Biden’s State of the Union rebrands cutting childcare costs as an antidote to inflation

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine sits for an in-depth interview, Serena Williams raises cash for her VC firm, and childcare costs get prime billing at the State of the Union. Have a thoughtful Wednesday.

Fortune senior editor Claire Zillman here this morning, filling in for Emma. 

– SOTU. It was no surprise that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominated President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address last night. “We are inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine. Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever,” said Biden, who was flanked by two women—Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi—for the second time in history (the first was Biden’s joint address of Congress last year).

Beyond the speech itself, tributes to Ukraine dotted the House chamber. Some lawmakers wore blue and yellow, others waved small Ukrainian flags. First Lady Jill Biden wore a blue dress embroidered with an appliqué of a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, on the sleeve. And she sat next to Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., who received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle in a rare sign of unity.

Jill Biden applauds her guest Oksana Markarova, Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., at the State of the Union speech on March 1, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Evelyn Hockstein—Pool/Getty Images

Still, the president also touted his domestic agenda and said he would slash the cost of childcare—a subject near and dear to Broadsheet readers—as part of a three-pronged plan to fight inflation.

“Folks, if you live in a major city in America, you pay up to $14,000 a year for childcare per child,” Biden said. “Middle-class and working folks shouldn’t have to pay more than 7% of their income to care for their young children. My plan would cut the cost in half for most families and help parents, including millions of women, who left the work force during the pandemic because they couldn’t afford childcare, to be able to get back to work, generating economic growth.”

Of course, many women left the workforce during the pandemic because there was no childcare—period—not necessarily because of the cost. But the massive expense has long weighed on families, and it has absolutely soared during the pandemic. The average family is spending 41% more on childcare now than before the pandemic due in large part to rising labor costs. Some families are funneling as much as 20% of their income toward childcare.

Biden used his speech to recast key tenants of his failed Build Back Better plan, like lower childcare costs, as antidotes to the federal deficit and skyrocketing inflation. While Democrats cheered the president’s childcare proposal Tuesday night, it likely remains a tough sell among Republicans and moderate Democrats. Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) opposed Biden’s full Build Back Better plan and killed its chances of passing the Senate last year. Last month, Manchin told reporters he wanted “nothing to do” with childcare. Asked after the State of the Union if he was swayed by Biden’s rebranding, Manchin said, “Nothing’s changed. That was a little bit far.”

Claire Zillman

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Kristen Bellstrom. Subscribe here.


- Call and response. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered Republicans' response to Biden's State of the Union address last night. In in a preview of Republicans' midterm playbook, she criticized Biden for “runaway inflation,” rampant crime, and a rampaging “Soviet army” and touted GOP efforts to promote in-person school and outlaw mask mandates. New York Times

- Yovanovitch speaks. Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was fired by President Trump and went on to testify at this impeachment proceedings, sits down for a wide-ranging Q+A with New Yorker editor David Remnick. The New Yorker

- Art imitates life. The impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is rippling into the arts world: the upcoming performances of Russian opera star Anna Netrebko at the Bavarian State Opera have been canceled, and she's withdrawn from her engagements at the Zurich Opera House. Netrebko has ties to Putin and has not taken a clear public stance on the war. New York Times

- Big serve, big raise. Serena Ventures, Serena Williams's early-stage VC fund, has raised $111 million. The firm, which has already invested in about 60 startups, will continue to focus on backing companies led by founders from under-represented communities. Bloomberg


- Double threat. Flau’jae Johnson is a top high school basketball player headed to Louisiana State University in the fall. She's also an up-and-coming rapper signed to a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. In the past, she would have been forced to pick one of her two passions, but in the wake of the NCAA's rule changes enabling college players to be compensated, she's hoping to be able to become a star in both worlds. Washington Post

- The photos live on. Michele McNally, "a transformational figure in photojournalism,” died last month. She was 66. McNally spent 14 years at the New York Times, overseeing six Pulitzer Prizes for news and feature photograph and becoming the first photo editor to join the paper's top leaders on the masthead. Before joining the Times, she led Fortune's photo team from 1986 to 2004. New York Times

- Two names, too many? Some married women with mixed feelings about changing their last names try to split the difference, going by their maiden name at work and adopting their partner's last name socially. In this essay, women talk about the highs and lows of the dual name approach: The Cut


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"I was doing a FaceTime a couple of hours ago with my kids during bathtime, and there were explosions going off in the background." 

— CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward on the experience of reporting from Ukraine during the invasion. 

This is the web version of The Broadsheet, a daily newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

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