WASHINGTON (JTA) — Setting his administration’s tone in his first speech to Congress, US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that white supremacists posed the “most lethal” terrorist threat to the United States.
Biden said the terrorist threat had evolved and referred to his decision to end the US troop presence in Afghanistan after 20 years, when the United States first entered the country to pursue the Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“Make no mistake, in 20 years terrorism has metastasized, the threat has evolved way beyond Afghanistan,” he said. “Those who are on the intelligence committees, the Foreign Relations Committee, the defense committees, you know well, we have to remain vigilant against the threats to the United States wherever they come from. Al Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, other places in Africa and the Middle East and beyond.
“And we won’t ignore what our intelligence agencies have determined to be the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today, white supremacist terrorism,” he said.
Biden departed for a moment from his written speech: “We’re not going to ignore that either.”
Biden during his campaign to unseat former president Donald Trump accused the latter of stoking white supremacist tendencies and deadly attacks with his rhetoric and of ignoring the white supremacist threat. Trump came under fire for cutting programs targeting and tracking white supremacists.
Biden at the outset of his speech referred to the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol by far-right rioters who sought to keep Congress from affirming Biden as president.
He called the attack “The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
Biden also urged Americans “to heal the soul of this nation,” referring to the racial unrest stemming from the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis almost a year ago. Floyd’s killer was convicted of murder earlier this month.
Biden referred briefly to his efforts to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, a plan Israel vigorously opposes.
Trump quit the deal in 2018, saying it was inadequate to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; Biden says the deal is the most practical means of preventing a nuclear Iran. Biden has said he is committed to consulting closely with Israel and other regional allies in entering the deal.
“On Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs that present a serious threat to America’s security and the security of the world – we are going to be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence,” he said.
The joint session — not technically a State of the Union which takes place only in non-inauguration years — marked a historic first: Two women standing behind Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Doug Emhoff, Harris’s Jewish husband, was present in the hall.
Biden acknowledged the historic moment.
“Madame Speaker, Madame Vice President — no president has ever said those words from this podium, no president ever said those words.”