Key takeaways from Biden's State of the Union speech

  • In Business
  • 2023-02-08 03:34:51Z
  • By BBC
Joe Biden at State of the Union address
Joe Biden at State of the Union address  

On Tuesday evening, Joe Biden delivered his third address to Congress - marking the halfway point in his first term in office.

It's a pivotal moment for the president, and he delivered an animated and at times combative speech. It comes as he is poised to launch a re-election campaign and dealing with, for the first time in his presidency, Republican control of one chamber of Congress.

Here are a few key takeaways from his evening in the spotlight, speaking to a sharply divided Congress and an audience of tens of millions of Americans.

Biden called for unity

Joe Biden began his speech by congratulating Republican Kevin McCarthy on being elected speaker of the House.

He then spent the first part of his State of the Union address reflecting this new political reality in Washington. The president boasted about the bipartisan accomplishments during his first two years in office. He noted co-operation on infrastructure spending, high-tech investment in microchip manufacturing, military aid to Ukraine, federal protections for gay marriage and electoral reform, among other topics.

"We're often told that Democrats and Republicans can't work together," he said. "But over these past two years, we proved the cynics and the naysayers wrong."

  • Watch the speech and follow live analysis

Mr Biden acknowledged that there were times Democrats had to "go it alone" - a line that glosses over the fierce partisan battles that took place around the trillion-dollar Covid relief law and the Inflation Reduction Act, which increased climate and healthcare spending by billions of dollars.

The president took credit for those accomplishments as well, but the new reality is that such sweeping legislative achievements are a thing of the past - at least for the next two years. Every legislative victory Mr Biden gets will now have to be achieved with the Republicans on his side - a formidable obstacle to overcome.

He still took a dig at Republicans

While Joe Biden did his best to burnish his bipartisan credentials during his address, one of the most pressing challenges facing the White House and Congress in the months ahead will be raising the federal borrowing limit to avoid a US default on its national debt.

On that topic, Mr Biden and House Republicans are engaging in a high-stakes game of chicken. And the president, in his speech, showed no sign of blinking - and may have poked his Republican counterparts in the eyes.

Referencing Republican demands to link a debt-limit increase to spending cuts, Mr Biden noted that no president added more to the national debt than his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Republicans responded to that line with hoots of derision.

He then tried to link Republican demands on the debt limit to some conservative proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare - the popular government-run retirement and health insurance programmes.

That led to even more howls of outrage.

Mr Biden said he would present his budget plan and called on Republicans to propose theirs. "We can sit down together and discuss both plans," he said.

It is, of course, a bit of a trap. The goal is to get the proposed Republican cuts on the record - giving Democrats a target to attack.

The fight over the debt limit is just beginning - and bipartisan co-operation will almost certainly take a back seat until the storm has passed.

Invited guests provided emotional moments

Mr Biden unveiled a number of new and rehashed proposals during his presidential address, many of which have little chance of becoming law with Republican control of Congress.

He spoke emotionally about the need for police reform and new gun-control legislation, pointing to presidential guests in the gallery- the parents of Tyre Nichols and a hero from the Monterey Park mass shooting - to drive home his points.

"All of us in the chamber, we need to rise to this moment," he said. "We can't turn away."

The reality, however, is that neither effort has much chance of success. If Congress is going to come together for new legislation, there's a better chance it will be to tackle "junk fees" that the president railed against, including bank surcharges, resort fees and airline seating charges.

"Junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most folks in homes like the one I grew up in," he said.

American politicians may not be able to agree on how to address police brutality and gun violence, but no one likes Ticketmaster "convenience" charges.

China and Ukraine take a back seat

While the Chinese surveillance balloon was a huge story in America over the weekend, it received barely a mention from the president, in the bottom third of his speech.

"As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country," he said. "And we did."

And that was it for the balloon talk.

The president went on to discuss the challenges posed by China and his administration's steps to strengthen the US economy and modernise the military. But a full-throated challenge to China this was not.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which dominated Mr Biden's last State of the Union address, also received barely a mention. The president welcomed Ukraine's ambassador to the US, seated in the gallery, and heralded allied support for the nation. But he did not use the opportunity to call for new aid to the war-torn nation - aid that will be a heavier lift with sceptical Republicans in control of the House.

Mr Biden's brief foray into foreign policy ended with a bit of "don't bet against America" flag-waving, and chants of "USA" from the crowd.

There's a saying that Americans only care about foreign policy when US soldiers are dying overseas. Joe Biden, with his focus on the economy and domestic accomplishments, seems to have taken that to heart.


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