so are childcare and prescription drugs — and we shouldn’t have to choose. 

People like India Beckum, a mother of seven children in my district who is the sole provider for her family. The expanded Child Tax Credit helped her catch up on bills and meet her family’s basic needs. But now that lifeline is gone. We can’t give up on her and millions of people like her. With the majority of the Build Back Better agenda stalled, Mr. President, the work is unfinished. But we are ready to jumpstart our efforts again. We still have time to lower costs for working families and preserve a livable planet for our grandchildren — but we have to act now. The super rich got richer during the pandemic, while Ms. Beckum and others face higher costs and new barriers that will forever alter their children’s future. 

So what would a working families majority do? We’d work with President Biden to deliver for you and your family. We’d guarantee healthcare as a basic right, because after two years of the pandemic, we can’t allow corporate profits to determine who lives and who dies. We’d stand up to Big Pharma and insurance companies, and we’d make drug prices for life-saving medicine like insulin actually affordable. And we’d make abortion care a fundamental right, so that no Supreme Court could ever take it away. We’d pass the End Child Poverty Act that Representative Mondaire Jones and I introduced, so that parents like India Beckum and millions more could provide for the basics that every child needs to thrive. 

We’d fight for respect for all workers. That means a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour that rises with inflation, freedom to join a union without harassment or intimidation, and paid family and medical leave for all workers. From the baristas at Great Lakes Coffee in my hometown, the teachers in Minnesota to the Amazon workers in Alabama, workers are speaking up for a voice and dignity on the job. I saw what a union meant for my family growing up with my father in the United Auto Workers. This smile is because of the UAW. They ensured that our family had access to dental care. 

This is our time to take on the corporate polluters who get rich poisoning us and fight for environmental justice. With a Green New Deal, we would rebuild our country by creating millions of union jobs in the clean energy industries of the future. Imagine turning the rust belt into a Green Belt that is a center of American jobs and innovation for the next century. And we’d ensure clean air and water. I know we can’t build back better if our children can’t live healthy lives. 

A Working Families Majority would take on skyrocketing housing costs, which have left half a million Americans homeless on any given night and millions more struggling to pay the rent. That means building millions of accessible, new, affordable homes, and providing long-overdue rental, down payment, and home repair assistance. We would provide a real path to citizenship for people who want nothing more than to contribute to our nation. We would transform our broken immigration system into one where immigrants are welcomed, not vilified. 

Over the past few days, we have all watched in horror as Russia launched an illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine. We stand with the people of Ukraine. The United States and our allies must work together towards an immediate cease-fire and a diplomatic resolution to the conflict that de-escalates and saves lives. We need a humanitarian response to this crisis, and we must welcome Ukrainian refugees from all walks of life to the United States. 

We cannot seek peace by continuing to spend three quarters of a trillion dollars every year on weapons of war, making defense companies and contractors wealthier. We must put human rights and dignity first and prioritize cooperation and diplomacy to address the challenges that no one nation can confront alone, like pandemics and climate change.

Nothing is more important than keeping the people we love free from harm, and we all deserve to be safe in our neighborhoods. The path to community safety is investing in what people need to thrive, like access to jobs, quality education, and real opportunities. We can’t police away homelessness, poverty or the mental health crisis in our country. Care, not more criminalization, is how we ensure lasting safety for all.

We should end the War on Drugs, fund legal defense, and enact criminal justice reforms, like ending qualified immunity that would transform our discriminatory legal system. And we should add a Justice for working people to the Supreme Court by confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson without delay.

Over the last two years, the richest people in America doubled their wealth. As profits skyrocket, corporations have the nerve to blame inflation while increasing prices on essential goods and services. This is more than simply corporate greed — it’s extortion. We need to tax the billionaires and mega corporations that dodge their fair share. And we need to fight back against unchecked corporate power that increasingly shapes our lives.

Those policies I named — they are popular. But we have a system that makes it too easy for elected officials to answer to donors instead of their constituents. Disproportionate representation in the Senate distorts the democratic will of the people. The filibuster, a tool perfected to defend Jim Crow, continues to be used to block progress. We must abolish it in the Senate, like the House did more than a century ago. 

Republicans are trying to destroy the political power of working class families and they’re willing to tear down our democracy to do it. They say the violent insurrection on January 6 is legitimate political expression” and that corporate Super PAC spending dominating our elections is just free speech. The Republicans act like the real danger to democracy is having enough voting booths in Black neighborhoods, mail-in ballots and fair district lines. If we really want a democracy that responds to the will of the people, then we need voting rights protections and democracy reforms immediately.

While we continue building support in Congress, President Biden can use his executive power to take action right now to deliver for the people:

  • He can cancel federal student debt, which would be a lifeline for millions of Americans and a transformative economic stimulus.
  • He can ban federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling, direct federal agencies to reject permits for new fossil fuel projects, and regulate carbon emissions.
  • He can fix our labor rules to allow more workers to access overtime pay. 
  • He can change how we calculate the poverty line, so that more Americans become eligible for life-saving federal benefits. 
  • And he can take action to break up pharmaceutical monopolies and make life-saving medicines affordable.

The midterm elections are coming up fast — and this year we can elect the Working Families Majority we need. We know what happens when the Republicans take power. They’ll protect the rich and target the rest of us. They’ll attack and undermine voting rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, immigrants, people of color and the LGBTQ community, and block progress on climate change. So if you voted or knocked on doors or donated in 2020 to defeat Trump, I implore you: pay attention because this year is just as important and we need everybody to help.

Blocking the far-right is not enough — we also need to elect the next generation of working families champions. It starts with staying engaged and voting — in every election, in every primary — for candidates who will put working people first. 

We get closer to the world we all deserve when we build a bigger movement — bring people in and not cast them out. I was taught by a pastor in Detroit that we aren’t a country that is divided, we are disconnected. We must connect on the dreams we have for our children, the hopes we have for our communities and so much more. 

When we connect with one another, building our solidarity, we can outwork the hate, and show the very people who want to ensure we never have a seat at the table that we aren’t going anywhere. 

I want you to think of the people you love, the place you call home. For me, it’s my two boys, my family, my communities. Who is it for you? That’s who we’re fighting for. I want for them, what we want for all Americans — the opportunity to thrive and flourish, a country where no one person’s dream is too big to become a reality. I know it is possible when we all come together.

Rashida Tlaib is the U.S. representative for Michigan’s 13th congressional district. She is a lawyer and served as a state representative in Michigan for six years.
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