Rashida Tlaib's response to Biden's State of the Union speech gets mixed reaction

Rashida Tlaib's response to Biden's State of the Union speech gets mixed reaction
Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib's response to Joe Biden's gave strong support for the president, while reminding Americans that there's still a lot of work ahead if they want to reach the full potential of the Build Back Better bill.
4 min read
Washington, D.C.
05 March, 2022
Rashida Tlaib's speech in response to Joe Biden's State of the Union address addresses concerns shared by millions of Americans (Getty)

For those who wondered what had happened to Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, there's at least one person who wanted to make sure that it wouldn't be forgotten.

In her speech responding to Biden’s address, given on behalf of the Working Families Party, Rashida Tlaib gave a blunt reminder that the Biden administration was far from passing his Build Back Better agenda – an agenda championed by progressives and supported by the majority of Democrats, but obstructed by two so-called moderate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

"With the majority of the Build Back Better agenda stalled, Mr. President, our work is unfinished. We are ready to jumpstart our work again," Tlaib said, drawing mixed responses from her party as well as from different media outlets.

Prior to her speech, Josh Gottheimer, a moderate Democratic house member from New Jersey, said Tlaib’s decision to speak was "like keying your own car and slashing your own tires".

Afterwards, Democratic Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia tweeted an image of a nametag reading: "Hello, my name is Captain Oblivious."

On a similar note, a Daily Beast opinion piece described Tlaib's speech as a gift to the GOP.

But many other reactions to Tlaib’s speech were far from negative. A piece this week in the New York Times Magazine, though not explicitly referring to the speech, took an in-depth look at how the congresswoman had helped change the Palestinian narrative in Congress, a perspective that perhaps also points to a shift in media coverage.

Indeed, the first thing she said after introducing herself was "I am the proud daughter of Palestinian immigrant parents..."

Moreover, not all politicians have tried to distance themselves from her speech. Some have offered their own responses to Biden's address, including Texas Democratic Representative Colin Allred, who delivered a response on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But Tlaib appears undeterred by the mixed responses to her decision to give a progressive response to Biden's speech. She matter-of-factly reminded the public that she was simply supporting Biden's agenda.

"Despite some sensational coverage, it's simple: I'm giving a speech about supporting President Biden and his Build Back Better agenda for the people," she wrote in a tweet before her speech.

In her speech, she described why she sees the Build Back Better bill as important for middle class Americans.

"Build Back Better increases access to healthcare, lowers prescription drug costs, and funds home and community-based care for our elders and people with disabilities. Each of these investments would be life changing," she said in her speech.

"It fights climate change with major investments in clean renewable energy, green jobs, and clean water that would transform our communities."

She added: "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."

She also listed the ways in which Biden can use his executive power to enact policy to support everyday Americans.

These included cancelling student debt; banning fossil fuel leasing and drilling; reforming labour laws to allow workers access to overtime pay; changing how the poverty line is calculated so that more Americans can be eligible for benefits; and breaking up pharmaceutical monopolies to make life-saving medications accessible.  

Though many comments about Tlaib's speech focused on the idea of it being a rebuttal to the president, the congresswoman made it a point to praise Biden’s policies and accomplishments, such as leading vaccination efforts as well as adding millions of new jobs.

Moreover, though critics of her speech tended to focus on its potential divisiveness, she appeared to be speaking of vision of a more inclusive America.

"No matter who you are or where you’re from, most of us want the same things. A good-paying job, a safe community, clean air and water, good schools, and a brighter future for our families," she said.

"Rep. Rashida Tlaib brought up key points on the importance of pursuing health justice and community safety for all, including investing in care instead of criminalization," Cat Knarr, Communications Director with the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told The New Arab.

"We must radically care for human beings first and foremost, looking out for one another and rejecting corporate greed and state-sanctioned violence."