WASHINGTON (TND) — President Joe Biden offered a message of resilience to open his second State of the Union address Tuesday night in front of a joint session of Congress in a packed U.S. Capitol filled with lawmakers and their families, Cabinet officials, Supreme Court justices and guests from around the country.
Biden’s speech comes as America continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic that rocked the economy, uprooted daily lives and brought thousands of deaths. In his first address to Congress, Biden spoke to a mostly empty U.S. Capitol as coronavirus restrictions prevented the House chamber from being filled. The environment was an encapsulation of how far the U.S. has come since 2020 when the country shut down as the virus spread, sending the economy into a tailspin and millions of Americans into unemployment.
“The story of America is a story of progress and resilience. Of always moving forward. Of never giving up,” Biden said. “A story that is unique among all nations. We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we got into it.”
Despite America's progress, there are still numerous issues Biden and Congress have to address: inflation, an increasingly expensive war in Ukraine, increased tensions with China following the discovery of a surveillance balloon over the U.S. and raising the debt ceiling.
He asked Republican members of Congress to work with him on helping America move forward from the pandemic and to help rebuild the economy, which is still dealing with persistent inflation and an aggressive Federal Reserve that could bring it into another recession in its interest rate crackdown. Republicans have been quick to point to Biden and his economic policies, along with stimulus bills he championed to Congress, as one of the key drivers of inflation.
Despite his appeals to bipartisanship, Biden also took some shots at Republicans when it comes to the national deficit and the debt ceiling. Consistent with his messaging prior to Tuesday night, the president told lawmakers that they have an obligation to raise the debt limit and reminded Republicans that they voted for raises without conditions on cutting federal spending under former President Donald Trump.
Some of Biden's signature legislative achievements did receive bipartisan support such as the infrastructure and semiconductor bills. The infrastructure bill invested huge sums into repairing America's aging roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and more, and Biden has frequently traveled across the country to attend groundbreaking ceremonies for projects funded by the bill.
The president said the American people want lawmakers to work together instead of getting into partisan shouting matches and "fighting for the sake of fighting," and praised all the bipartisan pieces of legislation Congress had sent to his desk during his first two years in office.
“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."
Biden's pitch on the strength of the union under his leadership is being met by a skeptical American audience, who are on edge about the potential for a recession, continue to be worried about inflation and would prefer Biden opt not to seek a second term.
He spoke directly to those who are concerned about the state of the economy and their futures.
“You wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without having to move away — I get that," Biden said, promising a continuation of his vision of the American economy will do more to help protect and expand the middle class.
The economy received the bulk of attention during Biden's speech, being brought up while praising the impact of the legislation he has signed and during calls to do more. Biden promised to continue investing in America's economy and prioritizing buying products made within its borders for government projects.
Throughout his speech that ran for more than an hour, Biden touched on several issues that impact American families — getting a job, the cost of healthcare, a rise in gun violence and mass shootings, deaths from cancer, opioid addiction and more. He called on Congress to pass legislation on several parts of what he described as his "unity agenda," which includes addressing the opioid pandemic, mental health, fighting cancer and supporting veterans.
Some of the proposals in the plan have drawn some bipartisan interest but are far from guaranteed from becoming law in a divided Congress.
He sought to assure the country that he and lawmakers in Washington could work together to solve some of the greatest issues facing the country and its future while asking Congress to overcome partisan politics and act.
The president renewed calls to enact police reform legislation after the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis with his parents in the audience as guests. Saying that most officers are "good, decent" people who put their lives on the line, he asked Congress to supply them with more resources and better training to address the issue the country has with deaths during altercations with police and suggested it could help slow gun violence and crime.
Nichols' death has restarted talks about a police reform bill in the Senate but lawmakers have cautioned that legislation making it to the floor with a chance for passage could be a long way off if it comes at all.
Most of the speech was focused on domestic issues facing the country, but Biden touched on some of the problems abroad as well. He vowed to continue to ramp up U.S. competition with China and to continue aiding Ukraine in fending off Russia's invasion for "as long as it takes," a promise that comes as Americans are increasingly concerned about the level of aid the U.S. has sent since the war started last year.
Biden did not spend much time on going into the specifics about all the military and financial assistance the U.S. has offered to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, but focused on the ability of NATO countries and other allies being able to stick together throughout the crisis.
Biden's promises to keep competing with China came after the U.S. military shot down a suspected surveillance balloon off the East Cost that had been spotted over Montana, an issue that Republicans have frequently criticized the administration's handling of. The balloon incident has once again ramped up tensions with Beijing, prompting Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip meant to restart diplomatic relations that had been mostly shut down for months following former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan last year.
"I'm committed to working with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world, but make no mistake about it — as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty we will act to protect our country, and we did," Biden said, adding that America "seeks competition, not conflict."
Biden wrapped up his addressing praising the virtues of democracy and calling on lawmakers and Americans to come together to protect it after it was shaken in the aftermath of the 2020 election that culminated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Using themes and phrases from previous speeches on democracy and voting rights, Biden referred to the ongoing debate about the state of America's democracy as an "inflection point" and a fight for the "soul of America."
"I've never been more optimistic about our future, about the future America," the president said. "Just remember who we are, we're the United States of America and there's nothing nothing beyond our capacity."
In the Republican response to the speech, Arkansas Gov. and former Trump administration press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders painted a dark picture of America under Biden's leadership.
“He is simply unfit to serve as commander in chief,” Sanders said. “And 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.”