President Biden made the case for his expected reelection bid in the annual State of the Union address Tuesday night as he highlighted big-spending achievements and called on a divided Congress to work with him on a modest “unity agenda” while he girds for a showdown with Republicans over spending cuts.
In the prime-time address, Mr. Biden proposed goals that he said both parties should support: aiding veterans, fighting the opioid epidemic, tackling mental health issues and ending cancer.
He pointed to his legislative accomplishments, including the approval of a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure program and a massive climate, tax and health care law that passed without Republican support.
In one of the most partisan moments of the night, Mr. Biden drew heated catcalls from Republicans when he accused them of trying to cut entitlements in their fight over raising the national debt limit.
For anyone wondering about Mr. Biden’s reelection plans, the president punctuated his speech frequently with a vow to “finish the job.”
“Two years ago, our economy was reeling,” the president said in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, which took roughly 22 million jobs. “As I stand here tonight, we have created a record 12 million new jobs — more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years.”
Mr. Biden said COVID-19 “no longer controls our lives.”
“Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years,” the president said. “This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”
The president proposed tax increases, including a quadrupling of the tax on stock buybacks and a minimum tax on “billionaires,” which would actually start with individuals who have assets of at least $100 million.
He urged Congress to renew the child tax credit, which expired in December 2021, and proposed other cherished liberal goals, including a ban assault rifles and a codification of abortion protections in federal law.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who at 40 is half the president’s age, gave the Republican Party’s response to Mr. Biden’s address.
She said Mr. Biden is unfit to serve as commander in chief, unwilling either to defend the southern border from illegal immigration or America’s skies from a Chinese spy balloon.
Mrs. Sanders said Republicans “believe in an America where strong families thrive in safe communities.”
“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country,” she said.
For the first time in his presidency, Mr. Biden faces a Congress with Republicans in control of the House and determined to block big government spending. Republicans also have started several investigations of the administration and the Biden family, particularly presidential son Hunter Biden and his overseas business dealings.
“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,” Mr. 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.”
His most urgent battle over the next few months is a high-stakes confrontation with House Republicans on raising the nation’s borrowing limit.
Mr. Biden says raising the debt ceiling is non-negotiable, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called on the president Monday to negotiate with Republicans and reach a compromise that cuts federal spending and moves toward a balanced budget.
“Mr. President, congressional Republicans are ready to act — to save our country and to make America stronger. I hope you will join us,” Mr. McCarthy said.
If an agreement isn’t reached by early June, the U.S. could default on its debt.
As the president began his address, he turned to the newly elected speaker behind him on the rostrum and congratulated him.
“Mr. Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you,” the president said.
Mr. McCarthy laughed.
The president soon took off the gloves by portraying the debt ceiling fight as a Republican effort to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. He pointed out that Republicans didn’t balk at raising the debt limit during the Trump administration without demanding spending cuts.
“No president added more to the national debt in any four years than my predecessor,” Mr. Biden said. “How did Congress respond to all that debt? They lifted the debt ceiling three times without preconditions or crisis. Tonight, I’m asking this Congress to follow suit.”
Behind him, Mr. McCarthy, who had promised no Nancy Pelosi-style speech rippings, shook his head several times and mouthed “no.”
The president said some Republicans “want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years.”
“Other Republicans say if we don’t cut Social Security and Medicare, they’ll let America default on its debt for the first time in our history,” Mr. Biden said. “I won’t let that happen. Tonight, let’s all agree to stand up for seniors. Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.”
The Republican side of the House chamber erupted in jeers of protest, prompting Mr. Biden to taunt, “I enjoy conversion. I’m not saying it’s a majority of you, but it’s being proposed by individuals.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, shouted her disagreement with the president. “You lie,” she said, mimicking a heckling by a Republican of President Obama. The word “liar” could be heard elsewhere in the room.
Mr. Biden, at age 80 already the nation’s oldest president, will announce soon whether he will run for reelection. He is expected to seek a second term, but even most Democrats want a new candidate in 2024.
The president seemed to amplify concerns about his age at the start of his speech by referring to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York as “Senate minority leader” before correcting himself. He also deviated from the script numerous times, sometimes stumbling over his words.
A poll from The Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows just 37% of Democrats want Mr. Biden to run again, down from 52% before the midterm elections in November. Mr. Biden will travel to Florida and Wisconsin, two perennial swing states, to hold events this week.
The president is under investigation by a special counsel over the handling of classified documents from his tenure as vice president.
Some of his supporters view the White House’s lengthy silence about the matter as an unforced error. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump is taking heat for his handling of classified documents.
Congressional Republicans are criticizing the president’s response to the Chinese spy balloon that the U.S. military shot down Saturday, days after it penetrated U.S. airspace over Alaska.
Mr. Biden never mentioned the word “balloon” in his speech, but referred to the incident indirectly.
“Make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” he said.
Only 37% of Americans believe the spy balloon episode was handled properly, and 59% say it made the U.S. look weaker on the world stage, according to a new COS Project / Trafalgar Group survey.
Many lawmakers say the administration should have blown the balloon out of the sky before it crossed the expanse of the continental U.S. while likely conducting surveillance of sensitive locations.
On the migrant crisis at the southern border, Mr. Biden accepted no responsibility, blaming Congress for failing to pass “comprehensive immigration reform.”
“America’s border problems won’t be fixed until Congress acts,” the president said. “If we don’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border — and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, essential workers.”
The economy is a mixed bag for Mr. Biden. He has pointed to the strong jobs report for January, when employers added 517,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to a 53-year low of 3.4%. The annual inflation rate fell moderately, from a four-decade high of 9.1% in June to 6.5% in December.
Inflation and costs of everyday goods are still uncomfortably high for many Americans. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 4 in 10 Americans said they have become worse off financially since Mr. Biden became president — the most in the poll since 1986. Only 16% said they were better off.
White House aides said the president decided not to announce flashy policy proposals in this year’s State of the Union address. He chose to focus instead on several health-related issues that most voters could support.
Among the guests of first lady Jill Biden in the audience were Bono of the Irish rock band U2; Paul Pelosi, husband of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis man who died after he was beaten by police during a traffic stop.
On the issue of police brutality, Mr. Biden said, “Public safety depends on public trust. But too often that trust is violated.”
“I know most cops are good. decent people. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield,” the president said. “But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better.”
The White House also invited Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova to sit in Mrs. Biden’s viewing box in recognition of her country’s nearly one-year fight against Russian invaders.
The administration said Bono was invited because of his work to combat HIV/AIDS and poverty. Mr. Pelosi, who suffered a hammer attack at his home in October, was in the audience to highlight the dangers of political violence. The man arrested in the attack told police that he intended to confront Mrs. Pelosi about her liberal agenda.