“Let’s finish the job”: Biden’s State of the Union previews his re-election pitch
The president’s speech had a two-part mission: Uplift his legislative achievements while positioning his agenda as unfinished business that can only be completed with a second term.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce his re-election campaign soon and when he does, he’ll have practiced the four-word phrase he’ll use to make the case for four more years: “Let’s finish the job.”
It’s a refrain the president turned to time and again on Tuesday during his State of the Union address on a two-part mission to uplift two years’ worth of legislative achievements that most Americans are unaware exist and position his agenda as unfinished business that can only be completed with a second term.
And unsurprisingly, congressional Democrats — from those who have served in Congress for decades to new members ushering in a generational shift — had rave reviews.
“It was fantastic speech. It was a speech of strength and of possibility,” Rep. Maxine Waters of California said to Supercreator. “Of course, we had to have people know that he has been the leader and the jobs picture has improved tremendously. And he talked about health care and what we have to do. He talked about thee police and their responsibility and how we’ve got to all help make it right.”
Maxwell Frost, who represents a district in Florida and is the first Gen-Z member of Congress, said that the president successfully “set the mark,” which was especially important in his mind due to the reality of a split House and Senate.
“You always worry that there will be preconditions to the bold change,” he added. But we didn’t hear a lot, if any, of that.”
Another first-term House progressive echoed a similar sentiment.
“It was a really solid speech really focusing on critical issues,” Rep. Greg Casar, whose district includes parts of San Antonio and Austin, said. “And I thought that was just really important for Texas to focus on the fact that we can deliver for the everyday person, not just billionaires,” a proposition that Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also agreed with.
“We’re going to ask the rich and powerful to pay their fair share so that we can invest in the rest of this nation,” she said.
And Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who hosted Biden at his church during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, was succinct in his assessment of the president’s performance: “I thought it was an amazing speech. [He] showed up strong.”
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Ahead of the speech, White House officials told reporters that this strength was inspired by the legislative record President Biden and congressional Democrats achieved with slim majorities in the House and Senate, including the CHIPS and Science Act, which provides $280 million in new funding for American research and manufacturing of US semiconductor chips, and the bipartisan infrastructure law he signed in 2021 that the president described as the largest investment in roads, bridges, water systems since former President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1950s-era Interstate Highway System.
“And we’re just getting started. I sincerely thank my Republican friends who voted for the law,” President Biden said of the act that also will upgrade transit systems and expand high-speed internet access — before jabbing congressional Republicans who voted against it but still asked the administration to fund projects in their districts.
“Don’t worry,” Biden said. “I promised to be the president for all Americans. We’ll fund your projects. And I’ll see you at the ground-breaking.”
The president also spoke about the 12 million jobs that have been added to the economy since he was elected and outlined how the Inflation Reducaton Act — the tax, health care and climate bill Democrats passed last year that capped the cost of insulin at $35 for older adults. BIden called on lawmakers to set a limit on the price of the drug for all Americans and warned Republicans against chipping away at law’s key provisions.
“Now, some members here are threatening to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act,” Biden said. “Make no mistake, if you try to do anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it.”
White House officials promised the president would present a blue-collar blueprint for the country and his proposals for Congress to pass a bill that would ban “junk costs” like fees for bank overdrafts, resort and events reservations, mortgages and credit card late payments and another that would codify the administration’s efforts to do away with non-compete agreements.
As the self-proclaimed most pro-union president ever, Biden also renewed his call for lawmakers to pass the PRO Act, which would prevent workplaces from engaging in union-busting activities.
And after universal pre-K and community college and the expanded Child Tax Credit fell to the wayside once his Build Back Better agenda fell apart, the president bumped them back to the top of his list of policy priorities.
“And by the way, when we do all of these things, we increase productivity. We increase economic growth,” Biden said.
With the parents of Tyre Nichols and other families impacted by police violence in attendance, Biden pushed for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“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.”
To save lives from gun violence, Biden advocated for enhanced background checks for 18- to 21-year-olds, red flag laws and assault weapons ban, all policies that face stiff opposition in a House-controlled Congress. The same can be said about legislation to restore the right to abortion care and ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. A proposal that could face better fate? A ban on targeted ads to kids.
The president didn’t spend too much time on foreign policy. But he did express appreciation to the American people for rallying around the Ukrainian people as Russia continues its war and promise to stand up against China, an increasingly provocative adversary. He also kept the vibe on COVID upbeat amid legitimate concerns about long COVID. (Biden did call for people who defrauded pandemic relief programs to be prosecuted.
The president covered a lot of ground and the transitions between topics were muddled at times. But the average American didn’t tune in for a speechwriting or oratory masterclass so it’s unlikely to affect people in the grand scheme.
What will likely stick are Republicans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia who called President Biden a “liar” as he mentioned his opposition to some GOP-supported proposals that would cut earned benefits like Medicare and Social Security.
Those weren’t the only moments that congressional Republicans heckled the president: As he spoke about immigration reform, the COVID recovery and the fight against the opioid crisis, Biden was met with taunts and jeers.
And in another notable moment, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado shook her head in visible disgust when the president called for an assault weapons ban.
Biden took it all in stride for the most part. And to be honest, the White House embraces these moments because they believe it reinforces the president’s stature as the adult in the room while casting Republicans as unhinged extremists.
But House Dems weren’t really here for it.
“I think it was disrespectful,” Frost said. “Years ago, when [former] President Barack Obama spoke, we know about the ‘you lie’ thing. And there was mass condemnation of it and the guy apologized. Nobody will apologize for this, I can promise you.”
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries tweeted: “President Biden delivered a compelling speech outlining a vision to make life better for every Americans. And his dignity presented a stark contrast with the right-wing extremists who are unfit to serve.”
Apart from that, Democrats were otherwise unbothered.
“I don’t think much about them,” Waters said of her colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
Administration officials greeted President Biden with rounds of applause as he walked through the White House after his speech. But now the real work starts.
With a divided Congress, the White House will not only have to implement the bills Biden signed last year but also shepherd must-pass legislation to lift the debt limit and fund the federal government, among others while advancing the bipartisan proposals laid out in the president’s Unity Agenda.
But congressional Democrats and White House officials say they’re up to the task.
Leader Jeffries thinks congressional Democrats and the White House are up to the task.
“So we’ll continue to be in conversation with everyday Americans,” he said on Tuesday. “A lot has been accomplished. In some ways, it’s in an abundance of riches that we are now responsible to communicate effectively to everyday Americans that Democrats have delivered and perhaps most importantly, we will continue to deliver.”