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Analysis | A Combative Biden Defends Record and Challenges Republicans Ahead of 2024


President Biden opened his State of the Union address with a call to Republicans for bipartisan cooperation. But that hardly summed up the mood Tuesday night, when Biden aggressively defended his economic record and emphatically challenged Republicans not to undo it.

For much of the 72 minutes speech, Biden was tense, energetic and combative. He plowed through applause lines to keep up with his pace. He sparred with Republicans in the House Chamber over Social Security and Medicare tampering, drawing some harassment and laughter from some — and a shout of “liar” from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) – as he drew contrasts between his agenda and what he said was theirs. Rarely has such give and take been so prominently featured in a State of the Union speech.

The president presented himself as a populist with ideas to help workers and restore America’s productive power. He went after big pharmaceutical companies and big energy companies. More than once he threatened vetoes of potential Republican initiatives and stated that he would not allow the economy to be held hostage by raising the debt ceiling.

“Let’s finish the job,” he said in a refrain repeated over and over as he worked through the accomplishments of his first two years in office and made new proposals. If not the start of a re-election campaign, it was as close as a State of the Union could get to kicking off. Many of the proposals he spoke of stand little chance of passing in a narrowly divided Congress, but that message to get the job done is nevertheless likely to form the basis of his anticipated 2024 campaign.

Biden enters the second half of his first term and wrestles with some of the same questions that haunted him for much of his first two years — only now with Republicans in charge of the House determined to thwart his agenda. For all legislation passed and signed during his first two years, Biden has received little credit from the American people. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 62 percent of Americans say they do “not much” or “little or Nothing”

His speech was intended to address that issue. It was a defense of what he’s done, a blueprint of the president’s priorities for the year ahead and a signal to Republicans, whether those in Congress or those elsewhere who would like to challenge him in a general election, that he is ready, perhaps eager, for a vigorous test of competing ideas.

Biden could point to major achievements in his first two years in office: a mega-stimulus package, a bipartisan infrastructure bill, bipartisan legislation to revive domestic semiconductor manufacturing and, by a party-line vote, the largest initiative to tackle climate change in the fight history.

Legislation this ambitious seems unlikely with the now divided government, but a major test of whether the two sides can work together later this year will be the need to raise the government’s borrowing limit to avoid bankruptcy that could damage the economy into a downward spiral. Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who often sat expressionlessly behind the president during the speech, argue over the issue. At this point, the jostling has been polite. That will likely change as the deadline approaches, but the question is whether the two sides can find a just path.

While he praised the economic progress, Biden also had to acknowledge that many Americans are not very positive about the state of the country. “Amid the economic turmoil of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated as if they were invisible,” he said. “Maybe you’re watching that at home. You remember the jobs that disappeared. And you wonder if there is still a path for you and your children to move forward without leaving. I understand.”

Biden’s advisers are frustrating aware that most Americans know little about what has been passed by Congress and feel the effects even less. But they believe that voters are receptive to the president’s cause, that many Americans who are still in doubt can be convinced by what they will see in their own lives and communities. What Democrats can’t be sure of is whether Biden has the sales talent and persuasiveness necessary to make the case on his behalf.

Biden’s allies argue that what was abstract last year or the year before — the passage of major pieces of legislation — will become more concrete over the next two years as road and bridge construction begins or the price of insulin falls or companies begin to invest in local economic development projects, with the government financing.

Conditions in the country have changed since Biden took the oath of office in January 2021, he noted in his speech. Two years ago, he inherited from former President Donald Trump a still-raging pandemic, a troubled economy, racial divisions in the aftermath of George Floyd’s assassination, and a nation on edge after Trump’s January 6 attack on the Capitol. followers.

The pandemic has subsided, although the hangover has negatively affected the public mood. The economy is in a different place, but still not without problems; inflation has been the main concern for most Americans, while the threat of a recession remains despite a robust job market. Racism and anti-Semitism persist, as does systematic concern about the use of force by law enforcement, as evidenced by the murder of Tire Nichols by five Memphis police officers last month. With Nichols’ parents in the audience, Biden called for police reform legislation to be introduced. He later demanded a ban on assault weapons, citing mass shootings that continue to plague the country.

There are still threats to democracy despite midterm elections that brought defeats to some of the most visible and vicious election deniers and no serious claims of fraud. If Biden commented on Tuesday: “Two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbent and unbroken.” Without naming Trump, he denounced the “big lie” when he paid tribute to Paul Pelosi, husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was brutally attacked at their San Francisco home last fall by an attacker who Biden said was “unhinged” by the false claims of stolen elections. Nancy Pelosi was also in the audience as a guest of first lady Jill Biden.

No president in decades has done that passed his first midterm elections as successfully as Biden, but in the end the Democrats still narrowly lost their majority in the House. That changes the terms of engagement that will affect the next two years, namely the presidential campaign cycle.

House Republicans are determined to test their own strength, push their own agenda and oppose the president’s initiatives. They are also planning investigations into the administration and Biden’s son, Hunter. It is a flammable mixture. It wasn’t easy for Biden to get things done when Democrats held slim majorities in both chambers. Everything will be even more difficult now – And more controversial.

The president’s advisers are already ready to confront Republicans in Congress. Upcoming clashes with Republicans are guaranteed. Each party sees points of difference that favor them politically, Biden on abortion and Republicans on the border and immigration. The president framed some of these choices in his speech.

Biden spoke of unity as he opened his speech. “The people have sent us a clear message,” he said. “Fighting for fighting, power for power, conflict for conflict, will get us nowhere.”

Biden believes in those calls by all accounts, shaped by more than three decades in the Senate. Told two years ago by friends and allies that his calls for unity represented misplaced optimism in such a polarized country, he now looks at the bills passed with Republican support and believes more can be done, even with a Republican majority in the House.

But after the president spoke for more than an hour in the House Chamber, the reality of what lies ahead became clearer. Republicans are ready to challenge Biden, and he’s ready to fight back. There may be cooperation in some areas, but both sides know that the 2024 elections are hugely at stake.

As Biden works through his challenges, his focus will always be on convincing the public that he is the better choice to continue to lead. the country comes in January 2025, regardless of whether its opponent is Trump or another Republican. That election is still a long way off and much that is not predictable will happen before November 2024. Still, Tuesday’s State of the Union will be remembered as Biden’s first steps in defending his cause.

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