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Biden’s State of the Union address: Republicans breathing down their necks


In his State of the Union address, US President Biden spoke about the American job market, police violence and relations with China – and for the first time in front of a Republican majority.

By Julia Kastein, ARD Studio Washington

It’s a ritual and one of the most important appearances of the year for a US President: the State of the Union address, at prime time, in front of an audience of millions. For Joe Biden, the stakes were particularly high last night: For the first time, the Democrat spoke before a Republican majority at the invitation of a Republican spokesman.

And in view of the poor poll numbers and a possible renewed candidacy, the 80-year-old was all about one thing: convincing his compatriots that he was doing a good job and that he was a good choice.

It was Biden’s first speech with the new Republican Speaker of the House literally breathing down his neck. And the US President greeted his host Kevin McCarthy with a joke: “I don’t know if I’m ruining your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.”

Biden points to new jobs

The US President spent the first part of his speech, which lasted more than an hour, celebrating his successes: an unemployment rate that was lower than it had been in 50 years, hundreds of thousands of new jobs in manufacturing, and the inflation rate falling again. This is Biden’s blueprint for “Workers’ America”. Americans’ jobs and pride are coming back, and his policies are making a big difference in the lives of many citizens.

The 80-year-old explicitly thanked the Republicans for supporting legislative projects such as the infrastructure package worth billions. And Biden spoke out in favor of further good cooperation: in the past two years he had signed 300 laws that had been passed jointly by Democrats and Republicans. What worked then must now work again.

During his speech, US President Biden looks proud of the achievements of his government.

Image: AP

Heated mood among Republicans

Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the hall was unusually aggressive for a “State of the Union”. For example, when Biden claimed that the Republicans wanted to blackmail him and cut social benefits. “He’s lying,” interjected ultra-right MP Taylor Greene. Speaker McCarthy shook his head, many MPs booed.

The parents of Tire Nichols, the young African-American who was beaten to death by police officers in Memphis, received much applause from both sides. Biden had invited her to campaign again for the passage of police reforms, which had so far failed because of the Republicans. Biden demanded that it was high time to finally pull through this reform – just like the ban on assault rifles.

Foreign policy only marginal issue

A year ago, Biden had started his speech with the war in Ukraine, this time he only marginally considered the Russian war of aggression. America has led a global coalition against Russia. He also promised the attending Ukrainian ambassador that America and the world would continue to stand behind their country.

The President also dealt with the relationship with China with a brief hint, but also with a clear threat regarding the alleged spy balloon incident:

“We are ready to work with China where it serves our interests or those of the world. But if China threatens our sovereignty, as it did last week, then we will respond – and we have.”

Huckabee Sanders as counter speaker

In the end, the President was optimistic: Because the soul, the backbone and the people of the country are so strong, the United States is also strong.

The traditional counter-speech for the opposition was given by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The Republicans did not choose ex-President Trump’s spokeswoman just because of her sharp rhetoric. But also to set the greatest possible visual contrast: the youngest governor of Arkansas at 40 against the oldest incumbent president of all time.

State of the Union address: Biden calls on Republicans to work together

Ralf Borchard, ARD Washington, February 8, 2023 5:40 a.m