facing a divided Congress, Joe Biden dreams of compromise
Joe Biden gave his second State of the Union address on Tuesday evening in the face of a Congress that is no longer fully committed to his cause. While knowing that his chances of compromise with the opposition are now slim, the American president, who is already thinking of 2024, reiterated his calls for unity for the good of the nation.
“When foreign leaders ask me to define the United States, I do so in one word: possibilities.” Tuesday, February 7, faced with a divided American Congress, it is the possibility of a second part of the mandate placed under the sign of compromise that Joe Biden explored, without too much naivety.
The American president gave, as is the tradition, his second address on the state of the Union in the precincts of the Capitol. The majority of the House of Representatives swung to the conservative side following November’s midterm elections. On screen, it was therefore the new Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who stood behind Joe Biden. And who even applauded him at times.
“You know, we’re often told that Democrats and Republicans can’t work together, the head of state said. .” And to recall that he has signed, since coming to power, some 300 laws adopted thanks to the votes of the two rival parties. Joe Biden cited the example he is perhaps most proud of: the Infrastructure Act, “the biggest infrastructure investment since President Eisenhower’s highway system.”
“I sincerely thank my Republican friends who voted for the law,” continued Joe Biden, before being more sarcastic: “And to my Republican friends who voted against but who are still asking for funding for projects in their constituencies. , don’t worry. I promised to be the president of all Americans. We’ll fund your plans. And we’ll see each other at the inauguration.”
Despite his calls for unity, Joe Biden does not forget who he is talking to. If he kept his majority in the Senate, he now has to deal with a Republican House of Representatives, which makes any compromise much more difficult. Above all, among the new elected representatives, some members of the MAGA fringe (Make America Great Again, supporters of ex-president Donald Trump) have sworn to block the executive. This small group has a considerable capacity for nuisance even in its own camp, as evidenced by the difficulty Kevin McCarthy had in becoming a speaker.
The challenges are many. The American president must negotiate with the opposition to raise the country’s debt ceiling by the beginning of June, otherwise the United States could default and, by domino effect, cause a global financial crisis. Republicans, who believe that the federal state is spending too much and creating inflation, are demanding budget cuts in exchange for their votes. It is out of the question for the White House.
“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I approve of their projects,” denounced Joe Biden, after recalling that during the mandate of his predecessor Donald Trump, “the deficit increased four years by in a row” and the elected representatives of Congress have “raised the debt ceiling three times without preconditions or crisis”. “They paid America’s bills to avert an economic disaster at home. Tonight, I’m asking Congress to do the same.”
As a response to criticism of state spending since the start of his term, Joe Biden has sought to demonstrate to elected officials, but also and above all to voters, that his stimulus policy is working. He painted the picture of an American economy which is recovering very quickly, with an unemployment rate of only 3.4%, the lowest in 50 years, and the creation of 800,000 industrial jobs. Inflation is slowing, he added, while conceding that there was still work to be done.
Unite against autocracies
Joe Biden spent much of his speech talking about the economy. After all, the State of the Union address is primarily for Americans. The subject of Ukraine, which he had discussed at length last year during his first speech, just after the Russian invasion, was briefly mentioned this time. The Head of State promised to continue to support kyiv, a symbol of the “defense of democracy”, “as long as it takes”. Here again, he will have to find a compromise with the Republicans. Some MAGA elected officials are indeed calling for the end of financial aid to Ukraine, even if the subject is debated internally.
The American president also had harsh words for China, a few days after the case of the “spy balloon” which flew over the United States before being shot down. The Republican Party has taken up this affair and continues to tirelessly denounce the “weakness” of the American reaction, which is too late for its taste. “Make no mistake about it: as we clearly showed last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we have done it”, replied Joe Biden before calling for the American unity against Beijing. “Winning the competition against China should unite us all.” “Over the past two years, democracies have become stronger, and autocracies weaker,” he continued.
>> “Spy balloon”: “China will increase the pressure in its regional environment”
Throughout his speech, Joe Biden reiterated his calls for national cohesion and political compromise where possible: the fight against opiates, cancer research, support for veterans… But he also showed that he was ready to fight to defend certain values if necessary. “If Congress passes a law prohibiting abortion at the federal level, I will veto it,” he said.
The outstretched but firm hand
The Democratic president, who could announce his candidacy for 2024 in the coming weeks, has every interest in playing – at prime time – this card of the outstretched but firm hand, regardless of whether his chances of success are close to zero. Because in the event of political paralysis, he does not wish to be held responsible by the voters. Above all, he continues to think of himself as the one who can “reconcile America” and “heal the soul of the nation”, as he said in 2020 during the race for the White House. “We must see ourselves not as enemies, but as fellow Americans,” he said at the end of his speech, as if he was already back in the campaign.