Joe Biden state of the union
US President Joe Biden speaks during a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington DC Image Credit: AP

US 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 reclaimed control of the chamber in the 2022 election. Biden is not only dealing with a newly divided Congress, but is ramping up for what’s expected to be his campaign for reelection.

Here are some major takeaways from the speech.

1. A bipartisan theme, with some tough words sprinkled in

The last time Biden gave a major speech was back in September, when he delivered some tough words in prime time address about Republican efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and said that “MAGA Republicans” posed a threat to democracy.

Tuesday’s speech was much more aspirational, albeit with some tense moments mixed in. And despite what could be an acrimonious 2024 campaign ahead, Biden clearly made the decision to preach extensively about bipartisanship.

At the start of his speech, he nodded to both Kevin McCarthy’s ascent to the House speaker role and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s newfound status as the longest-serving Senate leader in history.

He pitched his first two years in office as a surprising win for bipartisanship, saying it proved the doubters wrong about the two sides’ ability to come together on issues like infrastructure and toxic burn pits.

Joe Biden state of the union
US President Joe Biden arrives to speak during a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US Image Credit: AP

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

Biden focused specifically on the infrastructure law, which earned significant GOP votes in the Senate — a moment which came with some gentle ribbing.

“I want to thank my Republican friends who voted for the law, and my Republican friends who voted against it as well,” Biden said. “I still get asked to fund the projects in those districts as well. But don’t worry. I promised I’d be a president for all Americans.”

It wasn’t all love in the building, of course. Biden delivered some tough lines on the upcoming debt ceiling debate, pointing to high deficits under former president Donald Trump and accusing Republicans of attempted hostage-taking — which drew audible protests.

“Under the previous administration, America’s deficit went up four years in a row,” Biden said. “Because of those record deficits, no president added more to the national debt in any four years than my predecessor.”

McCarthy said ahead of the speech that he had asked Biden not to employ phrases used in the past like “extreme MAGA Republicans.” Biden did not use such a phrase Tuesday.

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2. A preview of 2024 messaging

Biden’s dig at Trump-era deficits wasn’t the only indicator of the upcoming presidential race. He also geared his speech extensively to blue-collar voters.

He dinged Big Oil for reaping record profits when gas prices were at record highs, Big Pharma for drug prices and Big Tech for collecting too much personal information, especially on children. He also said he would prohibit companies from requiring workers to sign noncompete agreements.

He focused heavily on supporting American manufacturing and American-made products, debuting new standards which would require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made domestically: “Buy American has been the law of the land since 1933. But for too long, past administrations — Democrat and Republican — have fought to get around it,” he said. “Not anymore.”

Biden also devoted a sizeable chunk of his speech to another issue clearly aimed at appealing to everyday Americans. He hailed the Junk Fee Prevention Act, which would crack down on things like airlines charging fees for families to sit together, prohibit high ticket fees for concerts and events, and prevent media companies from charging hundreds of dollars to customers who switch services.

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

3. A jeer-filled affair

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

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, perhaps predictably, repeated Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst 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 emphasising: “I’m not saying it’s a majority,” but he was jeered anyway.)

Biden responded to all this by suggesting it was an important moment, with Republicans so loudly taking issue with the idea that they would target entitlements: “I’m glad to see — you know, I enjoy conversion.”

And as the speech wore on, we got a sense for why, perhaps, it got so contentious. In contrast to McCarthy’s shushing, Trump on Truth Social attacked “RINO” — Republican in Name Only — party members for “jumping up and down with applause for the wrong reasons!”

Washington Post

Aaron Blake is senior political reporter and columnist