Biden Delivers a Relaxed State of the Union Speech with Unpredictable Moments

President Joe Biden delivered a raucous third State of the Union address that could be among the most important during his presidency and as he seeks re-election.

His list of objectives was long: highlight his achievements in office, anticipate a program for his second term, dispel doubts about his age and physical condition and draw a contrast with Republicans, including his rival Donald Trump.

The result was a fiery speech that bore little resemblance to previous States of the Union. Seeking to show off his energy and eager to engage Republicans, Biden delivered a sharply political speech that his aides hope could ease Democratic fears about his political prospects.

Here, five takeaways from Thursday’s State of the Union:

Biden attacks Trump

Biden may not have mentioned his predecessor’s name during his speech, but there was no doubt that Trump was at the very center of the State of the Union, making Thursday’s address one of the most politically charged annual addresses in the country. the last times.

It was a reflection of the extraordinary political moment in which Biden finds himself, in which the political norms of recent decades — which he has openly longed for — have been largely set aside.

The president attacked Trump on multiple occasions. In his prepared remarks he referred to his “predecessor” 13 times, taking advantage of the excellent opportunity he had to address the public, one of the advantages of being in office.

In the opening of his speech, he referred to his “predecessor” while lashing out at the former president for his statement about encouraging Russia to invade NATO members that don’t meet defense spending targets.

Shortly after, he described the electoral lies after the 2020 elections as the “most serious threat to democracy” since the Civil War.

By then, a pattern had emerged: On abortion, immigration, taxes and more, Biden repeatedly drew contrast with Trump, and Democrats in the audience cheered him on.

It was as clear a sign as any of how Biden views the upcoming general election campaign, in which nothing less than the future of American democracy is at stake. And even as he worked to tout his own accomplishments, it was just as important to Biden to warn what could happen if Trump returned to power.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 7: US President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber at the Capital building on March 7, 2024 in Washington, DC. 
This is Biden’s final address before the November general election. 
(Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

Biden delivers an unpredictable and easy speech

State of the Union addresses are typically sedate affairs, with predictable lists of policies and proposals. This was not the case on Thursday, when Biden frequently went off script to improvise phrases and exchange with Republicans.

The result was the loudest State of the Union in years.

Informal disputes with Republicans — over their plans for taxes, Social Security and immigration — clearly energized the president as he delivered his speech. Biden seemed to have incorporated these moments into his speech after last year’s speech, in which his back-and-forth with Republicans in the audience became a highlight.

The moments allowed Biden to show that he was willing to dialogue with the Republicans, but also – in his opinion – to dismantle some of their arguments.

When he was interrupted by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was drawing attention to the murder of nursing student Laken Riley at the hands of an undocumented immigrant, Biden responded directly by taking one of the pins the Georgia Republican had been handing out with the caption “Say Her Name: Laken Riley” and using the term “illegal,” which is not how Democrats typically describe immigrants.

Biden appears energetic and forceful amid doubts about his age

At this point, questions about Biden’s age and fitness for office have become one of the main backdrops to the presidential campaign. It’s a big reason why many Democrats say they would have preferred another candidate.

So it was inevitable that Biden would confront the issue during his State of the Union whether he wanted to or not. Aside from the content of his speech, the way he spoke and the way he looked while speaking were important factors in Americans assimilating his message.

The president came out energetic and delivered a speech that was a far cry from some of his more moderate speeches, which have worried his supporters. He delivered much of the speech at high volume.

Biden spent most of last week meticulously fine-tuning and rehearsing his speech, both at the White House and at the presidential retreat at Camp David. That seemed to pay off in his powerful speech Thursday night.

Aides acknowledged before the speech that it was an issue on voters’ minds and something the president was willing to address, if not dwell on, in his speech.

His argument on that front – that Trump is almost the same age, but with an old-fashioned and vindictive outlook – sought to defuse the issue and direct it toward his opponent.

“When you get to my age, certain things become clearer than ever,” Biden said in his speech, laughing.

He continued: “The issue facing our nation is not how old we are, but how old our ideas are,” later adding that “we cannot lead with old ideas.”

The president forcefully defends American leadership abroad

Foreign policy often takes a back seat during State of the Union addresses; Their intended audience is Congress and the American people, and their concerns often lie within the borders of the United States.

But for reasons not entirely within his control, Biden is president at a time of deep global tensions. The war between Russia and Ukraine intensifies, with the future of American aid in question. And Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the October 7 terrorist attacks, has generated a humanitarian crisis that is dividing Biden’s political coalition.

So it was inevitable that foreign affairs would take up more of Biden’s time than in previous speeches, although his aides acknowledge that it is not an issue that is always on voters’ minds. They also starred in a good part of the first section of her speech.

Even before he entered the Capitol, protests along his motorcade route highlighted widespread discontent over his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas.

In his speech, Biden made clear the imperative to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, and announced that he was directing the US military to build a temporary port in Gaza to allow more food, water and medicine into Gaza.

Sitting President Tries to Reshape and Reset 2024 Narrative

If there’s one task Biden entered Thursday’s speech with, it was to remind American voters — many of whom may have been disengaged for the past three years — what exactly he’s been doing.

Polls show that many voters remain dissatisfied with the direction the country is taking, even though the economy is recovering from the Covid-19 years, by most measures. Polled, many Americans have little idea of ​​the accomplishments Biden has been working on that have helped the economy recover.

That’s partly why Biden referred in his speech to “the greatest recovery story ever told.” This is partly a response to what he sees as persistently negative media coverage, and partly a recognition that he could do more to explain his program to ordinary Americans.

At the same time, Biden’s team recognizes that a balance must be found, and that Americans with valid concerns about the economy don’t necessarily want to be lectured about positive economic indicators that they themselves are not feeling.

That’s why Biden chose to focus on populist issues, such as raising taxes on the rich and corporations and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, that Democrats are confident will win.

Democrats also believe that showing outrage over corporate greed and rising prices will work, especially as concerns about the cost of living continue to weigh on Biden’s poll numbers.

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