President Joe Biden challenged Republicans to lift the U.S. debt ceiling and support tax policies that were friendlier to middle class Americans on Tuesday (February 7) in a State of the Union speech that served as a blueprint for his 2024 re-election campaign, Reuters reports.
Assailing oil companies for making high profits and corporate America for taking advantage of consumers, Biden used his prime time speech to outline progressive priorities of his Democratic Party that are anathema to many Republican lawmakers.
Making his first address to a joint session of Congress since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in January, Biden pledged to work with opposition lawmakers even as he sparred with them in the chamber.
Some Republicans heckled and jeered him at times during a speech that lasted some 73 minutes.
Biden took them on, challenging Republicans to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, which must be lifted in the coming months to avoid a default. The White House has said Biden will not negotiate over that necessity; Republicans want spending cuts in exchange for their support.
The president called for reforms in policing after Tyre Nichols, a Black man, died last month after being beaten by officers in Memphis, Tennessee. Nichols' mother and stepfather were among the guests at the speech.
Highlighting topics that could feature prominently in a re-election campaign, Biden said the economy was benefiting from 12 million new jobs, COVID-19 no longer controls American lives, and U.S. democracy remains intact despite facing its biggest threat since the Civil War.
As a candidate in 2020 and at his inauguration in 2021, shortly after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Biden said he wanted to unify the country. And he stuck to that theme, highlighting a massive infrastructure bill and ribbing Republican lawmakers who opposed it.
Despite his efforts, Biden remains unpopular.
His public approval rating edged one percentage point higher to 41% in a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll that closed on Sunday (February 5). That is close to the lowest level of his presidency, with 65% of Americans saying they believe the country is on the wrong track, compared to 58% a year earlier.
Similarly, in the autumn of 2020, when Donald Trump was president, 65% of registered voters believed the country was on the wrong track, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who once served as press secretary for Trump, rejected Biden's upbeat vision of the country in her Republican response to his address.
Biden aides see the speech as a milestone ahead of the second presidential campaign he is expected to launch in coming weeks.
"Before I came to office the story was about how the People's Republic of China was increasing its power and America was failing in the world. Not anymore. We made clear and I made clear in my personal conversations which have been many with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict. But I will make no apologies that we're investing to make America stronger. Investing in American innovation and industries that will define the future that China intends to be dominating. Investing in our alliances and working with our allies to protect advanced technologies so they will not be used against us. Modernizing our military to safeguard stability to deter aggression. Today, we're the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world, anywhere else in the world," Biden stated.
"I'm committed to work with China, where we can advance American interests and benefit the world. But make no mistake about it. As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did," US President added.