President Biden sought to prove to a skeptical nation that his stewardship has delivered results both at home and abroad.
President Joe Biden urged Congress to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he delivered a State of the Union address Tuesday night aimed at reassuring a country beset by pessimism and fraught political divisions.
In his 73-minute speech, Biden sought to portray a nation dramatically improved from the one he took charge of two years ago: from a reeling economy to one prosperous with new jobs; from a crippled, pandemic-weary nation to one that has now reopened, and a democracy that has survived its biggest test since the Civil War.
The backdrop for the annual address was markedly different from the previous two years, with a Republican speaker now sitting expressionless behind Biden and newly empowered GOP lawmakers in the chamber sometimes shouting criticism of him and his administration.
As Biden, 80, prepares for a likely reelection bid, he sought to prove to a skeptical nation that his stewardship has delivered results both at home and abroad. He highlighted record job creation during his tenure as the country has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, and pointed to areas of bipartisan progress in his first two years in office, including on states’ vital infrastructure projects and high-tech manufacturing.
But the challenges for Biden are many: economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China and more. Signs of past trauma at the Capitol, most notably the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, were unavoidable: A large fence encircled the complex, and lawmakers and those in attendance faced tighter-than-usual security.
Stark political divisions on display
From the start of the State of the Union address, America’s heightened partisan divisions were clear.
Democrats — including Vice President Kamala Harris — jumped to applause as Biden began his speech. New Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, though he had greeted the president warmly when he entered the chamber, stayed in his seat.
Occasional Republican heckling — some drawing hushes from McCarthy — reflected the newly empowered GOP that is itching to undo many of Biden’s achievements and vowing to pursue a multitude of investigations — including looking into the recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as vice president at his home and former office.
Though he pledged bipartisanship where possible, Biden also underscored the sharp tensions that exist: He discussed GOP efforts to repeal the Democrats’ 2022 climate change and healthcare law and their reluctance to increase the federal debt limit, the nation’s legal borrowing authority that must be raised later this year or risk default.
Some Republicans refused to back down, with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right politician from Georgia, and others, jumping to their feet, some yelling “Liar!”
In fiery refrains, Biden said the phrase “finish the job” 13 times, challenging lawmakers to complete the work of his administration on capping insulin costs for all Americans, confronting climate change, raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations and banning assault-style weapons. But on all of those fronts, the divided government is even less likely to yield than the Congress under sole Democratic control.