UPDATED: Joe Biden’s State of the Union included a number of gestures to Republicans, promotion of the spirit of bipartisanship and mention of a whole host of issues that garner backing from both parties.
But there were plenty of outbursts among the GOP, signaling how unlikely it probably is that this Congress will see major legislation on immigration and certainly gun violence. Republicans heckled when Biden attacked his predecessor for driving up the deficit, and some did even when the president mentioned a proposal to restrict non-compete agreements. At another point, when Biden talked of the fentanyl crisis, one Republican shouted, “It’s your fault!”
The speech, like most SOTUs, was meant less for those in the chamber than for the viewing public, to turn the spotlight on his administration’s accomplishments, as he prepares to travel the country in the coming week. He tried to create a sense of momentum around the economy — “jobs are coming back, pride is coming back” — while acknowledging that more needed to be done. His refrain was “let’s finish the job.”
One of his proposals, unlikely to pass this Congress but perhaps a key campaign issue, is a billionaire minimum tax, as well as another to quadruple the tax on corporate stock buybacks.
“Let’s finish the job and close loopholes that allow the very wealthy to avoid paying their taxes,” he said.
The proposals will please the left flank of the party. In fact, after the speech ended, one House member shouted at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), “You wrote the speech. You wrote the whole thing.”
PREVIOUSLY: Joe Biden made mention of the Chinese spy balloon in his speech, telling lawmakers, “Make no mistake: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”
He was referring to the military’s strike on the balloon off the coast of South Carolina. But Republicans criticized the move as too late, as it came after the balloon traveled across the continental United States.
His remark again drew some heckling from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who shouted something about China.
Biden went on. “Let’s be clear: Winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world.”
PREVIOUSLY: At a few points, President Joe Biden was heckled by some Republicans with shouts of “liar.”
Biden was talking about the potential standoff over raising the debt ceiling, as he charged “some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage — I get it — unless I agree to their economic plans.”
When Biden attacked some in the GOP as threatening Social Security and Medicare, a number of members began to shout. “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority,” Biden said.
Among those shouting “liar” was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), wearing a fur-collared coat.
Biden actually responded to the outburst, telling the lawmakers, “Let me give you, anybody who doubts it, contact me office. I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.”
Republicans continued to shout, with some again saying “liar.”
“That means Congress doesn’t vote. I’m glad to see. And I tell you. I enjoy conversion,” he said.
He said he would “politely not be naming” the Republicans who made the proposal, and then vowed, “The idea is we’re not going to be moved into being threatened to default on the debt if we don’t respond.”
In the end, Biden tried to turn the tables, “As we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare are off the books now.” The chamber erupted into cheering and applause, with Democrats standing up followed by Republicans. “We got unanimity,” Biden said.
Then he reemphasized the point, and again got members of both parties on their feet. “Let’s stand up for seniors. Let’s stand up and show them. We will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.”
In making his claims, Biden was referring to a proposal from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) to “sunset” all federal legislation in five years, with Congress renewing programs “if a law is worth keeping.” Democrats took that to mean Medicare and Social Security were included, and attacked the GOP over it endlessly during the midterms. But Scott insisted that he did not want to “sunset” those programs.
PREVIOUSLY: President Joe Biden opened his State of the Union address by touting his administration’s accomplishments — even promising to veto Republican efforts to roll some of them back.
Biden opened his speech with some gestures to the GOP, congratulating Kevin McCarthy on his speakership. Members of both parties stood in applause.
But he was particularly strident in vowing to block GOP efforts to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act.
“As my old football coach used to say, good luck in your senior year,” Biden said.
He got some of the biggest cheers from fellow Democrats as he called for a billionaire minimum tax.
“No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or firefighter,” Biden said.
He got some boos from Republicans as he addressed the deficit. “Because of those record deficits, no president added more to the national debt in any four years than my predecessor,” he said.
PREVIOUSLY: With a potential showdown looming over raising the debt ceiling, President Joe Biden plans to use part of his State of the Union speech tonight as a call for unity.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,” Biden plans to say, according to remarks released by the White House. “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.”
The comments are out of a typical SOTU playbook, but they take on new resonance amid concerns that a protracted standoff over the debt limit could rattle markets and send the economy into a nosedive.
Biden met with new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) last week, as Republicans are demanding spending cuts, as yet undefined, before raising the ceiling again. Democrats don’t want conditions attached to raising the debt limit as a way to pay back spending that has already been incurred.
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Much of tonight’s speech is expected to be devoted to the administration’s accomplishments, as Biden is bolstered by a recent blockbuster jobs report.
“Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years,” Biden plans to say, according to the released remarks. “This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”
He also plans to declare that “Covid no longer controls our lives” and that democracy “remains unbowed and unbroken.” The latter is a reference to the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
“The story of America is a story of progress and resilience,” Biden plans to say. “We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we entered it. That is what we are doing again.”
Biden also plans to talk about progress on an array of issues that enjoy wide bipartisan support, including cancer research, support for veterans, mental health assistance and cracking down on fentanyl trafficking. He also will address social media platforms, calling for protections for privacy and safety for children online as well as a ban on advertising that targets kids and young people. He also plans to call for limits overall on the personal data that companies collect for targeted advertising.
There also could be mention of Biden’s proposal unveiled last week to curb so-called “junk fees,” including concert ticket surcharges and cable, TV and internet early-cancellation fees. And the presence of U2’s Bono suggests a reference to some of his signature issues, including HIV/AIDS and global poverty.
With expectations that he will run for re-election, Biden’s address will be one of his best opportunities of the year to speak to a large TV audience, though viewership has waned in recent years.
In the next couple of days, Biden will travel the country to drive home some of the speech themes, particularly the administration’s accomplishments.
POTUS is scheduled to sit down with former PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff on Wednesday during his trip to Wisconsin, while other members of the administration will fan out across the country for appearances and interviews. With more surely to come, Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled for an interview on CBS Mornings on Wednesday.
What’s so far unclear is whether Biden will, as has been tradition, do a sit-down interview with the host network of the Super Bowl as part of pre-game coverage. But this year, that network is Fox, not exactly pro-Biden territory, and the network has not announced its plans. A White House spokesman was mum about it when asked during a press call earlier today. But Fox News anchor Shannon Bream was among those taking part in another tradition this afternoon: the president’s pre-SOTU White House lunch with network news anchors.
Biden’s speech will be his first as president before a divided Congress, something that will be very much in evidence with the presence of McCarthy sitting behind him, next to VP Harris. While there are indications that Biden will soften rhetoric toward so-called “extreme MAGA Republicans,” pundits will be examining the speech for lines that suggest how the president plans to frame a potential re-election campaign.
What’s less easy to predict is the ultimate impact of State of the Union speeches themselves.
Most read like laundry lists of accomplishments and goals, and fade into memory. However, a few produce memorable lines, like George W. Bush’s use of “axis of evil” in 2002 to characterize Iraq, Iran and North Korea, or memorable moments, like then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s very visual tearing up of Donald Trump’s address in 2020.
Pelosi has retired from leadership, but she will be present, and her husband, Paul Pelosi, brutally injured in an attack on their San Francisco home, is among the guests of First Lady Jill Biden. Pelosi herself will be interviewed on CNN’s post-speech coverage and on Morning Joe on Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is delivering the Republican response to the State of the Union, plans to attack the Biden administration for inflation and for woke-ism.
According to prepared remarks, Sanders plans to tell viewers: “While you reap the consequences of their failures, the Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day. Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.
“Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags and worship their false idols … all while big government colludes with Big Tech to strip away the most American thing there is — your freedom of speech.”
At the Capitol, security fencing has returned to the grounds, a legacy of the January 6, 2021, attack on the complex. Inside, there is a heightened security presence, as there is for any SOTU, while caterers have been out in full force to provide meals at various House and Senate offices. TV networks have set up cameras surrounding Statuary Hall.
As they did for last month’s marathon speaker vote, viewers will get a more candid view of the House chamber and individual members. That’s because media cameras again are being allowed to cover the event, rather than the typical House-controlled stationary cameras. But this time around, Fox is the pooler for the SOTU, not C-SPAN, as networks typically rotate duty.
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