Washington — President Biden took a victory lap Tuesday to celebrate Democrats’ legislative accomplishments while pledging to find common ground with Republicans in his second State of the Union address, speaking before a divided Congress for the first time since the GOP took control of the House.
Addressing lawmakers and the nation over the course an hour and 12 minutes from the House chamber, Mr. Biden sought to emphasize the potential for cooperation with the GOP while touting recent economic improvements and highlighting some of Republicans’ least popular policy proposals.
The address served as a blueprint for his opening argument in his expected run for reelection, with Mr. Biden repeatedly pledging to “finish the job.”
Most of the speech was received politely by the assembled lawmakers and guests, but his remarks at times drew heckles from a vocal contingent of House Republicans, including repeated interruptions by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who at one point audibly called him a “liar.”
The president ran through a laundry list of policies and projects included in his two signature domestic breakthroughs, last year’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law, and the Inflation Reduction Act. He also renewed calls for lawmakers to protect social safety net programs and reach a compromise on police reform, while reiterating his support for abortion rights and continued support for Ukraine.
Here are some of the key takeaways and notable moments from Mr. Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address:
An emphasis on bipartisanship
Mr. Biden, who spent decades in the Senate and has long been friends with GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, stressed the possibility of working with Republicans, a new imperative given GOP control of the House.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well,” he said toward the beginning of the speech, adding that they had “proved the cynics and the naysayers wrong” through 300 pieces of bipartisan legislation he signed in the first two years of his term.
“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,” he said. “That’s always been my vision for our country and I know it’s many of yours.”
At the end of the speech, the president laid out a “unity agenda” of policy areas that could win support from both parties, including a crackdown on fentanyl smuggling, improved mental health care and support for veterans.
Biden to Republicans who opposed infrastructure bill: “See you at the ground-breaking”
Mr. Biden touted the bipartisan infrastructure package that was approved with bipartisan support from Congress last year, saying the law had already led to the funding of more than 20,000 projects across the country.
“These projects will put hundreds of thousands of people to work rebuilding our highways, bridges, railroads, tunnels, ports, airports, clean water, high-speed internet across America,” he said. “Urban. Rural. Tribal. And folks, we’re just getting started.”
Mr. Biden thanked the Republicans who supported the law and delivered a message to the GOP lawmakers who opposed it:
“I still get asked to fund the projects in those districts, but don’t worry,” he said. “I promised I’d be a president for all Americans. We’ll fund these projects. And I’ll see you at the ground-breaking.”
As part of his push on infrastructure, Mr. Biden also announced that all construction material used in federal infrastructure projects must be made in the U.S.
Biden vows to veto any effort to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act
After saying his economic agenda is about “investing in places and people that have been forgotten,” Mr. Biden turned to provisions in the more divisive Inflation Reduction Act, a law that included many of Democrats’ top priorities on climate change, health care and taxes and passed Congress without Republican support.
One provision caps the cost of insulin for Medicare enrollees at $35 per month, and out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors at $2,000 annually. Mr. Biden called on elected officials to expand the cap on insulin prices to all Americans, saying “let’s finish the job this time.”
The president then addressed Republicans who have threatened to introduce bills repealing the law.
“Some members here are threatening — I know it’s not an official party position, so I’m not going to exaggerate — but to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act,” Mr. Biden said, inserting an off-script comment in response to Republicans’ grumbling. “As my football coach used to say, lots of luck in your senior year. Make no mistake, if you try anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it.”
A tense exchange on Medicare and Social Security
Turning to the upcoming fight over government spending and the debt limit, Mr. Biden accused Republicans of wanting to slash funding for entitlement programs.
“Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” he said, an apparent reference to a policy proposal by some GOP members last year that would have required all government programs to be renewed every five years. Democrats pummeled Republicans over the issue in last year’s midterm elections, infuriating many GOP lawmakers who did not support the proposal.
“I’m not saying it’s a majority,” he said as Republicans loudly booed and objected. Cameras then cut to Greene, who could be seen and heard shouting, “Liar!”
“It means if Congress doesn’t keep the programs the way they are, they’d go away. Other Republicans say — I’m not saying it’s a majority of you. I don’t even think it’s a significant —” the president continued over more shouts. “Folks, the idea is that we’re not going to be moved into being threatened to default on the debt if we don’t respond.”
Moments later, the president used the GOP objections to declare that “we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare are off the books now, right? They’re not going to be touched?”
“We got unanimity!” he said as Democrats rose in applause.
Biden recognizes Tyre Nichols’ family, calling for police reform
The president denounced the killing of Tyre Nichols, the unarmed Black man who was violently beaten by Memphis police and died last month, and renewed his calls for lawmakers to tackle police reform, saying “something good must come from this.”
“Public safety depends on public trust as all of us know,” Mr. Biden said. “But too often that trust is violated. Joining us tonight are the parents of Tyre Nichols, welcome. Who had to bury him just last week. As many of you personally know, there are no words to describe the heartbreak and grief of losing a child.”
Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells and stepfather Rodney Wells were seated in the gallery as guests of first lady Dr. Jill Biden, and rose to be recognized.
The president said many in the chamber have never had to have “the talk” with their children about how to act when arrested, a common occurrence Black and minority families.
“What happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often,” he added. “We have to do better. Give law enforcement the training they need, hold them to higher standards, and help them succeed in keeping everyone safe.”
When police departments “violate” the public trust, “they must be held accountable,” he said.
Biden on abortion: “Congress must restore the right that was taken away”
This State of the Union address was Mr. Biden’s first since the Supreme Court dismantled the constitutional right to an abortion last June. The president highlighted his administration’s efforts to protect reproductive rights, but pushed Congress to do more.
“Here in the people’s House, it’s our duty to protect all the people’s rights and freedoms,” he said. “Congress must restore the right that was taken away in Roe v. Wade and protect Roe v. Wade, give every woman the constitutional right.”
Any efforts to expand abortion access, though, will be dead on arrival in the GOP-led House. Prior attempts to enshrine the right to an abortion into federal law last year stalled in the Senate.
Mr. Biden noted that more than a dozen states have restricted abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Roe.
“Make no mistake about it; if Congress passes a national ban, I will veto it,” he said.
Biden pledges continued support for Ukraine
Mr. Biden delivered his 2022 State of the Union address just days after Russia invaded Ukraine, and the president said in this year’s address that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has been a “test for the ages, a test for America, a test for the world.”
“Would we stand for the most basic of principles? Would we stand for sovereignty? Would we stand for the right of people to live free of tyranny? Would we stand for the defense of democracy?” he said. “For such a defense matters to us because it keeps the peace and prevents open season for would-be aggressors to threaten our security and prosperity. One year later, we know the answer. Yes we would and yes we did.”
He acknowledged Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, who was a guest of the first lady’s for this year’s speech, and pledged the American people would continue to stand with Ukraine.
“We’re united in our support for your country,” the president said. “We’re going to stand with you, as long as it takes.”
Mr. Biden’s pledge of support for Ukraine came in the context of some House Republicans who have called for the U.S. to no longer provide emergency aid to the country.