Biden touts accomplishments in feisty state of the union, as he bids for 2nd White House term


President Joe Biden delivered a defiant argument for a second term in his state of the union speech Thursday night, lacing into GOP front-runner Donald Trump for espousing “resentment, revenge and retribution” and for jeopardizing freedom at home and abroad.

Revelling in the political moment, Biden fired multiple broadsides at “my predecessor” without ever mentioning Trump by name —13 times in all — raising his voice repeatedly as he worked to quell voter concerns about his age and job performance while sharpening the contrast with his all-but-certain November rival.

The scrappy tone from Biden was a sharp break from his often humdrum daily appearances and was designed to banish doubts about whether the 81-year-old president — the country’s oldest ever — is still up to the job.

For 68 minutes in the House chamber, Biden goaded Republicans over their policies, invited call-and-response banter with fellow Democrats on economic issues, taxes and health care and seemed to revel in the fight.

“Freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas at the very same time,” Biden said as he appealed for Congress to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. “History is watching.”

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Biden delivers raucous, campaign-style state of the union speech

A fiery U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a campaign-style state of the union speech, repeatedly referring dozens of times to Donald Trump not by name but only as his ‘predecessor.’

Biden quickly pivoted to the threats at home, referencing the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the 2020 election, and calling for the threat to democracy to be countered.

“My predecessor — and some of you here — seek to bury the truth about Jan. 6,” Biden said. “I will not do that.

“This is a moment to speak the truth and to bury the lies. Here’s a simple truth. You can’t love your country only when you win.

“My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy,” Biden added.

“A future based on the core values that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity, equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbour. Now some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge and retribution. That’s not me.”

The president showcased his accomplishments on infrastructure and manufacturing, and pushed Congress to approve tougher migration rules and lower drug prices. He also sought to remind voters of the situation he inherited when he entered office in 2021 amid a raging pandemic and a contracting economy.

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Eyes on Biden’s performance

The president was being closely watched not just for his message, but for whether he could deliver it with vigour and command.

White House aides said Biden was aiming to prove his doubters wrong by flashing his combative side and trying to needle Republicans over positions he believes are out of step with the country, particularly on access to abortion, but also tax policy and health care.

It’s part of his campaign-year effort to use even official speeches to clarify the choice for voters at the ballot box this fall.

Taking a victory lap in selling his legislative accomplishments, such as one that bolsters manufacturing of computer chips nationwide, Biden veered from his prepared script to take a dig at Republicans who voted against such policies but are eager to take credit for them back home.

“If any of you don’t want that money in your districts, just let me know,” Biden said.

Two people, with their backs turned, stand behind a desk overlooking a man with white hair at a podium facing a room full of people.
Johnson, left, and Harris applaud as Biden looks in the gallery before delivering the state of the union address to a joint session of Congress. (Alex Brandon/Pool/The Associated Press)

The president was speaking before a historically ineffective Congress. In the GOP-led House, Speaker Mike Johnson took power five months ago after the chaotic ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Legislators are still struggling to approve funding bills for the current year and have been deadlocked for months on foreign assistance bills to help Ukraine stave off Russia’s invasion and support Israel’s fight against Hamas.

The state of the union address is a marquee night on the White House calendar, offering presidents a direct line to a captive audience of lawmakers and dignitaries in the House chamber and tens of millions of viewers at home.

But even so, the night has lost some of its lustre as viewership has declined.

Joe Biden, on the right, shakes hands with a woman in a crowd of people inside a Capitol building chamber.
Biden greets people as he arrives to deliver the state of the union address on Thursday. (Shawn Thew/Pool/The Associated Press)

Biden aides inside the White House, and on his campaign, had hoped for some fresh viral moments — like when he tussled last year with heckling Republicans and chided them for past efforts to cut Medicare and Social Security.

Johnson, eager to avoid a similar episode this year, urged Republicans in a private meeting Wednesday to show “decorum” during the speech, according to a person familiar with his remarks to lawmakers.

He appeared to have limited success.

Republicans say U.S. ‘slipping away’ under Biden 

Sen. Katie Britt called Biden a “dithering and diminished leader” in the Republican rebuttal to his state of the union address Thursday evening.

The first-term Alabama Republican, and youngest woman in the Senate, delivered a stinging election-year critique of the president while sitting at her own kitchen table.

She argued that “the country we know and love seems to be slipping away.”

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Britt, a 42-year-old former congressional staffer and mother of two, was elected to the Senate in 2022 with Trump’s endorsement.

“For years, the left has coddled criminals and defunded the police — all while letting repeat offenders walk free,” Britt said in her response.

“The result is tragic but foreseeable — from our small towns to America’s most iconic city streets, life is getting more and more dangerous.”

Britt said “the free world deserves better than a dithering and diminished leader. America deserves leaders who recognize that secure borders, stable prices, safe streets and a strong defence are the cornerstones of a great nation.”

Plan to raise corporate taxes

A number of House Republicans began to stand up and leave the chamber as Biden discussed raising taxes on billionaires and corporations.

Other remained in their chairs and shook their heads.

Biden engaged in a loud call and response with lawmakers as he rhetorically questioned whether the tax code was fair and whether billionaires and corporations need “another $2 trillion in tax breaks,” as he charged Republicans want.

And congressional Republican leaders were showcasing one of their newest lawmakers through the state of the union rebuttal in order to make a generational contrast with Biden.

Biden painted an optimistic future for the country, as the massive pieces of legislation he signed into law during his first two years in office are implemented.

Wars in Gaza, Ukraine in focus

A line of people stand in on a street, with the U.S. Capitol building in the distance, holding a banner with the words "BIDEN'S LEGACY IS GENOCIDE" written in red and black letters on a white background with a green stripe below.
Pro-Palestinian protesters block Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol, ahead of the state of the union address Thursday night. (Luis M. Alvarez/The Associated Press)

But he also was set to warn that the progress he sees at home and abroad is fragile — and particularly vulnerable if Trump returns to the White House.

Trump, for his part, said he planned to respond in real time to Biden’s remarks on his Truth Social platform.

This year, Biden faced heightened emotions — particularly among his base supporters — over his staunch backing for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

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The White House had initially hoped a short-term ceasefire would be in place before the speech.

It blames Hamas for not yet accepting a deal brokered by the U.S. and its allies.

“Israel must allow more aid into Gaza and ensure that humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the crossfire,” Biden said, delivering a warning that Israel should not use aid as a “bargaining chip” with Hamas, even as he reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself from attacks by the militant group.

A slew of Democrats and Republicans wore pins and stickers in honour of the Israeli hostages still being held captive in Gaza.

Meanwhile, several House progressives wore Palestinian keffiyehs — the black and white checkered scarves that have come to symbolize Palestinian solidarity.

Biden’s motorcade took a circuitous route to the Capitol, as hundreds of pro-ceasefire demonstrators tried to disrupt its path from the White House.

Amid growing concerns about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, Biden announced in his address that he has directed the U.S. military to establish a temporary port on the Gaza coast aimed at increasing the flow of aid into the beleaguered territory.

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The president also issued an emphatic call for lawmakers to pass sorely needed defence assistance for Ukraine.

Acute ammunition shortages have allowed Russia to retake the offensive in the two-year-old war.

The GOP-controlled House has refused to act on a Senate-passed version of the aid legislation, insisting on new stiffer measures to limit migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, after Trump used his influence to help sink a bipartisan compromise that would have done just that.

Support for abortion access, IVF treatment

Access to abortion and fertility treatments was also a key component of Biden’s speech, especially in light of a controversial ruling from Alabama’s Supreme Court that has upended access to in vitro fertilization treatment in the state.

One of first lady Jill Biden’s guests for the speech was Kate Cox who sued Texas, and ultimately left her home state, to obtain an emergency abortion after a severe fetal anomaly was detected.

“If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose I promise you: I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again,” Biden said. 

The White House also invited union leaders, a gun control advocate and others that Jill Biden and her husband have met as they travelled the country promoting his agenda.

The prime minister of Sweden, Ulf Kristersson, attended to mark his country’s accession to NATO in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

A man wearing a black suit and glasses gestures with his right hand as he stands next to a woman wearing a green suit, clapping her hands, in a crowd of other people applauding.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson acknowledges Biden at the state of the union address, as first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff look on. Sweden formally became the newest member of the NATO alliance at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., earlier in the day. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

Biden support low ahead of address

Biden entered the speech with work to do shoring up his standing.

Just 38 per cent of U.S. adults approve of how he is handling his job as president, while 61 per cent disapprove, according to a recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The same survey found that 63 per cent say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president.

A similar but slightly smaller share, 57 per cent, say that Trump lacks the memory and acuity for the job.

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Following the speech, Biden was set for a weekend of campaign travel, holding events in Pennsylvania on Friday and Georgia on Saturday.

Trump, too, will be campaigning in Georgia that day.

The president’s Cabinet also will fan out across the country to amplify his message.

The Biden campaign said it would host more than 200 watch parties around the country Thursday night, including in cities, suburbs and rural towns in battleground states.

Campaign officials will use the events to recruit volunteers and encourage others to get involved in Biden’s re-election effort.

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