By Katrina vanden Heuvel / Democracy Now!

President Biden delivered his State of the Union address Thursday night. In it, he made his case for a second term ahead of this year’s presidential election, criticizing Republican front-runner Donald Trump without mentioning him by name, and highlighting his administration’s policies to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, reinstate reproductive rights and provide support to Ukraine. Our guest Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher of The Nation, describes current U.S. foreign policy as a “Cold War redux moment” that threatens the success of populist economic policies that have recently taken hold in the Democratic Party after decades of trickle-down, neoliberal economics. She calls for “ending the policing and the global policing which the establishment believes is their right,” warning that “if you don’t have a transformative foreign policy, you will end up with military Keynesianism.”

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

President Biden delivered his State of the Union address Thursday night, making his case for a second term ahead of this year’s presidential election. Speaking before a joint session of Congress and guests, Biden criticized Republican front-runner Donald Trump without saying his name and strove to highlight policy differences with the former president and Republicans on a number of issues, including taxes, immigration, reproductive rights and foreign policy.

Biden addressed Gaza, which has become a key election issue, with voters in primary states casting their ballots for “uncommitted” to express their opposition to Biden’s support for Israel’s five-month assault on Gaza. Ahead of the speech, hundreds of protesters blockaded roads outside the White House and near the Capitol, delaying Biden’s address. In his speech, Biden said the United States would build a temporary seaport off Gaza to assist with the delivery of humanitarian aid.

As they watched, progressive lawmakers Cori Bush, Summer Lee, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — the only Palestinian American in Congress — held up signs reading “Lasting Ceasefire Now” and “Stop Sending Bombs.” Tlaib, Summer and Bush also donned Palestinian keffiyehs. Separately, many Democratic women wore white in honor of the suffragettes. Today is International Women’s Day.

But Biden began his State of the Union address on another foreign policy issue: the war in Ukraine. He made a renewed appeal for the House to pass additional funds for Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion. These are some of the president’s opening remarks.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Not since President Lincoln and the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault at home as they are today. What makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas at the very same time. Overseas, Putin of Russia is on the march, invading Ukraine and sowing chaos throughout Europe and beyond. If anybody in this room thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you, he will not.

But Ukraine … Ukraine can stop Putin, if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself. That is all Ukraine is asking. They’re not asking for American soldiers. In fact, there are no American soldiers at war in Ukraine, and I’m determined to keep it that way.

But now assistance to Ukraine is being blocked by those who want to walk away from our world leadership. Wasn’t long ago when a Republican president named Ronald Reagan thundered, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Now — now my predecessor, a former Republican president, tells Putin, quote, “Do whatever the hell you want.” That’s a quote. A former president actually said that, bowing down to a Russian leader. I think it’s outrageous, it’s dangerous, and it’s unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on President Biden’s State of the Union on this International Women’s Day, we’ll be joined by three women: Israeli peace activist Neta Heiman Mina, whose mother was a hostage in Gaza — there were many hostage families of Americans who were guests last night at the State of the Union; Palestinian Egyptian American University of Chicago professor Eman Abdelhadi, who gave an alternative State of the Union last night called “State of the Genocide.” But we begin with Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation magazine.

Katrina, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s begin where — well, one of the first topics President Biden brought up was Ukraine, and, of course, he talked about Putin and Russia. Your response?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, Amy, let me put this in a broader framework, if I could. First of all, I think Biden’s — the domestic piece of the speech was important in marking the end of trickle-down economics, the rise of the end of neoliberal economics, the beginning of the end. But I don’t think we can have a transformative foreign policy without a — a transformative domestic policy without a change in our foreign policy. It captures the attention, the priorities, the funding, if we are going to police the world and be the indispensable nation, which is at the heart of what President Biden’s Cold War redux speech was. There was a divide. It was sort of like Roosevelt, then Truman, then off-base Reagan.

I do think that the best case for Ukraine — and it has been touted but dismissed — is a negotiated settlement that will preserve the security of Ukraine, that will bring more peace and stability to Europe. Germany is deindustrializing as a result of the pressures of the war. And I think, you know, it would promote broader stability. There is, for Biden, an easy sort of point person in Putin, but, you know, Reagan — the lesson of Reagan was not “tear down this wall” as much as it was “let us end the Cold War, let us not be triumphalist in doing so, and let us find cooperation.” Of course, Gorbachev was a different leader, but Russia embattled, Russia isolated is a world designed to be one of insecurity and militarization.

So I do think there needs to be some hard thinking. It may not happen until after the election. I do think Victoria Nuland’s departure from the administration is a sign that the hard line on Ukraine may be diminishing. Kurt Campbell, who has come in, is much more interested in China. But again, I come back, Amy: It is hard to have a transformative domestic policy without a transformative foreign policy, which means ending the policing and the global policing that the United States seems — or, the establishment seems to believe is their right.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about Victoria Nuland’s exit and what exactly that means, and how you feel Biden should be shifting the approach to Ukraine and Russia right now.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: There is no military solution. It is going to be a political negotiated solution. Victoria Nuland believed more and more and more weapons, as do many others, including — we’re marking the 75th anniversary of NATO next month, which is not a coffee klatsch. It is a military-industrial-complex institution. Again, I think there have been many possible negotiations in the last two years. We’re learning about them through leaks, through German files. And those have been pushed aside or have failed because there was no real political will. I don’t see a lot of political will until after the election, but I hope there are back channels underway, as there have been at other times in the Cold War, because this is a Cold War redux moment, and it’s one that I think endangers, rather than enhances, the security of the United States.

And by the way, Amy, I don’t speak for people, outside my office maybe, but the war weariness I think we’re feeling around the world is not to be denied. And I think it’s an elite project, Ukraine, which doesn’t mean there — I mean, you know, there are many people who have been caught up in the nationalism, in the xenophobia that war often produces. These are people who need assistance, but the cost of reconstruction of Ukraine alone is estimated at $1 trillion. We are not great at staying after we’ve messed up, or Russia. The assets of Russia may be seized, but — I mean, of the oligarchs. But I do think a negotiated solution. Now, the name-calling that happens when you raise that is ugly, and it constricts debate, when we need a wider debate about the kind of world we want to live in. This is not isolationism. This is a different way of engaging the world, and not militarily, which has come to occupy so many think tanks and minds, as opposed to what is the alternative that we can craft.

AMY GOODMAN: And where do you see Putin right now? Do you see him shifting in any way? Apparently, the Bidens invited Yulia Navalnaya — you probably might have a better pronunciation of her last name — Alexei Navalny’s widow. Also they invited the first lady of Ukraine. But neither came.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: That’s interesting. I mean, Biden did meet with Yulia Navalnaya and her daughter, I think a week or so ago, soon after the tragic death of Alexei Navalny.

Putin, he faces an election March 17th. No cliffhanger. There is, by the way, kind of a semi-comparable “uncommitted” movement in certainly cities in Russia, where they will, due to Navalny’s strategic insight, show up at the polling booth — “they” being groups of people — together at noon on Election Day, which I believe is a Sunday. And I think that’s important. I do think we’re seeing a wave of repression in Russia on the eve of the election. A good friend of mine, Boris Kagarlitsky, the Marxist sociologist, labor activist, was rearrested the other day. And I think that is a measure of what we’re seeing across different cities. So, that’s always part of a war, the nationalism, the repression. You know, Washington, D.C., is different, because suppression happens by seduction, not by force, but in other cities, in other capitals.

So, Putin, I think, isolated. The war is unpopular, increasingly unpopular, Amy, as it is in Ukraine. The mobilization of additional men — and it is men — has provoked great unhappiness, protest in parts of Ukraine and Russia. So there’s an alliance around the difficulty of drafting more men, more men. It becomes like a war of attrition, where thousands are killed on battlefields that resemble World War I, but with 21st century weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: The economy was a major part of Biden’s address. He made a pledge to increase taxes on the wealthy and for them to pay their fair share. This is some of what he said.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But here’s the deal: The last administration enacted a $2 trillion tax cut, overwhelmingly benefited the top 1%, the very wealthy and the biggest corporations, and exploded the federal deficit. They added more to the national debt than in any presidential term in American history. Check the numbers. Folks at home, does anybody really think the tax code is fair?

AUDIENCE: No!

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Do you really think the wealthy and big corporations need another $2 trillion tax break?

AUDIENCE: No!

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I sure don’t. I’m going to keep fighting like hell to make it fair. Under my plan, nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in federal taxes. Nobody. Not one penny. And they haven’t yet.

In fact, the child tax credit I passed during the pandemic cut taxes for millions of working families and cut child poverty in half. Restore that child tax credit. No child should go hungry in this country.

The way to make the tax code fair is to make big corporations and the very wealthy begin to pay their fair share. Remember, in 2020, 55 of the biggest companies in America made $40 billion and paid zero in federal income tax. Zero. Not anymore. Thanks to the law I wrote and we signed, big companies have to pay a minimum of 15%. But that’s still less than working people pay in federal taxes. It’s time to raise corporate minimum tax to at least 21%, so every big corporation finally begins to pay their fair share.

I also want to end tax breaks for Big Pharma, Big Oil, private jets, massive executive pay, when it’s only supposed to be a million dollars that can be deducted. They can pay 20 million if they want, but deduct a million. End it now.

You know, there are 1,000 billionaires in America. You know what the average federal tax is for these billionaires? No, they’re making great sacrifices: 8.2%. That’s far less than the vast majority of Americans pay. No billionaire should pay a lower federal tax rate than a teacher, a sanitation worker or a nurse. I propose a minimum tax for billionaires of 25%. Just 25%. You know what that would raise? That would raise $500 billion over the next 10 years.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden’s State of the Union. Katrina vanden Heuvel, your response?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: This was Joe Biden at his best. And it wasn’t just Joe Biden. It’s the work of decades of movement activists who, when NAFTA was passed, the trade deal 30 years ago, said, “This ain’t gonna be very good for workers.” And it decimated, deindustrialized cities, towns around this country. And again, it’s a measure of the importance of taking on trickle-down, taking on neoliberal economics. The danger — but it was great. I mean, it was like he’s challenging the Roosevelt Institute and Sarah Anderson at IPS, Chuck Collins on inequality. I mean, it’s these people’s work and people in the streets who have moved the Democratic Party from neoliberal economics to understanding the need to think anew about this economy.

The danger, again, is, if you don’t have a transformative kind of foreign policy, you will end up with military Keynesianism as a policy. And that is vying at the moment with the no trickle-down, neoliberal — end of neoliberal economics, the idea that you juice the economy through arms sales. And this is, you know, a contest, and it will depend on the decisions made about America’s role in the world. But I do think to see Shawn Fain of UAW, to understand the importance of labor and the history, was really a change. And it needs to be continued through movement activists, through the union movements.

And it connects, in some ways, to “uncommitted,” because the groups that are forming around the “uncommitted” movement — and it was exciting to hear that in Hawaii it reached its highest number. My belief is, if it had gone on longer in Michigan, if they had more time, you would have had a higher number, for clear reasons, the state of Michigan, obviously, being an important — you know, playing an important role in this movement.

So I think there’s optimism, but, you know, the old order is disappearing, the new one is not yet born. And where this will move is going to depend on endings wars, on thinking anew about a transformative domestic foreign policy, thinking anew about a constricted establishment foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk about Gaza in our next segment. But I want to also continue on the issue of the economy and healthcare, because Biden talked about proposing and signing — and he said, “Not one of you Republican buddies voted for it. We finally beat Big Pharma. Instead of paying $400 a month or thereabouts for insulin with diabetes it’ll only costs ten bucks to make, they only get $35 a month now and still make a healthy profit.” And now, he said, he wants “to cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it,” and went on to talk about getting Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs just like the VA is able to do for veterans.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Amy, this has been on the agenda for years. It’s an obscenity that it has still not moved. Bernie Sanders, who raised it — has raised it for years, looked awful happy shaking Biden’s hand after the State of the Union, because there were key parts which are part of the Democratic agenda and have been put aside in the context of a neoliberal model.

So, I think Biden channeling a lot of important progressive ideas is a measure that he can be moved. But we’re seeing how rigid — I think “rigidity” is the right word — again, on the foreign policy issues, that do, you know, capture priorities, capture funding. I mean, it’s obscene, the Defense Department budget, which is larger than 10 other countries’ budgets combined, and yet we’re still seeking. There should be a similar program as there is with Pharma with the defense industry, the military-industrial complex. Get Bill Hartung on the case to just understand the money that is wasted. There’s been no audit of the Pentagon for decades, if ever. So I think these are issues, again, that are comparable and that strengthen the domestic agenda, instead of capture priorities.

AMY GOODMAN: And speaking of healthcare, in the State of the Union, Biden also focused on reproductive rights, which has become a galvanizing issue for the Democratic Party.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There are state laws banning the freedom to choose, criminalizing doctors, forcing survivors of rape and incest to leave their states to get the treatment they need. Many of you in this chamber and my predecessor are promising to pass a national ban on reproductive freedom. My god, what freedom else would you take away?

Look, in its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court majority wrote the following, and with all due respect, Justices: “Women are not without electoral power” — excuse me, “electoral or political power.” You’re about to realize just how much you got right about that. Clearly — clearly, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women. But they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and we won in 2022 and 2023, and we’ll win again in 2024.

If you — if you, the American people, send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you, I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Biden, and, of course, connecting the issue, right in front of the Supreme Court justices, of reproductive rights and the overturning of Roe to what happened with the Alabama state court, doing this after the overturning and citing it, to try to equate frozen embryos with children, and how that’s closed the Alabama IVF clinics, the whole in vitro fertilization — in vitro fertilization in Alabama, though the state has just passed a law to reopen those clinics. Katrina?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, Amy, I was going to say that your viewers, if they — listeners — have not already looked up, it’s called 2025. It’s a document from the Heritage Foundation and a few other think tanks. And there are sections on reproductive rights, as you can imagine, and not empowering, but restricting and gutting. And I think it’s important to look beyond Trump and look at Trumpism and the fact that he is going to stuff his cabinet and his administration with political appointees. Essentially, their plan is to gut civil service. It’s sort of a version of Steve Bannon’s gut the administrative state. So, I think, in that document, even more clearly than last night, you’ll see the difference between the two — what might be two administrations. But, of course, reproductive rights has emerged as a test case of freedom.

And I do wish — you know, President Biden spoke of 1941 as he opened his speech last night, and put it in the context of the war between freedom and authoritarianism, democracy and authoritarianism. In fact, that speech was really about four freedoms: freedom from want, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from fear. And I think that’s the animating impulse that guides this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation magazine.

When we come back, we’re going to look at what President Biden had to say about Gaza. We’ll speak with Palestinian Egyptian American University of Chicago professor Eman Abdelhadi, who gave an alternate SOTU last night called “State of Genocide,” and Israeli peace activist Neta Heiman Mina, whose mother was a hostage in Gaza. Stay with us. Back in 20 seconds.


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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editorial director and publisher of The Nation, America’s leading source of progressive politics and culture. She served as editor of the magazine from 1995 to 2019.

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