A Piss-and-Vinegar Biden Dares Republicans to Try Him
President Joe Biden devoted most of his second State of the Union address to calls for unity and working across the aisle in a season of divided government. Except when he didn’t: As Republican lawmakers vociferously heckled the president throughout the speech, the president pushed right back.
The shouts from GOP lawmakers began in earnest roughly halfway through the president’s 75-minute speech. Biden had just blamed former president Donald Trump for heaping more onto the national debt than their predecessors, then accused the GOP of threatening to “take the economy hostage” without cuts to Medicare and Social Security — something some Republican lawmakers have suggested they’d do to avoid breaching the debt limit.
“Anybody who doubts it, contact my office, 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 is off the books now, right?” More boos ensued.
That was one of several moments when Biden slapped down GOP opposition. When he noted Republican lawmakers wanted to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats’ signature climate and health care bill, Biden went off-script to say: “As my high school football coach used to say, ‘Lots of luck in your senior year.’” Sometimes, Biden even led the taunts. At one point, he dinged GOP lawmakers who voted against a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. “To my Republican friends who voted against it but still ask to fund projects in their districts, don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll fund your projects. And I’ll see you at the ground-breaking.”
Tuesday’s State of the Union address was Biden’s first before a divided Congress. Sitting where former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat for Biden’s previous annual appearances was Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has so far dedicated his tenure to blocking Biden’s agenda and conducting aggressive investigations into his administration. He offered a hearty welcome to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for assuming the gavel last month. “Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you,” he ad-libbed.
Biden’s responses to cacophonous Republican objections — the rowdiest in recent memory — contrasted a speech that otherwise emphasized favored themes of unity and steady leadership. He recalled his mission to “restore the soul of the nation” and “rebuild the backbone of America,” ideas fundamental to his 2020 campaign as he sold himself to voters as the adult in the room compared to then-President Donald Trump.
For the most part, Biden lingered on the legislation that passed Congress with the support of both parties. He touted the bill that codified marriage equality, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and the CHIPS Act, which provided $280 billion for American technology research and manufacturing. He even revisited the bipartisan infrastructure law, a bill that passed before his last State of the Union address. The exercise functioned as a call to action for GOP lawmakers — and a rejection of their partisan antagonism.
“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.”
Still, the president took victory laps for his administration’s major accomplishments from the last year, delivered in the final months of unified Democratic control of the federal government and often, as Biden noted, in “times when Democrats had to go it alone.” He celebrated the “50-year low” unemployment rate and listed all the ways inflation has fallen over the last year. Biden touted the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed with only Democratic votes, as a major win for the fight against climate change and rising health care costs.
Biden teased a few additional economic agenda items popular with his party’s left flank, such as a minimum tax for billionaires and a major raise on the tax on corporate stock buybacks. In describing the latter, Biden observed “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 “to finish the job.”
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