As the president spoke, Democrats and members of Biden’s cabinet regularly leapt to their feet to applaud him, while Republicans sat in stony silence.
He also faced outraged boos after claiming that some conservatives wanted to end Social Security and Medicare.
“Contact my office!” Biden responded amid the angry heckles from Republican members. “I’ll give you a copy (of the proposal).”
Last year, when Biden delivered his first such address as president, he was flanked by two of his most senior colleagues – Vice President Kamala Harris and then Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This time, new Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy stood behind him from the rostrum in House of Representatives, in a potent reminder of how the balance has shifted in Washington.
Earlier in the day, McCarthy had vowed that Republicans weren’t going to “play childish games” during the speech, referencing the unforgettable moment when Pelosi ripped up a copy of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in 2020.
And after entering the chamber to a standing ovation, Biden shook McCarthy’s hand and then cracked a joke: “Speaker, I don’t want to run your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.”
Tonight was nonetheless a balancing act for Biden, who has signalled he intends to run for the White House again in 2024 and is likely to make an announcement within weeks of tonight’s speech. Such a move would pave the way for a potential rematch against Trump, if the former presidential manages to win his party’s nomination.
On the one hand, Biden has achieved a string of policy successes, from cutting prescription drug costs and energy bills, to forging a coalition against Russia’s war in Ukraine. As the president pointed out, unemployment in America has also now fallen to its lowest levels in more than 50 years, inflation is cooling, and petrol prices are continuing to drop.
But on the other hand, successive polls show that most voters are still not satisfied with Biden’s leadership.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend, for instance, only 16 per cent of the those surveyed in the poll also said they felt better off financially since Biden came to office.
Nonetheless, Biden used much of his speech to paint the US as “the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we entered it”.
“Two years ago, COVID had shut down our businesses, closed our schools, and robbed us of so much,” he said. “Today, COVID no longer controls our lives. And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken.”
He also touted his economic plan, which centres on giving the middle classes a leg up “and investing in places and people that have been forgotten”.
“Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible,” he said.
“Maybe that’s you watching at home. You remember the jobs that went away. And you wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away. I get it. That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind… This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”
In the wake of yet another fatal case of police brutality, in which 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was beaten to death over a supposed traffic stop last month, Biden also pushed for “meaningful” police reform, as Nichols’ parents watched in the audience as the guests of First Lady Jill Biden.
“Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter will come home from walking down the street or playing in the park or just driving their car,” he said. “I’ve never had to have the talk with my children – Beau, Hunter, and Ashley – that so many Black and Brown families have had with their children.”
“Let’s do what we know in our hearts we need to do. Let’s come together and finish the job on police reform. Do something.”
Other guests invited tonight were U2 lead singer Bono, who has spent decades fighting against HIV and poverty; Paul Pelosi, who was violently attacked in his home by an intruder looking for his wife Nancy Pelosi; and Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the gunman responsible for the Lunar New Year mass shooting in the Californian suburb of Monterey Park last month.
Oksana Markorova, the ambassador of Ukraine, whose country is about days from its first anniversary of the war against Russia, was also be the audience, along RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the parents of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death in yet another example of police brutality.
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