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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Biden leverages spirited State of the Union to differentiate from Trump and persuade voters for a second term

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WASHINGTON — In his ‍State of​ the Union⁤ address on Thursday night, President Joe ​Biden passionately made ‍his case for ⁣a second term. He took aim at ‍GOP front-runner Donald Trump, accusing him of promoting “resentment, revenge and retribution” and endangering freedom both domestically and internationally.

Biden⁤ repeatedly criticized “my predecessor” without‍ directly naming former President Trump. He ​raised his voice to address voter concerns​ about his age and job ‌performance, while‍ drawing a stark contrast with his likely opponent in⁣ the November election.

The tone of Biden’s speech was noticeably more combative than his ⁣previous State⁣ of the‌ Union address. He seemed to relish the opportunity ‍to challenge Republicans on their policies, engage in lively exchanges‍ with fellow Democrats, and dispel any ​doubts ⁤about his ability to ⁢serve a second term​ at the age of ⁣81.

“Freedom and democracy ‌are under attack both at home and overseas ⁢at ⁤the very same time,” Biden declared, urging Congress to support Ukraine’s efforts to resist Russia’s ⁢invasion. “History⁢ is watching.”

Biden swiftly shifted his focus to domestic threats, referencing the Jan. 6, ‍2021, attack‌ on ‍the Capitol by⁢ Trump⁤ supporters attempting ⁤to overturn the 2020 election. He called for a ‌robust response to this threat to democracy.

“My predecessor — ‌and some of⁤ you here​ —⁢ seek to bury the truth about Jan. 6 — I⁤ will not do that,” Biden stated. “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 continued. “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 harbor. Now some other people my age see⁤ a different ⁢story:⁤ an American story ⁣of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That’s not me.”

The president highlighted his achievements⁤ in infrastructure and manufacturing, and urged⁤ Congress​ to approve additional aid to Ukraine, ‍stricter ‍immigration laws, and lower drug prices. He also reminded voters of⁣ the challenging circumstances he faced when he took ‍office in 2021, in ⁣the ‍midst of‍ a pandemic ⁣and a shrinking economy.

‘Just let⁤ me ⁣know’

Observers were keen to ‌see not only what ⁣the⁣ 81-year-old president had to⁣ say, but⁣ also how energetically and confidently he could deliver his message.

White House aides revealed that Biden was determined to prove his critics⁤ wrong by showing his ​fighting spirit⁢ and challenging Republicans ‍on issues he believes they are out ⁤of touch‍ with the country on, such as access to abortion, tax ​policy, ‌and ⁢health care. This is part of his election-year strategy to use even official speeches to ‍clarify the choice for voters in the upcoming election.

As ‍he celebrated his legislative achievements, such as a law that strengthens the manufacturing of computer ⁢chips nationwide, Biden deviated from ⁤his prepared remarks to​ take⁤ a⁣ jab at ‍Republicans who voted against such policies‍ but are quick ‌to claim credit⁣ for them‍ in their ⁢home districts.

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

The president was speaking to a historically ineffective Congress. In the‍ GOP-led House, Speaker Mike ⁤Johnson assumed power five months ago following ⁤the ⁤tumultuous ​removal of former Speaker Kevin⁣ McCarthy. Lawmakers are still struggling to pass funding bills ⁣for the ‌current ‌year⁢ and have been at a stalemate for months ⁢on foreign aid⁣ bills to assist Ukraine ⁢in resisting Russia’s invasion and support Israel’s ⁢fight against Hamas.

The​ State ‌of the Union address is⁤ a ⁣high-profile event on the White House calendar, providing presidents with a⁣ direct line to a captive audience of lawmakers and​ dignitaries in the House chamber and tens of millions of viewers⁣ at home. However, viewership has‍ been⁢ declining in ​recent years.

White House and campaign aides for Biden ⁤were hoping for some new viral moments — like last year⁢ when he clashed ‌with heckling Republicans and criticized‌ them for past​ attempts to cut Medicare and Social Security.

Johnson, keen ⁣to avoid a ‌similar‌ incident this year, encouraged Republicans in a private meeting​ on Wednesday to show “decorum” during the speech, according to a person ⁤familiar with his comments​ to lawmakers.

His advice had limited success. Several House Republicans began ⁢to stand up and leave the chamber as Biden discussed raising taxes ⁤on billionaires and corporations.​ Others,⁢ like Johnson, remained seated and shook their‍ heads.

‘I know you know how to read’

Biden‍ engaged in a spirited exchange ⁤with lawmakers as he rhetorically ⁢questioned⁣ the fairness‌ of the tax code and whether billionaires and corporations need “another $2 trillion in tax ⁢breaks,” as he ​claimed ⁢Republicans ⁢want.

One of the most heated⁢ moments of⁣ his speech occurred ‍during his comments on immigration, when Biden​ was ⁢listing ‍the ⁤endorsements by conservative⁢ groups of the bipartisan border legislation that Republicans killed last month.

Some in the audience​ seemed to‌ shout and interrupt, and⁣ Biden retorted,‍ “I know you ⁤know how to read.”

As Rep.⁣ Marjorie Taylor Greene, adorned in pro-Trump gear, continued to yell​ at Biden, the president held up a white button that the‍ Georgia Republican‌ had given him earlier bearing the name ‍of Laken Riley, who⁢ authorities say⁢ was ‌killed by a Venezuelan national who illegally crossed into the⁣ U.S. in September 2022.

“Laken Riley,” Biden said, referring⁣ to‌ her as an “innocent young woman who ​was killed ‍by an illegal.” He expressed his condolences to her⁢ family, saying his heart goes out to them.

Meanwhile, congressional Republican leaders were highlighting one of their​ newest lawmakers ‍through the State‍ of the Union rebuttal in an attempt to draw a generational contrast with Biden. Alabama‍ Sen. Katie Britt, the youngest Republican woman elected to the Senate,⁤ planned to depict a nation that “seems to‍ be ⁤slipping away” and one where “our families are hurting.”

“Right now, our commander-in-chief is not in ​command.‍ The free⁢ world deserves better than a⁣ dithering⁣ and diminished leader,”⁤ Britt was ⁤expected to say, ⁣according to excerpts released Thursday⁣ evening. ​”America ‌deserves leaders who recognize that secure borders, ⁢stable prices, safe streets, and a ⁢strong defense are ‌the cornerstones of⁢ a great nation.”

Biden ​painted a hopeful picture of the country’s future as the major pieces ‍of legislation he‍ signed into law during​ his first two years in office are implemented. ‍But he also warned 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.

Ukraine and Gaza

This year, Biden faced heightened ⁢emotions — particularly among his ⁣base supporters — over his staunch backing​ for Israel’s war against Hamas ⁣in Gaza. The White House ⁢had initially hoped a short-term cease-fire‌ would be in place by the speech. It blames Hamas for not yet accepting a deal brokered by the⁢ U.S.‌ and its allies.

A number of Democrats and Republicans⁢ wore pins ​and stickers in ⁣honor of ⁤the Israeli ⁣hostages​ still being ​held captive in Gaza. Meanwhile,​ several House progressives wore Palestinian⁣ keffiyehs, the black and white checkered ⁣scarfs that have come to symbolize Palestinian solidarity. Biden’s‌ motorcade took a circuitous route to the Capitol, as ​hundreds of pro-cease-fire 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.

The president also⁣ issued a strong call for lawmakers to ​pass urgently needed defense assistance for ‌Ukraine. Acute ammunition shortages have allowed Russia to retake the offensive⁤ in⁢ the 2-year-old war.

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

‘The law of the​ land’

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 disrupted 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. Several House Democratic women were‍ wearing white — a symbol of⁣ women’s​ suffrage — to promote reproductive ‍rights.

The⁢ White House also invited⁣ union leaders, a gun control advocate and others ​that Jill Biden and her husband have met as⁤ they traveled the country promoting‍ his​ agenda.‌ The‌ prime minister of Sweden, Ulf Kristersson, ​will attend to mark his‍ country’s accession to NATO in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Expelled and ⁢disgraced, former⁢ Rep. George Santos, who still retains floor privileges as an ex-member of Congress,​ also showed up ‌for the speech.

‘Shrinkflation’

Heading into⁢ the State of⁤ the Union, Biden also addressed the issues ‍of “shrinkflation”‌ — companies putting fewer pretzels in the jar and less yogurt in sealed cups — and so-called “junk fees” on services. While⁤ neither ​is a main⁤ driver of inflation,‌ the White House hopes to​ show consumers ⁢that Biden​ is fighting for them.

Biden also⁣ unveiled an ⁣expanded plan to⁢ raise​ corporate taxes⁤ and use the proceeds to reduce budget deficits and cut taxes for the middle class.

Biden entered the speech with work to do to improve ‌his standing.⁤ Just 38% ⁣of U.S. ‌adults approve of how he is handling his job as president, while 61% disapprove, ‌according ⁢to a recent ‌survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The ⁢same survey​ found that more than 6 in 10 (63%) 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%) say that Trump ‌lacks‌ the memory ⁢and acuity⁤ for the job.

The already intense scrutiny ⁤of⁢ Biden’s age was magnified when special counsel Robert Hur raised questions about the ⁤president’s mental acuity in his⁤ report last month on Biden’s handling of classified information. Hur is set to testify⁤ Tuesday before lawmakers about his investigation.

After the speech, Biden ‍was scheduled 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 reelection effort.

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