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Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib delivers a response to Biden's State of the Union

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listens as acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on July 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listens as acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on July 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.

In a highly unusual move straying far from political protocol, Rep. Rashida Tlaib delivered a progressive response to Democrat President Biden's first State of the Union address.

"With the majority of the Build Back Better agenda stalled, Mr. President, our work is unfinished," the Michigan Democrat said, speaking on behalf of the Working Families Party. "We are ready to jumpstart our work again."

Tlaib's speech detailed a progressive political vision for the future, from lowering prescription drug costs to making major investments in tackling climate change and enshrining abortion access.

Tlaib said Biden could use his executive powers "now" to cancel student loan debt and regulate carbon emissions.

She praised Biden for taking action to get "shots in arms" and delivering "emergency relief" after taking office, saying he "stopped what could have been an economic freefall."

"No one fought harder for President Biden's agenda than progressives," she said, adding that "two forces" stood in the way of passing Build Back Better, Biden's major climate and social spending package.

"A Republican Party that serves only the rich and powerful, and just enough corporate-backed Democratic obstructionists to help them succeed," she listed.

Although Tlaib didn't call out any lawmakers by name, it was clear her harshest words were directed at moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who torpedoed the spending package in December over concerns on its price tag and possible impacts on inflation.

Tlaib said although many "important parts of the President's agenda became law with the infrastructure bill," Democrats promised voters more.

"Roads and bridges are critical, but so are child care and prescription drugs," she said. "And we shouldn't have to choose."

Tlaib's speech underscores the divide among progressives and moderates in the Democratic party as they forge ahead on Biden's agenda as the party gears up for a midterm election cycle in which it's expected to lose seats.

Typically, members of the president's party do not give distinct responses to the state of the union and instead issue statements of support so that the focus remains on the party's leader.

But Tlaib isn't the only Democrat speaking out after the speech. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, delivered a response on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., is slated to speak at an event hosted by No Labels, a bipartisan organization that oversees numerous PACs.

Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia nodded to this break with custom, tweeting an image of "Hello, my name is Captain Oblivious."

But in a tweet ahead of Biden's address, Tlaib pushed back on coverage that her speech indicates a schism between progressives' agenda and that of the president. "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.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.