Biden slams ‘Defund the Police,’ defends voting rights in State of the Union address

EXCLUSIVE: DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison and Congressman Mondaire Jones react to the president's remarks that lasted one hour and two minutes.

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President Joe Biden delivered a message of unity and strength in his first State of Union address Tuesday night, where he was introduced to the House chamber by a Black Sergeant of Arms, William J. Walker, and stood before the most diverse presidential cabinet in American history.

History was also made when Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi marked the first time that two women stood behind the president during a State of the Union address.

US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) look on during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol House Chamber on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images)

President Biden opened his one hour and nearly two minutes long remarks addressing the military conflict in Ukraine where Russia has invaded the Eastern European country, reportedly killing hundreds so far. Addressing the challenges faced by Americans at home, the president acknowledged the rising costs sparked by inflation and the residual impacts of the two-year-long COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, Biden focused most of his speech on the gains his administration has made in combating the virus, job creation and the passing of two major laws from his legislative agenda, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan.

President Biden also addressed key issues that have consistently been of major importance to Black Americans: voting rights, policing and crime prevention.

“We should all agree: The answer is not to Defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” said Biden, who touted his $350 billion budget from ARP for cities, states, and counties to hire more police and “invest in proven strategies like community violence interruption.”

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol’s House Chamber March 01, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The president also called for police accountability and rebuilding trust between communities and law enforcement. Emphasizing his administration’s efforts to address bad policing despite Congress not delivering on his request last year to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law. “That’s why the Justice Department required body cameras, banned chokeholds, and restricted no-knock warrants for its officers,” he said. 

As theGrio previously reported, the Biden White House is currently working on executive orders to enact police reform.

In an exclusive interview with theGrio following President Biden’s State of the Union address, U.S. Congressman Mondaire Jones of New York said Biden spoke “specifically to certain systemic inequities within our criminal legal system, specifically in policing, while acknowledging that Black Americans want to feel and be safe in their communities.”

“I look to the election of [NYC Mayor] Eric Adams, who ran on keeping our communities safe through, in part, policing as evidence of the fact that Black Americans don’t want to send police officers out of their communities, they just don’t want to be unfairly harmed by law enforcement agents. And there’s not an inconsistency between those two things…Black people want to be safe with the help of police officers in their communities without being brutalized by those same officers.”

U.S. Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri, who has repeatedly called to defund the police, tweeted her reaction to President Biden’s remarks.

“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,” wrote Bush. ”Defund the police. Invest in our communities.”

Congressman Jones added, “I thought what we heard from the president was exactly the agenda that Black Americans need from the federal government…He also talked about making child care affordable for every family in America by pointing to a provision that I wrote, capping the annual cost of child care at 7% of household income.

Rep. Mondaire Jones, theGrio.com
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) speaks during a press conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to announce legislation to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court on April 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“We know that Black Americans disproportionately suffer economic obstacles, whether it’s in affording childcare or affording rent or mortgage. So all of the economic proposals that he unveiled tonight disproportionately benefit Black and Brown communities.”

During his Tuesday night remarks, President Biden also called on Congress to pass the stalled Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“The most fundamental right in America is the right to vote – and to have it counted. And it’s under assault,” he said. “In state after state, new laws have been passed, not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert entire elections.”

Jones, who is running for re-election in the U.S. House this year, said, “in the face of unanimous Republican opposition to the voting rights of Black Americans, and the unwillingness of two Democratic senators to make an exception to the filibuster for the purpose of preserving multiracial democracy, our focus as Black Americans has to be picking up just two more Democratic Senate seats in the fall to make future obstruction of voting rights legislation and a possibility in the Senate.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison told theGrio he felt the president’s speech was “strong.”

“Many of the issues that I think all Americans are concerned about right now are, particularly issues that are concerning to Black America. They often say when the nation gets a cold… Black America has the flu. So in terms of job security and increasing costs covered, all these issues are extremely, extremely important to Black America right now,” Harrison told theGrio.

Democratic National Committee Chairman, Jaime Harrison speaks on voting rights at the Louis Stokes Library of Howard University in Washington, DC on July 8, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think the president really did a wonderful job of laying out what his plan is, laying out the things that he has done in order to improve the condition of folks and the things that he wants to continue to do. I can tell you, you take one issue along and how that will have a dramatic impact on many Black American families.”

Chairman Harrison also pointed out what he called a “rare” moment Tuesday night as both Republicans joined Democrats in applauding the president during unifying parts of his speech.

“I think what you saw on the floor tonight was something that was very rare…yes, there were moments in which all Democrats stood up. But there were a lot of moments, more so than I think I’ve seen in a long time when you got Democrats and Republicans who stood up to applaud the president and his leadership and his vision and this plan going forward — I think that’s a big thing,” said Harrison.

He added, “I think that’s a turning point…I think President Joe Biden tonight did a really good job of finding some common ground and, hopefully, that can lead to even more unity going down the road.”

During his State of Union address, President Biden also shouted out Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who he announced last week as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, calling her “one of our nation’s top legal minds.”

“A consensus builder. Since she’s been nominated, she’s received a broad range of support—from the Fraternal Order of Police to former judges appointed by Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, delivers remarks with U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Vice President Kamala Harris during an event in the Cross Hall of the White House February 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Biden also called on the U.S. Senate to finally confirm his nominees for the Federal Reserve Board — two of whom are Black (Lisa Cooks and Philip Jefferson) — which he said “plays a critical role in fighting inflation.” Republicans have stalled the confirmation process thus far.

“One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation,” said Biden. “Lower your costs, not your wages.”

Harrison noted, “Biden painted very clearly that the Democratic Party, under his leadership, is standing with America, and that means standing with the workers that make America the great country that she is… he laid out what he wanted to do to bring down costs, but he wanted to do them to ease up the anxiety and frustration and anger that people felt over the years.”

The Democratic Party leader added, “He’s given us our marching orders. We just now need to be just as clear eyed as the president was tonight in terms of getting that message out to the American people.”

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