NewsWorld & Nation

Stanford experts and students share mixed responses to State of the Union address

March 3, 2022, 12:21 a.m.

Stanford political science experts offered mixed reactions to President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address, while student leaders of some campus political groups expressed support for the president’s address.

“President Biden’s State of the Union address showed strength and unity as he was trying to appeal to both sides of the aisle,” Stanford Democrats co-president Gabriella Garcia ’24 wrote. 

Ukraine

Biden began his speech with condemnations of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and affirmations of the U.S.’s and other Western countries’ support for the Ukrainian people.

“Putin is now isolated from the world more than he has ever been,” Biden said. “Together, along with our allies, we are now enforcing powerful economic sanctions. We are cutting off Russia’s largest banks and preventing Russia’s central bank from defending the Russian ruble, making Putin’s $630 billion war-fund worthless.”

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, lauded Biden’s decision to begin his address with remarks on Putin’s invasion, stating the U.S. response had “strong bipartisan support.”

The Biden administration “devoted a huge amount of time to consulting and coordinating with allies and partners, and it paid off,” Pifer wrote. “My guess is that the Kremlin has been surprised by the unified response and was probably stunned by the sanctions.”

Hoover Institution Senior Fellow and economics professor John Taylor also commended Biden’s mention of the Ukrainian people’s valor and the support the president showed to the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova.

“President Biden celebrated freedom as he began his State of the Union speech last night,” Taylor wrote. “He showed that ‘Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever.’ Applause was enthusiastic and bipartisan.”

The emphasis that Biden placed on condemning the invasion highlighted the “importance of freedom and democracy around the world,” Garcia said.

Still, professors expressed concern that the U.S. sanctions and messaging would not deter Putin or significantly harm Russian oligarchs.

“The financial sanctions, including banning Russia from the SWIFT, are avoided by many Russian banks,” assistant professor of Slavic languages and literatures Yuliya Ilchuk wrote. “The raft of sanctions on individual Russian oligarchs misses the richest of the rich. The sanctions aimed at Russia’s tech and military industry will have a long-term effect but won’t stop Russia from the war in Ukraine. And the energy sanctions were left unaddressed in the President’s speech.”

Economy

After invoking Ukraine, Biden unveiled a comprehensive economic agenda that he said would spur economic growth and provide substantial aid to middle- and working-class households.

Biden faulted “trickle-down-economics” for “widening the wage gap between the top and everyone else” over the past 40 years. He praised his bipartisan infrastructure package for investing in America and promised it would “create good jobs for millions of Americans.”

Biden also shared a slate of initiatives intended to improve American lives and livelihoods. Among them were plans to protect domestic manufacturing jobs, invest in renewable energy-based technologies, negotiate lower costs for prescription drugs for all Americans, offer universal pre-kindergarten to all three- and four-year-olds and raise the federal minimum wage to $15.

Garcia wrote that she approved of Biden’s promise to invest in renewable energy-based research, and that it would be especially relevant to Stanford students.

“His comments on the desire to fund research further were especially compelling and relevant to us as Stanford students,” Garcia wrote. “He recognized that by funding research in innovative spaces such as ours, were the way to creating more jobs and new industries.”

Taylor, however, did not express enthusiasm for Biden’s economic vision. 

“He got more partisan, and talked in a more lackluster way about his economic plans for the United States,” Taylor wrote. “He barely mentioned the huge inflation problem that is now on everyone’s mind, and is due to monetary policy. And then he asked the Senators in the audience to confirm his nominees for the Fed. … The applause turned partisan as much as his speech did.”

In contrast, Garcia expressed hope for Biden’s ability to combat inflation and noted that Biden prioritized a response to inflation in his address.

“The president stated that inflation is at the forefront of the issues he is tackling now,” Garcia wrote. “I hope that he can tackle inflation, as I do see it as one of the most pressing issues facing the United States as it is affecting everyday American people.”

Voting rights

Biden also denounced the hundreds of laws passed by Republican state legislatures that would make it more difficult for Americans to register to vote.

“The most fundamental right in America is the right to vote — to have it counted — and it’s under assault,” Biden said. “In state after state, new laws have been passed, not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert entire elections. We cannot let this happen.”

To combat the voter suppression laws, Biden called upon Congress members to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Disclose Act — the latter piece of legislation promising to end anonymity in election donations.

StanfordVotes Co-Director Cameron Lange ’24 echoed Biden’s remarks on the state of voting in America.

“As an organization that champions civic engagement and voting-rights protections, we share President Biden’s concern surrounding voter suppression and commend him for centering pro-voter legislation in his address,” Lange wrote.

Supreme Court nomination

Biden also championed his nomination of Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. The president praised his nominee for being “one of the nation’s top legal minds.”

Law professor Shirin Sinnar highlighted the historical significance of Jackson’s nomination — the first Black women to be nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Sinnar noted that judges of underrepresented minorities and judges with experience in criminal defense are vastly underrepresented in federal judiciaries. Sinnar stated these traits of Jackson are especially critical in light of the right-wing judicial activism currently dominating the Supreme Court.

“It should be remembered that, if confirmed, she will be in the minority on an increasingly extreme court that is out of step with the people and set on protecting corporate interests and the power of dominant groups,” Sinnar wrote. “This nomination should be celebrated — along with continuing critique of an institution that seems poised to undercut voting rights, affirmative action, gun control, abortion rights, among other things.”

Jed Ngalande ‘23 is the Politics and Government beat reporter for the Stanford Daily.

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