Biden talks guns, drugs, democracy

President Joe Biden last week gave his 2023 State of the Union Address, in which he discussed a number of issues which have hit Monroe County in recent months.

The president opened his speech by highlighting progress made in the last two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic – namely an increase in jobs and the relaxing of pandemic precautions.

While Biden said that, following the 2020 election, “our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War,” he also emphasized what he saw as several instances of bipartisanship since he took office.

He pointed specifically to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – which he called the “largest investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System” – as well as the Respect for Marriage Act and Electoral Count Reform Act.

Biden called for further bipartisanship in the future.

“And to my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there’s no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well,” Biden said. “I think — folks, you all are just as informed as I am, but I think the people sent us a clear message: Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict gets us nowhere.”

One of the many issues Biden discussed throughout his speech was gun violence, which saw a short mention toward the end of his address.

“Ban assault weapons now!” Biden said. “Ban them now! Once and for all. I led the fight to do that in 1994. And in 10 years that ban was law, mass shootings went down. After we let it expire in a Republican administration, mass shootings tripled. Let’s finish the job and ban these assault weapons.”

Biden’s call for a national assault weapons ban comes as Gov. JB Pritzker recently signed into law such a ban for Illinois that is facing legal challenges.

Following the House Bill 5471 state ban’s passing in early January, many county sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state expressed their refusal to uphold the law. The act is currently being fought in state courts.

Biden also spoke about the issue of drug addiction. He addressed one man in the audience who he said wrote a letter describing how he’d lost his 20-year-old daughter to a fentanyl overdose after she had developed an addiction to other drugs in high school.

The president also noted the amount of fentanyl crossing the border in his brief discussion on immigration reform, adding in his response to the father in attendance that fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported just over 70,000 overdoses relating to synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl – in 2021.

“So let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production and the sale and trafficking,” Biden said. “With more drug detection machines, inspection cargo, stop pills and powder at the border. Working with couriers, like FedEx, to inspect more packages for drugs. Strong penalties to crack down on fentanyl trafficking.”

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing recently expressed concern for a rising number of fentanyl cases encountered by his department.

Biden also touched on education in his speech, particularly the need to expand free public education for pre-school and two years of community college.

Biden notably did not comment on the shortage of teachers that has affected local school districts and others across the country, though he did call to “give public school teachers a raise.”

The president further addressed a number of other issues, including junk fees and surcharges and several Department of Veterans Affairs concerns – specifically housing and suicide.

Biden also called for greater action toward treating and curing cancer. He recalled the action of the Bush administration 20 years ago as they fought against HIV and AIDS, suggesting similar action could be possible against cancer.

The president also discussed the impact of the pandemic, both the economic impact and the many who have died and continue to be affected as new variants emerge.

“But we’ll remember the toll and pain that’s never going to go away,” Biden said. “More than a million Americans lost their lives to COVID. A million. Families grieving. Children orphaned. Empty chairs at the dining room table constantly reminding you that she used to sit there. Remembering them, we remain vigilant.”

Biden concluded his address with calls to defend democracy and against political violence.

“I’m not new to this place,” Biden said. “I stand here tonight having served as long as about any one of you who have ever served here. But I’ve never been more optimistic about our future — about the future of America. We just have to remember who we are. We’re the United States of America. And there’s nothing — nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.”

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web