President Joe Biden delivered the State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday night, centering on needing to “finish the job” in the second half of his administration, months after Democrats lost the House.
The speech, in what may be the unofficial beginning of Biden’s 2024 bid, focused on “unity” and bipartisanship — two themes the administration has been driving — and stressed that the country is in recovery from COVID-19 and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Biden pleaded for Republicans to work with him in the new Congress to “restore the soul of the nation,” while taking a few swings at Republicans by calling on Congress to raise taxes on the wealthy, opposing cutting Social Security and Medicare and painting himself as a negotiator willing to work with the other side of the aisle.
The White House spent the past year labeling some Republicans as “extreme” and Trump supporters as embracing “semi-fascism,” but now faces an uphill battle with a divided Congress.
Prior to the speech, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy vowed to be respectful of Biden and not tear up his speech like then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did with former President Donald Trump’s speech in 2020. He also showed optimism for working with Biden on debt. During the speech, Republicans booed and heckled Biden for his claims that the GOP is aiming to cut Social Security and Medicare. (RELATED: POLL: Democratic Voters Don’t Want Biden In 2024)
The address came days after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the Atlantic coast, nearly a month after news broke of Biden’s possession of classified documents, and amid a Republican agenda to investigate the president and his son, Hunter Biden.
The president did not mention the sources of criticism above, other than alluding to the Chinese spy balloon, and also did not make any hints towards running in 2024.
In 2022, the president began his speech with remarks about the U.S. response to Russia’s war on Ukraine. This year, as the war nears its one-year mark, Biden started with noting the “resilience” of the U.S. coming out of the pandemic and then transitioned to points about the economy, COVID-19, police reform, and more.
The “finish the job” theme hit many of the administration’s talking points to date, including his economic policies and a focus on ending “gun violence.” The theme also included an expansion of his “Unity Agenda,” a policy package he touted in the SOTU in 2022 including the Cancer Moonshot program, supporting veterans, tackling the mental health crisis and ending the drug overdose epidemic.
Biden touted how much the economy has grown under his administration while coming out of the pandemic, using his usual phrase of “building an economy where no one is left behind.”
He highlighted the 3.4% unemployment rate, pinned inflation on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “disrupted supply chains,” and stressed the importance of building a supply chain for chips in the U.S. through his CHIPS and Science Act, along with other American-made products.
“Tonight, I’m also announcing new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America. American-made lumber, glass, drywall, fiber optic cables. And on my watch, American roads, American bridges, and American highways will be made with American products,” Biden said.
“My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten. Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible,” he added.
He also mentioned the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as proof of past bipartisanship, and said that the “wealthiest and the biggest corporations” will have to pay their “fair share” of 15% to save the country from climate change.
“The climate crisis doesn’t care if your state is red or blue. It is an existential threat. We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to confront it. I’m proud of how America is at last stepping up to the challenge,” Biden said, adding that he wants the wealthy to pay for “more” investments “in our future.”
American voters have criticized Biden for his handling of the economy, with 60% of those polled by CNBC/ Change giving him a bad grade on his policies.
The administration issued a “fact sheet” touting Biden’s economic accomplishments on Monday, the day before SOTU, with a number of misleading claims on the deficit, the “manufacturing boom,” and the president’s victory over “Big Pharma.”
Biden’s messaging on COVID-19 looked to the future, with the president proclaiming “COVID no longer controls our lives,” and saying that the U.S. needs to “monitor dozens of variants and support new vaccines and treatments.” He accompanied his COVID message by mentioning how resilient the country was after “COVID had shut down our businesses, closed our schools, and robbed us of so much.”
The Biden administration is set to end the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11, over three years since it was originally announced by Trump. The White House has opposed Republicans attempting to end the emergency measure sooner, saying the country needs time to adjust to the “chaos” the emergency’s end will create for health care and the end of Title 42.
“As we emerge from this crisis stronger, I’m also doubling down on prosecuting criminals who stole relief money meant to keep workers and small businesses afloat during the pandemic,” Biden added.
Biden transitioned to speaking about police and gun reform after talking about ensuring the safety of the public from COVID-19.
As a part of the administration’s focus on police reform during the SOTU, the White House invited the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, the black man who was killed by multiple police officers during an alleged traffic stop.
“COVID left other scars, like the spike in violent crime in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. We have an obligation to make sure all our people are safe. Public safety depends on public trust. But too often that trust is violated,” Biden said.
The president called for giving “law enforcement the training they need,” more first responders, more “resources to reduce violent crime and gun crime,” and asked Congress to come together to address police reform.
He also pressed to “ban assault weapons once and for all” after speaking about the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting and the mass shooting in Monterey Park.
Biden skirted responsibility for the record-breaking number of migrant encounters during his administration and blamed Republicans for not passing legislation through Congress to secure the border.
“If you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border. And a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers,” Biden said.
On abortion, Biden scolded the Supreme Court for their Dobbs ruling and ending the federal right to abortion, and asked Congress to codify “Roe v. Wade to protect every woman’s constitutional right to choose.” He previously said there were not enough votes to codify the abortion ruling as his first piece of legislation due to a Republican majority.
Biden vowed to veto any “national abortion ban” Congress passes, and asked to pass “the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.”
The president spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine towards the end of his speech, reiterating that the U.S. will stand with Ukraine “as long as it takes,” and noting that the U.S. has “led” the global effort in funding Ukraine.
Biden also claimed that he reversed the story of “how the People’s Republic of China was increasing its power and America was falling in the world.”
“I’ve made clear with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict,” Biden said. “Today, we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world.”
He then alluded to the Chinese spy balloon hovering over U.S. airspace for a week before the U.S. military shot it down on Saturday.
“Make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” Biden said.
Biden spoke out against political violence by condemning the Jan. 6 riot, and tying former President Donald Trump’s election claims to the assailant that attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer while looking for then-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
“For the last few years our democracy has been threatened, attacked, and put at risk. Put to the test here, in this very room, on January 6th. And then, just a few months ago, unhinged by the Big Lie, an assailant unleashed political violence in the home of the then-Speaker of this House of Representatives. Using the very same language that insurrectionists who stalked these halls chanted on January 6th,” the president said.
Paul Pelosi, who was attacked in his home by an intruder in October, was in attendance in the chambers.
“We must give hate and extremism in any form no safe harbor. Democracy must not be a partisan issue. It must be an American issue,” Biden said in his concluding remarks.
“Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the State of the Union is strong,” he said.
“As I stand here tonight, I have never been more optimistic about the future of America. We just have to remember who we are.
We are the United States of America and there is nothing, nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together. May God bless you all. May God protect our troops,” Biden concluded.