Maybe with a little less fanfare than usually, but U.S. President Joe Biden has delivered his annual State of the Union speech to Congress on Tuesday evening.
Even if Senator Chris Murphy might had been right that the ‘speech was the best the president has ever been’, as President Biden was smiling and (except for a few moments in the beginning) made no mistakes or forgot no names (as he happened to do it a few times in the past) and was even combative from time to time, the monologue itself was on the moderate end of the spectrum, policy-vise.
A great deal was devoted to listing his administration’s accomplishments, maybe trying to convince those millions of Americans who claim that he didn’t do too much.
But there were no grandiose new proposals or complete plans to overhaul a sector unveiled. Probably as, with the Republicans holding the House, the outlooks for any such reform are grim, at best, thus he saved himself from future humiliation. He made a rather safe promise of overturning any abortion ban, Congress would adopt, but as the Senate is in Democrat hands, any such legislation is highly unlikely.
From time to time, he clearly sounded as if laying the blueprints for his reelection campaign, but only in a moderate version. As it is something that often happens with SOTU speeches, nobody expected anything else.
A plea for unity … almost
Rouge Republican representatives might have tried to heckle him with interrupting his speech with shouts of ‘liar’, but President Biden was not to be deterred from his efforts to finish. He repeatedly expressed his (and his party’s) willingness to work together with the Republicans, saying, “there’s no reason we can’t work together” and similar catch-phrases, stocked up during his 40+ years of public service.
He asked them to ‘finish the job’ on economy and everything else. (A phrase he used at least 12 times during his speech.) He emphasized topics with bipartisan support, like infrastructure projects or microchip manufacturing.
Yet, it still felt that what ‘the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away’ as he blamed the G.O.P. of having outdated visions or ideas that our out-of-sync with the realities of many millions of Americans. He attacked Republicans for wanting to cut social security and Medicare to balance the federal budget. He called for higher taxes on the wealthy, attacking “Big Pharma” and “Big Oil”.
And of course, unity for Ukraine
President Biden promised to the Ukrainian ambassador that “we’re going to stand with you as long as it takes”, also taking the opportunity to boast about his administration’s efforts to help Ukraine, both directly and in the form of mobilizing allies for the common goal.
He didn’t go further than that, though. There were no new promises (for example fighter jets), no new aid proposals.
China, China and … China
China featured not very high on the President’s “issues to address” list. As his aides started to write the script well before the latest scandal (the spy balloons), this probably fit into the “de-escalating phase”, not wanting to interfere with the upcoming (now postponed) visit of Secretary of State Mr. Blinken to China.
Though he was previously accused of having been too slow to take action against the Chinese spy balloon, President Biden managed to put up a strong front. Stating that “today, we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world”, he claimed to being “committed to work with China where it can advance American interests” (and benefits the world, as well, but ‘America first’ is not just Trump’s slogan, after all), but making clear that he “will act to protect our country”.
Maybe the only significant issue he mentioned in spite of the low chances of it getting accepted, was an appeal for a ban on assault weapons. To emphasize his words, Brandon Tsay, the survivor and hero of the Monterey Park, California shooting was invited to the Capitol.
President Biden recalled his success from 1994, when as a Delaware senator, he managed to get assault weapons banned.
Other issues mentioned were abortion (not a big surprise after the decision of the Supreme Court about Roe v Wade), immigration, drugs, right-wing threats, “reining in tech companies” and social security. All those issues might resonate well with the traditional electorate of the Democrats: the American middle class, that, for one reason or another, started to turn towards the G.O.P lately.
And of course, economy.
He talked about inflation and high energy prices, emphasizing that both are now in decline. He talked about “junk fees” and other things annoying his voters. Yet, with a divided congress, he will have a hard time achieving too much.