WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden offered olive branches to Republicans in his State of the Union address on Tuesday and tried to turn down the partisan heat, as he wielded, at times, humor and ad libs in his well-done speech.
Biden used his address to a joint session of a divided Congress — his first since Republicans won control of the House, with the Senate remaining in Democratic hands — to lay the groundwork for his very likely 2024 re-election bid by highlighting the considerable accomplishments of his first two years to make the case there’s more work to do, and he has to finish the job.
Speechwriters for Biden deliberately repeated that phrase in his speech — “finish the job” — to encourage Americans to give him credit for getting things done.
Biden’s advisors — in the run-up to the prime time speech — and in the days and weeks ahead — are working to get him the credit they think he deserves. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 62% of Americans think Biden has not accomplished “very much” or “little or nothing.” On Wednesday, Biden travels to Madison, Wisconsin, to amplify the themes from his speech.
1. Nothing? As Biden said, “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.” The unemployment rate is 3.4%. That is the lowest since 1969. That’s something. Biden’s challenge is to get people to pay attention to stuff like this.
2. Biden tackled a structural problem in spotlighting what he’s done. Some of his legacy legislation is just kicking in — such as capping the cost of insulin at $35 a month for seniors on Medicare. Biden said he wanted to expand that benefit to everyone who needs it.
3. And speaking of drugs, Biden issued a veto threat to Republicans on a populist pocketbook matter. “Make no mistake, if you try to do anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it.”
4. What you see matters. And there in the front row, for the first time in the history of the nation, was a Black female Supreme Court Justice — one appointed by Biden — Ketanji Brown Jackson.
5. Biden’s folksy ad lib at the start of his speech — it wasn’t in his text — may or may not work with new Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but it set a tone of goodwill. “Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.”
6. Biden seemed to get himself in a jam when he accused Republicans of threatening Medicare and Social Security. This is tricky territory when it comes to broad statements about GOP intentions. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R- Ga.), yelled out “liar” as Republicans booed him. Then Biden said — and this ploy worked — “Let’s stand up for seniors.” Everybody did, of course.
“Apparently,” Biden said, with a bit of glee —“ they (the Republicans) are not going to cut these programs.”
7. A few things can be true at the same time. Biden’s speech very well showcased his legislative and administration achievements, even as culture wars rage. With the House in GOP hands, hot-button issues are already on the front burner.
Biden said, “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 and find consensus as well. I think 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.”
8. Biden’s war on despised junk fees — another populist issue if there ever was one — was a segment in his speech as he pushed for the divided Congress to pass his Junk Fee Prevention Act. Getting this done will be a test for Biden.
“Junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most folks in homes like the one I grew up in,” Biden said.
Biden is talking about making airlines refund your money if your flight is cancelled or delayed; reducing bank overdraft and credit card late fees; so-called resort fees at hotels, and capping service fees on tickets to concerts and sporting events.
Who disagrees with this? Said Biden, “Americans are tired of being played for suckers.”
9. Biden also talked about data privacy, an issue that has been championed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. It’s time, Biden said, “to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online.”
Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Ill., delivers Working Families speech
Ramirez made her national speaking debut on Tuesday, delivering a live-streamed speech for the Working Families Party, part of the Democratic Party’s left wing.
She made a pitch for voters to return the House to Democrats. According to her prepared text, she was to say, “We must stand up to the extremism of the MAGA Republicans. We have to show working people what Democrats will deliver for working families if they put us in control.”