Joe Biden delivers barnstorming State of the Union address

Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address.
Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address. Copyright Andrew Harnik/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Andrew Harnik/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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President gave a feisty performance that will soothe many supporters' concerns about his ability to win another term.

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President Joe Biden delivered a defiant argument for a second term in his State of the Union speech Thursday night, lacing into GOP front-runner Donald Trump for espousing "resentment, revenge and retribution" and for jeopardising freedom at home and abroad.

Biden fired multiple broadsides at "my predecessor" without ever mentioning Trump by name, raising his voice repeatedly as he worked to quell voter concerns about his age and job performance while sharpening the contrast with his all-but-certain November rival.

The scrappy tone from Biden was a sharp break from his often humdrum daily appearances and was intended to banish doubts about whether the 81-year-old president is still up to the job.

The age-old question

For 68 minutes in the House chamber, Biden goaded Republicans over their policies on immigration, taxes and more, while inviting call-and-response banter with fellow Democrats.

"I know I may not look like it, but I've been around a while," Biden deadpanned. "And when you get to my age, certain things become clearer than ever before."

Noting he was born during World War II and came of political age during the upheaval of the 1960s, Biden declared: "My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy. A future based on the core values that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity, equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbour.

"Now some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That's not me."

The president linked Trump's praise for those who overran the Capitol in an attempt to subvert the 2020 election with antidemocratic threats abroad.

"Freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas at the very same time," Biden said as he appealed for Congress to support Ukraine's efforts to defend itself against Russia's two-year-old invasion. "History is watching."

Running on his record

Aides said Biden was aiming to prove his doubters wrong by flashing his combative side and trying to needle Republicans over positions he believes are out of step with the country.

Taking a victory lap in selling his legislative accomplishments, Biden veered from his prepared script to take a dig at Republicans who voted against such policies but take credit for them back home.

"If any of you don't want that money in your districts," Biden said, "just let me know."

The president was speaking before a historically ineffective Congress. Republican Speaker Mike Johnson took power in the House five months ago after the chaotic ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Yet legislators are still struggling to approve funding bills for the current year and have been deadlocked for months on foreign assistance bills to help Ukraine stave off Russia's invasion while supporting Israel's fight against Hamas.

Johnson had reportedly urged Republicans to show "decorum" during Biden's speech, but a number of his party's lawmakers began to stand up and leave the chamber as Biden discussed raising taxes on billionaires and corporations.

Others remained in their chairs and shook their heads, while even Johnson didn't disguise his emotions, raising his eyebrows and occasionally rolling his eyes.

The Middle Eastern problem

This year, Biden faced heightened emotions – particularly among his base supporters – over his staunch backing for Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. 

Biden had initially hoped a short-term cease-fire would be in place by the time he gave the speech; instead, the White House has been left to blame Hamas for not yet accepting a deal brokered by the US and its allies.

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Biden's motorcade took a circuitous route to the Capitol, as hundreds of pro-ceasefire demonstrators tried to disrupt its path from the White House. 

In the chamber, a slew of Democrats and Republicans wore pins and stickers in honour of the Israeli hostages still being held captive in Gaza, while several House progressives wore Palestinian scarves.

Immigration was another flashpoint during the night.

The GOP-controlled House has refused to act on a Senate-passed version of the aid legislation, insisting on new stiffer measures to limit migration at the US-Mexico border, after Trump used his influence to help sink a bipartisan compromise that would have done just that.

As Biden ran through the endorsements by conservative groups of the legislation, some in the audience appeared to yell and interject, and the president shot back, "I know you, know how to read."

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