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Biden: 'Greatest Comeback Story Never Told'

In a sweeping State of the Union address before Congress, the president spotlighted the economic comeback under his administration and offered his plans for the future.

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President Biden delivered what The New York Times called "an energetic and impassioned speech that was as much a campaign kickoff as it was a State of the Union," which ran an hour and nine minutes. (Screen capture from the livestream)
In an upbeat, full-throated State of the Union address punctuated with digs at his predecessor, President Joe Biden ran through a catalog of his administration’s accomplishments and details of what he hopes to do next. Though there was some heckling, the atmosphere in the House chamber was generally respectful, perhaps because Speaker Mike Johnson had urged his colleagues to maintain decorum.

Biden made a case for optimism but underscored great risk. He opened his remarks by evoking a 1941 address by President Roosevelt, who sought to awaken Americans to the unprecedented threats posed by Hitler and war in Europe. “Not since President Lincoln and the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault here at home as they are today,” said Biden.

Biden implored his audience to reject 2020 election lies, respect free and fair elections, restore trust in them and reject political violence. “You can’t love your country only when you win,” he said.

Turning to reproductive rights, he alluded to problems faced by two invited guests, one who faced barriers to IVF treatment because of an Alabama Supreme Court decision and a Texas woman who had to leave her state to terminate a non-viable pregnancy. Biden seemed to directly chastise the Supreme Court justices seated in front of him for overturning Roe v. Wade, repeating their words about the electoral and political power of women back to them and promising to make Roe v. Wade “the law of the land.”

Coming Back from COVID-19

Calling the post-pandemic rebound in cities and towns across the country the "greatest comeback story never told," the president detailed an American economy once on the brink that is now the envy of the world. Biden cited 50-year lows in unemployment and 800,000 new manufacturing jobs as evidence.

Federal support for infrastructure projects and semiconductor research is creating jobs and reversing a dynamic of exporting jobs and importing products. He claimed that his policies have attracted $650 billion of private-sector investment in clean energy and manufacturing. The president called the impact of these investments on urban, suburban and rural communities “transformative.”

In a post-address statement, Reno, Nev., Mayor Hillary Schieve, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, agreed, “Our cities have made remarkable progress in recent years, and that would not have been possible without a strong partnership between mayors and the president.”

In a separate statement, Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties, said the address highlighted how "strong intergovernmental partnerships are needed as the country faces increasingly complex policy issues” and "we build a resilient America.”

Looking to what comes next, Biden emphasized that the middle class built the country (and that unions built the middle class). Building the possibilities of the future means bringing an end to trickle-down economics. “I’m determined to turn things around so the middle class does well, the poor have a way up and the wealthy still do well,” he said.

Reducing health-care costs factors into the vision. Biden cited success in bringing down the price Medicare pays for insulin as a step in this direction, and said he wanted to give it power to negotiate lower prices for 500 more drugs over the next decade. He said he’d work to extend a prescription drug cost cap of $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare to all Americans. The president also urged Congress to pass a $12 billion plan to transform women’s health care and extend tax credits for health-care premiums. He repeated his intent to end cancer through ARPA-H, a new initiative of the federal government’s advanced research agency that developed the Internet.

Shifting to housing, Biden proposed another tax credit that would give first-time homebuyers mortgage assistance for two years, and crackdowns on landlords who drive up rents by price fixing. He claimed that cutting “red tape” to get federal financing had helped build 1.7 million new housing units.

“To remain the strongest economy in the world, we need the best education system in the world,” Biden said. The plans he outlined regarding this included expanding access to preschool, tutoring and summer learning, increasing Pell grants and raises for teachers.

Biden’s charge that tax cuts by the previous administration exploded the deficit prompted boos. He proposed raising the corporate minimum tax to 21 percent, a 25 percent minimum tax for billionaires and no new taxes for persons earning under $400,000. He promised to stop any attempt to cut Social Security.

Borders, Equality and Climate

The president took on the issue of border security by blasting the successful effort by his predecessor to block a bipartisan bill that would have made it possible to greatly bolster the number of border security agents, immigration judges and asylum officers. “He feels it would be a political win for me and a political loser for him,” Biden said, asking presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to join him in urging Congress to pass it.

He pledged not to demonize immigrants as his opponent has by saying they “poison the blood” of the country, to separate families or to ban people because of their faith. “We can fight about the border, or we can fix it,” he said, prompting chants of “fix it” from the audience.

March 7 is the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a 1965 attack on civil rights activists marching in Selma, Ala. The congressional Black caucus had asked President Biden to mention this, and he did. Biden noted that the late House member John Lewis had been at the march. Speaker Johnson joined others on the dais and in the audience in standing to recognize him.

Building on the moment, Biden asked those present to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and “stop denying another core value of our diversity.” In this vein, he asked for passage of the Equality Act, telling transgender Americans, “I have your back.” Biden also called for an increase in the federal minimum wage.

Characterizing his action on climate as the most significant in the history of the world, Biden ran through statistics on clean energy jobs, water conservation and the launch of the Climate Corps. He touched on plans to help cities and towns invest in police officers and mental health workers, ramp up enforcement of the Violence Against Women Act and “crack down” on retail crime and carjacking. He “demanded” a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Enduring Values

As he closed, Biden took on the question of his age. “I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around awhile,” he quipped. He noted that “some other people my age” see an American story of “resentment, revenge and retribution.”

“That’s not me,” Biden said, pledging to be guided by “the very idea of America, that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives.”

“We’ve never fully lived up to that idea, but we’ve never walked away from it either,” he said. “And I won’t walk away from it now.”

That tone played well with U.S. Mayors' Hillary Schieve: “American mayors welcome the optimistic spirit projected by the president tonight."

Republican Response

Katie Britt, the first woman from Alabama to be elected to the Senate, was chosen by the GOP to respond to the president’s speech. She opened her remarks by referencing the recent death of a University of Georgia student at the hands of a Venezuelan migrant, accusing the president of “refusing to take responsibility for his own actions.”

Britt contrasted Biden’s view of the economy with a picture of an America in decline, with soaring inflation, credit card debt and high mortgage rates. She claimed he has “coddled criminals and defunded the police, all while letting repeat offenders walk free” and found fault with his record in foreign policy.

Keying on families and moms in particular, she invoked defending parental rights as part of the way forward. Britt offered an alternative through the Republicans, “the party of hard-working parents and families,” and characterized their fight for the future in similar terms. “We now carry forward the same flame of freedom as the liberators of an oppressed Europe,” she said.

Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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