Washington: President Joe Biden called on Republicans in his State of the Union address Tuesday night to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he sought to overcome pessimism in the country and navigate political divisions in Washington.
The backdrop of the annual address was markedly different from the previous two years, with a Republican speaker sitting behind Biden and GOP lawmakers in the audience preparing to scrutinize both his administration and his policies. Biden sought to reassure the nation that his stewardship of the country has delivered results both at home and abroad, as he also set out to prove his fitness for a likely re-election bid.
But the challenges for Biden are many: economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China and more. And signs of the past trauma at the Capitol, most notably the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, was unavoidable, with a large fence encircling the complex as lawmakers and those in attendance faced tighter-than-usual security measures.
Rather than rolling out flashy policy proposals, the president set out to offer a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition, declaring that two years after the Capitol attack, America's democracy was “unbowed and unbroken.”
"The story of America is a story of progress and resilience," he said, highlighting record job creation during his tenure as the country has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abortion ban, assault weapons, billionaire tax
Biden vowed to veto any national abortion ban, and he urged Congress to codify rights. He also called Congress to ban assault weapons.
Biden called Tuesday for Congress to pass a minimum tax on billionaires.
"Reward work, not just wealth," he said in his annual State of the Union address. "Because no billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter."
In his State of the Union address, the president urged Congress to extend that price limit to millions of people on private insurance. That idea was scratched in Congress last year and is unlikely to gain traction now.
Roughly 8.4 million Americans use insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association. About 1 million of those people, who have type 1 diabetes, can die without access to insulin.
Biden's address before Congress and tens of millions of television viewers was a chance for the Democrat, who is expected soon to announce a bid for a second term, to pitch his centrist, populist vision of a country healing after Covid and the turmoil of Donald Trump's presidency.
Referring to Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Biden said that the United States had survived "its greatest threat since the Civil War."
Biden also pointed to areas of bipartisan progress in his first two years in office, including on states' vital infrastructure and high tech manufacturing. And he says, "There is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress.”
“The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere,” Biden said. “And that’s always been my vision for the country: to restore the soul of the nation, to rebuild the backbone of America — the middle class — to unite the country."
"We’ve been sent here to finish the job!”
The Cabinet member isn't at President Joe Biden's address in the House chamber. Walsh instead is at an undisclosed location.
The idea is to preserve the government’s succession in case of an attack or other incident at the Capitol where the president, vice president, speaker of the House and the rest of Biden’s Cabinet are gathered.
Walsh is an interesting choice. He's set to leave the Biden administration to run the National Hockey League Players’ Association. Six NHL games were being played Tuesday night and overlapping with Biden’s speech.
Last year, when Biden gave his first State of the Union, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was chosen for the role.
US economy better positioned to grow than any 'on Earth'
"The pandemic disrupted our supply chains and Putin's unfair and brutal war in Ukraine disrupted energy supplies as well as food supplies," Biden said during his State of the Union address.
"But we're better positioned than any country on Earth right now."
Headed in the right direction?
The president took to the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of U.S. adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research . About three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats don’t want Biden to seek another term.
Some Democratic lawmakers are bringing relatives of Black men and boys who have died at the hands of police.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has invited former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom.
He sought to confront those sentiments head-on.
"You wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away, I get it,” Biden said. “That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years.”
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was seated behind Biden urged his conference to be respectful ahead of Biden's address and in turn asked Biden to refrain from using the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans,” which the president deployed on the campaign trail in 2022.