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Joe Biden Delivers Feisty State Of The Union Speech Full Of Contrasts To Donald Trump

UPDATED: During his State of the Union speech Thursday, Joe Biden exchanged words with Republican hecklers, skewered Donald Trump without naming him, and framed the November election as one of decency and democracy versus retribution and resentment.

Stretching over an hour, Biden appeared feisty and energetic, occasionally stumbling over his lines. More often than not, his speech was a campaign restart sprinkled with SOTU standards, the laundry list of accomplishments and references to the everyday figures in the gallery. Biden, aided by chants of “four more years,” seemed determined to show some verve and allay some of the fears of fretful Democrats.

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One of the most contentious parts of the speech came when Biden slammed Republicans for rejecting a bipartisan border compromise, eliciting boos and some heckling from GOP members. At one moment, after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) shouted at him to “remember Laken Riley,” a 22-year-old student allegedly killed by a man who illegally crossed the border, Biden responded by holding up a button that Greene gave him on the way in with Riley’s name on it.

“How many thousands of people being killed by illegals?” Biden said. “Get this bill done. We need to act now.” (Biden got some pushback for referring to “illegals” instead of “undocumented,” and he also called Laken “Lincoln”).

He blamed Trump for scuttling the border bill, while chiding his predecessor for his harsh rhetoric toward migrants. “I will not demonize immigrants saying they ‘poison the blood of our country’ as he said in his own words,” Biden said.

Biden also addressed his own age — quipping that, “I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while.”

He tried to turn that into an asset, saying, “My fellow Americans, the issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are it’s how old our ideas are. Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas. But you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back.

“To lead America, the land of possibilities, you need a vision for the future of what America can and should be.”

The president also leaned in heavily on abortion rights, as he called for a restoration of Roe v. Wade as the “law of the land.” He made sure that it was Trump who was responsible for reversing abortion rights.

“My predecessor came to office determined to see Roe v. Wade overturned. He’s the reason it was overturned. In fact, he brags about it,” Biden said.

One Republican shouted “lie” after Biden accused Republicans of seeking to pass a national abortion ban. “My God, what freedoms will you take away next?” Biden said.

At one moment, Biden spoke directly to the Supreme Court justices sitting just in front of them, saying, “In its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court majority wrote, “Women are not without – electoral or political power.”

“You’re about to realize just how much you were right,” Biden said. The members of the court stared ahead without reaction, as they did through most of the speech.

Biden also made a series of proposals on taxes, including one to raise the corporate minimum tax to 21% and another to institute a 25% minimum tax on billionaires. It was during a portion of the speech that was populist in its targeting of the rich as not paying their fair share, as well as comparing it to Trump’s tax policies.

Biden stayed in the chamber for about a half an hour after he delivered the speech, speaking with members, taking selfies and signing autographs. Speaker Mike Johnson finally recessed the House, and as the TV lights were dimmed, Biden finally exited. But he continued to chat and speak to supporters for another 15 minutes or so just outside the chamber.

On the Israel-Hamas war, Biden tried to address divisions within the party, reflected in the lukewarm reaction he got from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and other members of the squad. They held up signs saying, “Stop Sending Bombs.”

Biden attempted to thread a needle between steadfast support for Israel and a call for humanitarian relief. After announcing that the U.S. military would lead a mission to establish a temporary pier in Gaza to “receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters,” the president said that Israel “must also do its part,” saying Israel must allow more aid into Gaza and ensure that humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the cross fire.

“To the leadership of Israel I say this,” he said. “Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority. “

Biden opened his State of the Union address with a warning.

“Not since President Lincoln and the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault here at home as they are today,” Biden said.

“What makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack, both at home and overseas, at the very same time.”

He referred to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but then went in to an attack on Trump, even though he did not name him. Rather, he quoted from one of the former president’s recent speeches.

“A former Republican president tells Putin: do whatever the hell you want,” Biden said. “I think it is outrageous. It is dangerous and it is unacceptable.”

Trump had made the remark in a speech last month, as he suggested that he would not defend NATO countries that have not made their defense commitments.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) gave the remark a standing ovation along with other Democrats, but otherwise Republicans remained in their seats.

It was Biden’s final State of the Union speech before the 2024 election, in which he is likely to have a rematch against Trump.

With the former president leading in some polls — and giving many Democrats a big dose of fear and loathing about November — Biden’s speech was billed as one of the more important of his career. With polls showing that voters have significant concerns about Biden’s age, the president is likely to be rated not just one what he says, but how he says it.

Networks focused some of their pre-coverage on pro-Palestinian protesters who attempted to block and intersection near the Capitol.

George Santos and Matt Gaetz before the SOTU
George Santos and Matt Gaetz before the SOTU

In the chamber, members arrived early to reserve seats along the center aisle, a prime position to be spotted on camera shaking hands with the president and congressional leaders.

By tradition, the White House and members invite guests, typically figures who reflect policy priorities and positions. One figure was unexpected: George Santos, who was on the floor before the speech chatting with members including Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO). Wearing a glittery collar, dark jacket and white slacks, he told Fox News’ Chad Pergram that as a former representative he has “floor privileges” but was “just a spectator” this evening. It was Santos’ first time back at the Capitol since he was expelled from the House in December.

Democratic women members were wearing white, the color of the women’s suffrage movement.

Spotted in a Senate basement cafeteria, having a light dinner, was Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY). He said that this was his 31st SOTU. Asked how they have changed, he said that it varies by president, although a recent spate of heckling from Republican members was new.

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