President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address last week. He spoke to a newly divided Congress and an electorate that polls indicate is generally unimpressed with his performance in office. He used the attention-grabbing State of the Union spectacle to make clear his intention to pursue a second term, with the theme of his campaign to “finish the job.”
Biden’s speech began with and repeated his bipartisan aspirations — a recurring theme in the president’s decades-long political career. He was complimentary of Republican congressional leadership as he argued that his first two years in office have generated bipartisan support on a range of important issues. And he invited his “Republican friends” to continue to work together with him “and find consensus on important things in Congress,” including the lifting of the debt ceiling.
Biden’s goading on the debt ceiling issue, including barbs about high deficits under the Trump administration and accusations of Republican demands to cut entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, drew audible protests and accusatory jeers from some in the audience, including repeated yelling of the accusation “You lie!” by newly empowered right-wing warrior Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Recently elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy appeared unnerved by the outbursts and sought to gently shush the offenders. But Biden seized the opportunity and responded to the hecklers by pivoting off-script and seeking to orchestrate bipartisan support to preserve Social Security and Medicare, notwithstanding the debt ceiling debate. Biden’s urgings were met with a standing ovation from the entire chamber.
The speech then morphed into campaign mode as Biden previewed the themes he will likely pursue in his expected 2024 re-election bid. Those include challenges to the policies, proclivities and personalities in the Trump administration and a focused pitch toward pivotal blue-collar voters. Biden’s lunch-pail pandering was textbook: He criticized Big Oil for reaping outrageous profits when gas prices were at a record high. He skewered Big Pharma for drug prices that gouge regular Americans. And he criticized Big Tech for collecting too much personal information, especially on children. He encouraged support for American manufacturing and American-made products, pledging to impose new requirements that all construction materials used on federal infrastructure projects would have to be made in America, as he promised to make “Buy American” the law of the land.
To further address the concerns of everyday Americans, Biden promoted the previously obscure Junk Fee Prevention Act to crack down on airlines that charge fees for families that want to sit together; prohibit high ticket-processing fees for concerts and events; and prohibit media companies from charging customers to change service providers. And then, in typical stump-speech campaign mode, he asserted that “Americans are tired of being played for suckers. Pass the Junk Fees Prevention Act so companies stop ripping us off!”Foreign-policy issues were addressed largely in passing. And the pro-Israel community heaved a sigh of relief that no mention was made of the Jewish state and concerns over developing policies. Those issues will undoubtedly be addressed in Biden’s expanded pitch for re-election. Stay tuned. ■