In a time of polarized politics, President Joe Biden spent the majority of his second State of the Union speech calling for cooperation and working across party lines. Except when he didn’t: During the entire address, loud jeers from Republican lawmakers were met with a direct response from the president.
About halfway through the president’s 75-minute speech, the GOP legislators started shouting in earnest. Before accusing the GOP of threatening to “hold the economy hostage” if Medicare and Social Security aren’t cut, Biden had just accused former President Donald Trump of adding more to the national debt than his predecessors. This accusation came in response to Republican lawmakers’ suggestions that they might do this in order to stay under the debt ceiling.
“Anybody who doubts it, contact my office, and I’ll give you a copy of the proposal,” Biden said gleefully over the shouting. As the protests continued, he leaned in further. “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare are off the books now, right?” More boos ensued.
That was just one of many instances where Biden rebuked the GOP opposition. Biden went against what he had planned to say when he said that Republicans wanted to break up the Inflation Reduction Act, which was the Democrats’ landmark bill on health care and climate change. He added, “Lots of luck in your senior year, just like my high school football coach used to say.” Biden occasionally took the lead in the jeers. At one point, he criticized Republicans for being against a $1 trillion infrastructure program that both parties agreed on. Don’t worry, he told his Republican pals who opposed it but still requested funding for initiatives in their districts. “We’ll support your initiatives. I’ll also run into you during the groundbreaking.
Biden gave his first State of the Union speech amid a divided Congress on Tuesday. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has committed his career to date to obstructing Biden’s agenda and initiating rigorous investigations into his administration, took the seat once occupied by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Biden’s previous yearly appearances. He gave House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) a warm welcome for taking office last month. He made an impromptu remark, “Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you,” he ad-libbed.
Biden’s responses to the loudest Republican protests in recent memory were very different from the rest of his speech, which was mostly about working together and being a strong leader. He recalled his quest to “return the soul of the nation” and “rebuild the backbone of America” as he positioned himself to voters as the more mature alternative to then-President Donald Trump. These concepts would be central to his 2020 campaign.
Biden mostly dwelt on the legislation that was approved by Congress with bipartisan backing. He praised the legislation that legalized gay marriage, the Violence Against Women Act’s reauthorization, and the CHIPS Act, which gave $280 billion for American technology research and manufacture. Even the bipartisan infrastructure law, which was approved before his previous State of the Union speech, was brought up again. For GOP lawmakers, the exercise served as a call to action and a rejection of their party animosity.
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 said. “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.”
Even so, the president gave victory laps for his administration’s significant achievements over the previous year, delivered in the closing months of full Democratic control of the government and frequently in “times when Democrats had to do it alone,” as Biden recalled. He noted all the ways inflation has declined over the past year and praised the “50-year low” jobless rate. Biden called the Inflation Reduction Act, which was only passed with the help of Democrats, a big win in the fight against climate change and rising healthcare costs.
Biden hinted at a few other economic agenda items, such as a minimum tax on billionaires and a significant increase in the tax on corporate stock buybacks, which are supported by his party’s left side. The latter was described by Biden, who noted that “Big Oil just reported record profits…in the midst of a global energy crisis,” he said. “It’s outrageous.”
While there’s almost no chance Republicans will join him in pushing forward on these proposals, Biden nevertheless encouraged Republicans “complete the job.”