‘Pride is coming back’: Biden touts victories on jobs and climate in State of the Union address
Joe Biden was determined to offer an optimistic vision for the future of America as he opened his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night, seeking to reassure a disillusioned nation that its economy and its democracy are stronger now than they were when he assumed office two years ago.
Midway through the first term of his presidency, and before he is expected to announce that he will formally seek re-election, the president asked Republicans to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and restoring faith in American government.
“The people sent us a clear message,” Biden said in his first address to a divided Congress. “Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.”
Addressing the nation from the House rostrum, Biden trumpeted the legislative accomplishments from his first two years in office – including a sweeping health and climate package, an infrastructure law and major new investments in the domestic semiconductor industry.
“Jobs are coming back,” he said. “Pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years. This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”
Biden opened his remarks by congratulating the new House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, even as has his Republican majority launch a series of politically-charged investigations into the president, his family and his administration. “I don’t want to ruin your reputation but I look forward to working with you,” Biden said to McCarthy, drawing laughs.
Even as he appealed for bipartisanship, Biden made the explicit case against the economic agenda of his political foes who have sought to repeal key pieces of his signature domestic policy accomplishment: “Make no mistake: if you try to do anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it.”
Republicans booed when Biden charged that some of them wanted to cut social security and Medicare, popular retirement and healthcare programs, as part of their efforts to reduce the deficit. Acknowledging their response, he teased that he was happy to have Republican assurances that those programs would be protected. “We got unanimity,” he declared, bringing lawmakers of both parties to their feet in applause.
Striking a populist tone, he implored Congress to “reward work, not wealth” by passing his proposal for a billionaire tax. Touting a new $35 cap on insulin for Medicare recipients, he said legislators should go further and extend the rule to cover all Americans.
McCarthy has demanded government spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, but Biden has insisted on a “clean” bill to raise the nation’s borrowing limit with no strings attached. The treasury has warned that the US could be at risk of default unless the debt ceiling is raised by June.
To a nation convulsed anew by videos of police brutality of Black Americans and a string of mass shootings, Biden, echoing the calls of activists and families, demanded Congress “do something”.
In an emotional appeal for action, he turned to the box where the first lady, Jill Biden, was seated alongside the parents of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black father who was brutally beaten by Memphis police officers. “Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre’s mother come true: something good must come from this,” he said.
He then turned to Brandon Tsay, the 26-year-old man who disarmed a gunman during a shooting in Monterey Park, California. Praising his bravery, the president called for a ban on assault weapons. “He saved lives. It’s time we do the same as well,” he said of Tsay.
And as Republican-governed states rush to restrict abortion, he vowed to veto a national abortion ban that some Republicans have called for.
Also seated alongside the first lady Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi who was brutally assaulted in the days before the midterm elections by a hammer-wielding assailant who allegedly sought to injure the Democratic lawmaker.
And, for a second year in a row, Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the US, also attended as a guest of the Bidens as the president makes the case for sustained support as the nation defends itself against a Russian onslaught.
“Together, we did what America always does at our best. We led. We united Nato and built a global coalition,” Biden said. “We stood against [Vladimir] Putin’s aggression. We stood with the Ukrainian people.”
Polls show most Americans have not yet felt the impact of Biden’s policies in their everyday lives, particularly when it comes to their personal finances. Although inflation has started to cool after peaking at an alarming rate of 9.1% last summer, only 21% of Americans rate current economic conditions as positive, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
Republicans could use that pessimism to their advantage. The newly elected governor of Arkansas, Sarah Sanders, who gained a national profile as Trump’s press secretary, was asked to deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech. Sanders, currently America’s youngest governor at 40, plans to attack Biden over inflation and accuse Democrats of waging a “leftwing culture war” against average Americans, according to excerpts of her prepared remarks.
“Republicans believe in an America where strong families thrive in safe communities, where jobs are abundant and paychecks are rising,” Sanders plans to say.
Yet White House officials said Biden’s speech was written to extol the virtues of bipartisanship, part of his pitch when he ran for president.
“If we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,” Biden said.