President Joe Biden delivered the second State of the Union address of his presidency—the first speech in front of Congress of any President is not technically called that—at Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. yesterday. It came a lot earlier than last year’s, which was pushed back to early March, since the stock market losses, the high COVID infection and death numbers, and elevated gas prices would have made it nearly impossible for the President to convincingly deliver an optimistic message.
However, it is undeniable that this year, Joe Biden and his party are in a much better position to do just that. They are after a midterm election where they outperformed even mainstream expectations, adding a Senate and two governor seats, while managing to keep the Republican majority in the House narrow. Despite all that, poll numbers are still not great for the Democrats. The RealClearPolitics aggregate, which was remarkably accurate for the national House popular vote in 2022, has President Biden’s approval at -7.4 per cent. As for the economy, the most important issue for voters typically, it is at an abysmal -21.4 per cent. Polls also show Democratic voters still preferring someone other than Biden, the oldest POTUS in history, on the top of their ticket in next year’s election. Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren of their own party seemed to be open to replacing Vice President Kamala Harris for their next potential term in a recent interview. The suspected Chinese spy balloon floating across the US was also a cause for embarrassment for the Democrats in recent days.
It was in this mixed environment that the 46th United States President stood in front of the joint session of Congress to deliver his speech on the state of the Union. Sitting behind him was no longer Nancy Pelosi, but the 55th Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California.
President Biden, almost expectedly, started his delivery with a couple of gaffes.
He first stumbled through a confusing joke about next week’s Super Bowl (to very little laughter), then referred to Senator Chuck Schumer from New York as ‘Senate Minority leader’, when in fact he is the leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate.
He then went on to emphasise strong bipartisan messages. He congratulated Speaker McCarthy on his victory, and thanked the Republican members of Congress for helping multiple of his party’s bills get through, including their infrastructure, gun control, and marriage protection bills. He also expressed gratitude for the united effort to help Ukraine in the ongoing war against Russia, and said he hopes that representatives in Washington will be able to keep working across the aisle.
In accordance, Biden also spoke about issues that were typically of concern for his predecessor, President Trump. Biden talked about the loss of manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, helping veterans, and the fentanyl crisis. Among other things, he said:
‘We’ve been sent here to finish the job in my view. For decades, the middle class has been hallowed out. In more than, not now, one administration [sic!], but for a long time. Too many good-paying manufacturing jobs have been moved overseas. Factories closed down. Once thriving cities and towns many of you represent became shadows of what they used to be. Along the way, something else we lost: pride, our sense of self-worth. I ran for President to fundamentally change things. To make sure that our economy works for everyone. So that we can all feel that pride in what we do.’
Those few words front the beginning of that quote, ‘finish the job’, have been echoed by Biden throughout his speech. ‘Progress and resilience’ were also repeatedly mentioned.
The first time the President strayed from the bipartisan messaging and tried to distinguish his party from the opposition was when he talked about ‘building the economy from the bottom up’, which is in contrast to the ‘trickle-down’ economics usually associated with the Republicans.
In that vein, he also told big corporations to ‘pay their fair share’, a typical slogan of the further-left, socialist fraction of his party,
in favour of raising taxes. Most likely because of this, President Biden felt the need to proclaim that he is in fact ‘a capitalist’.
There were times when the American Congress resembled the United Kingdom’s Parliament, with shouting, heckling, and jeers coming from the members present, directed at the speaker. The first time this happened during Biden’s address, they came from the President’s own party, who voiced their discontent after he claimed that ‘we’re still gonna need oil and gas’. The Republicans in the room also had their jeers heard when Biden accused them of wanting to cut Medicare and Medicaid payments for Americans, with lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene shouting ‘Liar!’ at the President.
His false narrative exposed, Biden first conceded that it is just a minority of Republican representatives, then abandoned the accusations altogether, saying ‘as we all apparently agree, social security and Medicare is [sic!] off the books now’.
There were also plenty of tired, old liberal talking points repeated in Biden’s speech.
He talked about democracy being under attack in the US, referencing the infamous 6 January riots at the Capitol; he said ‘assault riffles’ need to be banned, and expressed his disapproval of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision being overturned. He even brought up supposedly racially motivated abuse by the police, something Democrats tend to shy away from these days with rising crime rates across big cities. An African-American couple who lost their son in a police encounter was invited to be in the audience.
Biden ended his SOTU speech with an optimistic, but simplistic message, saying ‘the state of the Union is strong’, then adding ‘may God bless our troops’.
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the official response of the Republican Party. She spoke about her party’s opposition to children being indoctrinated in public schools with gender and race theories, the open southern border, and big tech companies infringing on the free speech rights of American citizens. She concluded her message by recounting the time she and President Trump paid a surprise visit to troops stationed in Iraq at Christmas in 2018.
Since 2010, president of the European Commission also deliver State of the Union addresses to the European Parliament. The latest one of these speeches was performed by Ursula von der Leyen in September 2022. She mainly focused on the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war (something US President Joe Biden also mentioned multiple times) and the ensuing energy crisis in Europe, which she failed to note was partly brought on by the EU’s sanctions against Russia.