State of the Union Address: Rashida Tlaib Demands Progress on Stalled Social Agenda

State of the Union Address: Rashida Tlaib Demands Progress on Stalled Social Agenda

Rep Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Delivering the progressive response to President Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday, “squad” member Representative Rashida Tlaib pitched a radical restructuring of America’s economy and institutions, including but not limited to: passing Build Back Better and the Green New Deal, codifying Roe v. Wade, abolishing the filibuster, and guaranteeing healthcare as a fundamental right.

Representing the Working Families Party, Tlaib touted Biden’s presidential legacy in addressing the Covid-19 crisis, during which he “stopped what could have been an economic free-for-all.” But she went on to argue that Biden’s administration had not yet accomplished the ambitious social transformation that was his mandate.

Declaring that “our work is unfinished,” Tlaib demanded the resurrection of Build Back Better, which failed to advance in Congress after centrist Democratic Senator Joe Manchin killed it, citing a long list of progressive priorities such as increasing access to healthcare, lowering drug costs, fighting climate change, building affordable housing, and providing for elderly care, universal pre-K, paid family leave, and community college.

“With the majority of the Build Back Better agenda stalled, Mr. President, our work is unfinished,” Ms. Tlaib said in an online stream. “We are ready to jumpstart our work again. We still have time to lower costs for working families and preserve a livable planet for our grandchildren, but we must act now.”

“Imagine a government where corporate donors don’t drive healthcare, climate, education and poverty policies. Where the working families call the shots. It’s time we had a majority in Congress to fight for us – A Working Families majority,” she said.

For the package’s downfall, she blamed the GOP and “corporate obstructionists,” who she accused of cheating the public by not paying their fair share. “The super rich got richer during the pandemic,” she said, as they raised prices for average Americans, which she likened to “extortion.”

Tlaib hinted at Manchin’s opposition to the progressive agenda, claiming that “disproportionate representation in the Senate distorts the will of the people” and called to abolish the filibuster outright, instead of modifying or weakening it, as some Democrats had proposed in early 2022.

Biden has reportedly held onto the hope that Manchin could be lured back to the negotiating table on Build Back Better to approve specific provisions or “chunks” of the plan that he finds less objectionable. The president had signaled a willingness to implement it piecemeal to appease Manchin.

However, Manchin dismissed speculation that he was reconsidering the legislation on Tuesday. When asked about Biden’s attempts to resuscitate major parts of the Build Back Better agenda, Manchin joked “they just can’t help themselves,” according to The Hill

“I don’t know where that came from,” he said. “Nothing’s changed. That was a little bit far.”

In her speech, Tlaib grilled Big Pharma and drug companies for their exorbitant pricing and monopolistic behavior, saying “we cannot allow corporate profits to determine who lives and who dies.”

Carrying the mantle of fellow “squad” member of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spearheaded the Green New Deal, Tlaib called for “environmental justice.”

“Imagine turning the rust belt into a green belt,” she said.

She urged Congress to provide a path to citizenship for illegal aliens and to “transform the immigration system into one in which immigrants are welcomed, not vilified.” No mention was made of the ongoing border crisis that has seen an unprecedented influx of migrant crossings, overwhelming border personnel and nearby communities, since Biden’s Department of Homeland security relaxed much of the immigration enforcement measures employed by its predecessor.

Tlaib’s rhetoric stood in contrast to Biden’s State of the Union call to “secure the border.”

Another member of the “squad,” Representative Cori Bush indicated on Twitter that she was also not pleased with Biden’s praise for law enforcement in his speech. Diverging from progressive Democrats, who’ve advocated stripping police departments of their resources since the murder of George Floyd, Biden said to roaring applause: “We should all agree, the answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them!”

Bush clarified the progressive caucus’s position on police power, which is to minimize it and redirect funds from cracking down on crime to funding enhanced social services.

“With all due respect, Mr. President. You didn’t mention saving Black lives once in this speech. All our country has done is given more funding to police. The result? 2021 set a record for fatal police shootings. Defund the police. Invest in our communities,” she said.

Tlaib echoed Bush in her response, repeating that “care, care, not criminalization is how we ensure lasting safety for all.” She said cities must prioritize community safety, through allowing access to better jobs and quality education, because “we can’t police away homelessness.”

Tlaib’s decision to respond to Biden’s State of the Union was not well-received by all fellow Democrats.

Moderate Democrat Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, for instance, said Tlaib’s choice to speak was “like keying your own car and slashing your own tires.”

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[By: Caroline Downey

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