Takeaways from Biden’s speech: More conciliation than conflict
WASHINGTON — The State of the Union address tends to have a ritual rhythm. Large entrance. Applause. Platitudes. Strategies. Calls for unity, real or imagined.
President Joe Biden ticked those boxes, and a few more, during his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. In part, he appeared to be laying the groundwork for running for a second term. “We were sent here to finish the job,” he said.
Biden has made calls for unity and tried to emphasize reconciliation over conflict, easier to do in this rarefied setting, seemingly impossible to sustain in such divided times.
Takeout from the primetime address:
MORE CONCILIATION THAN CONFLICT
Biden’s speech almost defiantly ignored bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats and his own reputation with the public.
He repeatedly returned to common ground, arguing that both sides can support American factories, the creation of new businesses and the financing of 20,000 infrastructure projects. When Biden addressed each of those themes, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, politely clapped back. He even stood up to applaud at one point.
It’s a sign that Democrats and Republicans can at least agree on a set of common goals, even if they have very different views on how to get there.
During the midterm election campaign, Biden warned against Republican extremists. On Tuesday evening, he introduced them as partners in governance during the first two years of his presidency.
But then came a comment from Biden that generated boos and boos from Republicans: Biden said some GOP members were determined to cut Social Security and Medicare.
This sparked a loud back-and-forth that seemed more in line with the reality of the parties’ actual relationship.
Biden used the speech to emphasize his focus on the common man, calling out billionaires who pay lower tax rates than the middle class and airlines that treat their passengers like “suckers.”
That amounted to a challenge for Republican lawmakers who increasingly claim to represent blue-collar workers.
“No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a teacher or a firefighter,” Biden said in one of the biggest lines of applause in his speech.
The president brought back an idea from last year of imposing a minimum tax on billionaires so they don’t pay a lower rate than many middle-class households. Biden had imposed a 20% tax on household income and unrealized financial gains worth $100 million or more. The administration estimated it would generate $360 billion over 10 years. This would in theory help finance certain priorities and possibly reduce the deficit.
But Biden’s tax plan may be more about scoring political points. He couldn’t get past Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., in the Senate last year.
The president was outspoken in saying he would stop airlines from charging fees to seat families together, saying children were treated like baggage. He wants to ban hidden resort fees charged by hotels and penalties charged by cellular service providers.
“Americans are tired of being played for suckers,” Biden said.
PASS OVER CHINA IN A BALLOON
Biden was on a winning streak against China, the United States’ rising military and economic competitor.
Then Beijing brazenly floated a spy balloon across the United States, an embarrassing episode for Biden that culminated last weekend with him ordering the Pentagon to fire the craft from the sky over the Atlantic Ocean. .
The incident has grabbed headlines, with some Republicans saying it demonstrates Biden has been wavering in Beijing.
Biden briefly addressed the incident directly: “As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we have.”
Lost in the noise are the administration’s increasingly aggressive efforts to push back against China, through deals with the Philippines and Japan to adjust or expand the US military presence in those countries.
The ball drama overshadowed all of that.
STANDING WITH UKRAINE
Last year’s State of the Union was dramatically shaped by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began days before the speech.
At that time, the chances of Ukraine staying in the fight with a more formidable Russian army seemed highly unlikely. Almost a year later, Ukraine is firmly committed to the fight.
Biden took a moment to pay tribute to Ukraine, addressing one of his guests, Ambassador Oksana Markarova, as representing “not just his nation but the courage of his people.”
He also applauded Congress for giving the Ukrainian what he needed to deal with brutal Russian aggression; the United States has already committed nearly $30 billion in security assistance since the start of the war.
Privately, administration officials have made it clear to Ukrainian officials that congressional patience with the cost of war will have its limits. But with Tuesday’s speech, Biden offered an optimistic view of the prospects for long-term US support.
“Ambassador, America stands united in our support for your country,” Biden said, looking at Markarova in the gallery. “We will stay with you as long as it takes.”
FEEL THEIR PAIN
Among Biden’s guests were the parents of Tire Nichols, the 29-year-old black man whose heartbreaking death at the hands of Memphis, Tennessee, police has reignited a national debate about policing.
Efforts to reduce police excesses have been severely limited by resistance in Congress, and there is little prospect for federal action.
Still, Biden expressed admiration for the grace of Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, who after his death spoke of her son’s “beautiful soul” and the hopeful certainty that “something good will come of it.” “.
Biden, 80, also acknowledged in no uncertain terms that as a white man he enjoyed a privilege that Nichols’ parents — and black parents basically — don’t have.
“Imagine having to worry about whether your son or daughter will come home after walking down the street or playing in the park or just driving their car,” he said. “I’ve never had to have ‘the conversation’ with my children – Beau, Hunter and Ashley – that so many black and brown families have had with their children.”
FINISH THE JOB
Biden used the phrase “finish the job” at least a dozen times during his speech. It sounded like the stuff of a slogan he could use for a re-election campaign.
But it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to finish the job on many of the things he referred to, like an assault weapons ban, universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and making companies to stop buying back shares.
At least not during this term.
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