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Analysis | Three takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union speech


President Biden delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night, and his first with Republicans in control of the House after they retook control of the chamber in the 2022 election. Not only is Biden dealing with a newly divided Congress, but gears up for what is expected to be his re-election campaign.

Following are some points from the speech.

1. A dual theme, with some harsh words sprinkled in

The last time Biden gave a major speech was in September, when he uttered some harsh words during a primetime address about Republican efforts to overturn the 2020 election, saying that “MAGA Republicans” were a threat to the democration.

Tuesday’s speech was much more ambitious, albeit with some tense moments. And despite what could be a bitter 2024 campaign ahead, Biden clearly made the decision to preach at length about bipartisanship.

At the start of his speech, he nodded to both Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) rise to the role of Speaker of the House and the new status of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (R-Ky.) as the longest-serving Senate Majority Leader in history.

He presented his first two years in office as a surprise win for bipartisanship, saying it proved the doubters wrong about the ability of the two sides to converge on issues such as infrastructure and toxic fire pits.

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together during the last Congress, there’s no reason we should cannot work together and find consensus on important issues in this Congress as well,” Biden said.

Biden focused specifically on the infrastructure bill, which garnered significant GOP votes in the Senate — a moment that came with some soft ribbing. (Earlier moments, too — like when Biden paired his congratulations to McConnell with praise for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) for winning a “slightly larger majority.”)

“I want to thank my Republican friends who voted for the bill, and also my Republican friends who voted against it,” Biden said. “I am still being asked to finance the projects in those districts as well. But do not worry. I promised I would be a president for all Americans.”

It wasn’t all love in the building, of course. Biden made some harsh statements about the upcoming debt ceiling debate, pointing to high deficits under former President Donald Trump and accusing Republicans of attempted hostage-taking — sparking audible protests.

“Under the previous administration, the U.S. deficit increased four years in a row,” Biden said. “Because of those record deficits, no president has added more to the national debt in four years than my predecessor.”

He added, amid some GOP jeering: “[Republicans] lifted the debt ceiling three times with no preconditions or crisis.”

In particular, Republicans took issue with Biden alluding to a plan by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to halt all federal programs after five years and force their reauthorization, which Democrats say could apply to popular entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The GOP has largely rejected Scott’s plan, and many prominent Republicans have insisted they will not cut Social Security and Medicare.

McCarthy said prior to the speech that he had asked Biden not to use phrases such as “extreme MAGA Republicans” used in the past. Biden used no such phrase on Tuesday.

2. A preview of messages from 2024

Biden’s digs at Trump-era deficits weren’t the only indicator of the impending presidential race. He also aimed his speech extensively at the working-class voters.

He challenged Big Oil for making record profits when gas prices were at record highs, Big Pharma for drug prices, and Big Tech for collecting too much personal information, especially about children. He also said he would prohibit companies from requiring employees to sign non-compete agreements.

He focused heavily on supporting American manufacturing and American-made products, introducing new standards that would require all building materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be domestically made: “Buy American has been the law of the land since 1933. But for too long, previous administrations — Democrat and Republican — have fought to get around it,” he said. “No more.”

Biden also devoted a significant portion of his speech to another issue clearly intended to appeal to ordinary Americans. He praised the Junk Fee Prevention Act, which would crack down on things like airlines charging families to sit together, prohibiting high ticket prices for concerts and events, and preventing media companies from charging customers hundreds of dollars for services. to switch. (New Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests this goal has been a struggle for the president, despite the legislation he signed into law.)

“Americans are tired of being played for suckers,” Biden said. “Allow the Junk Fee Prevention Act so companies don’t rip us off again.”

Biden has touched on many of these issues before, but you’re starting to see the beginnings of a stump speech in 2024.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called President Biden a liar when he discussed GOP debt reduction plans during his State of the Union address on Feb. 7. (Video: The Washington Post)

It’s been 14 years since a Republican member of Congress seemed to cross a threshold by yelling “You’re lying” at Barack Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress. Tuesday’s speech marked the continued trend toward partisan rawness during what was once a much more determined affair.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), perhaps predictably, echoed Rep.’s outburst. Joe Wilson (RS.C.) from 2009 when Biden brought up Medicare and Social Security. (It’s worth noting that Biden qualified his comments about Republican support for Scott’s plan by emphasizing, “I’m not saying it’s a majority,” but he was laughed at nonetheless. McCarthy shook his head as he sat behind Biden.)

Biden responded to all of this by suggesting it was an important moment, with Republicans so loudly protesting the idea of ​​them targeting rights: “I’m glad to see – you know, I enjoy conversion.”

When Biden brought up the fentanyl deaths, he got a response of, “It’s your fault!” Republicans also objected to his comments on other issues, including gun control and the border. The latter case provoked a remarkable response from McCarthy: While he sat with a face of stone for much of the speech, the GOP outcry drew a demonstrative blink from the speaker of the House, who silenced his conference. McCarthy had promised no “childish” games earlier Tuesday, citing then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who tore up a copy of Trump’s speech after the 2020 State of the Union address.

And as the speech progressed, we got a sense of why it might have become so controversial. In contrast to McCarthy’s silence, Trump on Truth Social attacked “RINO” — Republican in name only — party members for “jumping up and down with applause for all the wrong reasons!”

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