President Joe Biden’s annual State of the Union on Tuesday began with calls for ‘unity’ before descending into disarray when he was heckled by Republicans for claiming they want to ‘sunset’ Medicare and Social Security.
His 73-minute speech started with a request to ‘finish the job’ of rebuilding the economy reeling from historic inflation and the pandemic – but it quickly turned tense with his dubious accusations against the GOP.
Wearing a white coat lined in white fur, conservative firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene stood up before the joint session of Congress and screamed ‘liar’ while other Republicans shouted, ‘Not true!’
‘They’re the facts,’ Biden snapped back. ‘Check it out. Check it out.’
Speaker Kevin McCarthy shook his head in disagreement while sat on the dais behind Biden and other members of the GOP shouted ‘no’ in tense scenes on the House floor.
President Biden got into verbal fisticuffs during his State of the Union Address
President Joe Biden speaks to Congress during his State of The Union address on February 8th, 2023 in Washington, DC
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) shouted ‘liar’ at President Biden during the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress
In his speech, Biden sought to portray a country radically different from the pandemic-battered America he took over two years ago.
‘The story of America is a story of progress and resilience. Of always moving forward. Of never giving up. A story that is unique among all nations,’ he said.
‘We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we entered it. That is what we are doing again.’
But a row broke out when Biden blamed the nation’s debt on Donald Trump. ‘Under the previous administration the American deficit went up,’ he said. ‘No president added more to the national debt in any four years than my predecessor.’
He continued: ‘How did Congress respond to that debt? They lifted the debt ceiling three times without preconditions or crisis. They paid American bills to prevent an economic disaster of the country. So tonight, I’m asking the Congress to follow suit.’
Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado shook her head as the president spoke, while other GOP lawmakers hollered and jeered Biden’s claims. The antagonistic and contentious atmosphere was present throughout the entire speech, as Republicans challenged the President on a number of his points.
In a night of high drama as the joint session of Congress teetered on the brink of chaos, Biden in his address:
- Accused the GOP of wanting to ‘sunset’ Medicare and Social Security – but Republican Senate and House leaders said they have no intention of doing so
- Was called out for creating an opioid crisis and allowing the flow of lethal drug fentanyl across the border – something he was trying to condemn
- Lauded administration’s work on infrastructure, manufacturing and job creation, outlining his intention to see America become a world leader once again
- Hit out at big firms stacking profits, particularly Big Oil, Big Pharma and energy companies, and promised to curb daily expenses facing American consumers
- Denounced police violence, called for increase in training for law enforcement officials and renewed calls for a blanket ban on automatic assault weapons
The president wasn’t afraid to engage with the GOP, making it clear he was willing to work with lawmakers across the aisle but refused to make any concessions.
‘To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,’ he said.
‘The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.
‘Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage. I get it. Unless I agree to their economic plans.’
At other points in the speech, Republicans openly laughed at the president, such as when he suggested oil production could be phased out after a decade.
‘I said we’re going to need oil for at least another decade,’ the president said of his discussions with oil companies as he pushed for greener technology. Republicans laughed at him. McCarthy, too, chuckled.
US Vice President Kamala Harris and US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) listen as US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2023
Lawmakers including Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX), and Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) yell at President Biden during his State of the Union address
Greene gives a thumbs down at Biden after he claimed Republicans wanted to ‘sunset’ Medicare and Social Security
The House chamber during Biden’s State of the Union Address
The president fumbled his State of the Union speech at the top, attempting to make a joke about wife Jill going to the Super Bowl without him, messing up Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s title and complimenting McCarthy after previously slamming Republicans as MAGA extremists.
Key points from Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address
Calls for bipartisanship
Biden on several occasions called for bipartisan cooperation, but drew several lines in the sand.
Biden started his speech talking about decreasing inflation and unemployment while boosting wage growth. He later promised to cut everyday costs for consumers and tax big companies.
Highlight on infrastructure
Biden discussed at length his administration’s push to develop infrastructure projects.
Medicare and Social Security
Biden promised to reinforce and safeguard Medicare and accused GOP of wanting to ‘sunset’ the initiative – a statement which prompted Republicans to call him a ‘liar’ .
Tax the rich and phase out oil
Biden lamented the huge profits of large corporations, particularly energy companies and Big Pharma, before doubling down on boosting EV infrastructure and phasing out oil – something which drew incredulous laughter from across the aisle.
Biden recounted the dark days of the pandemic and vowed to resolve the subsequent escalation in violent crime.
Police violence and gun laws
Biden denounced police violence, calling for renewed funding and training for law enforcement, before going on to declare intentions to ban automatic weapons.
Foreign policy – in brief
Most of Biden’s speech focused on domestic policy but he did make mention of the war in Ukraine, condemning Russia’s invasion and also touching on the threat of China.
Early in his speech Biden talked about how America is the largest consumer of prescription medication and vowed to reduce costs. But he later railed against the flood of fentanyl and other lethal drugs – something which prompted Republicans to declare ‘it’s your fault’.
Soft launch for 2024 campaign
Biden did not openly declare his intention to run again in 2024. But he incessantly repeated the slogan ‘let’s finish the job’ and in no way gave the impression he was ready to step down.
The president tried his hand at a little improv when he took the podium in the House chamber to address the nation – a risk that rarely ends well.
After greeting First Lady Jill Biden, who sat in a box overlooking the House floor, Biden tried to joke to Chief Justice John Roberts about the first lady’s upcoming trip to the Superbowl, where her Philadelphia Eagles are playing the Kansas City Chiefs.
‘By the way Chief Justice – I may need a court order,’ he said, deviating from his prepared remarks. ‘She gets to go to the game next week. I got to stay home. I got to work something out here.’
He also gave McCarthy, who was presiding over his first State of the Union address as speaker, a backhand compliment.
‘Mr. Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you,’ the president said.
In other sittings, Biden has blasted Donald Trump supporters like McCarthy as ‘extremists’ in the Republican Party. ‘This is not your father’s Republican Party,’ he has said repeatedly in the past.
The president, who struggles with a stutter, also fumbled when he addressed Schumer, who he called minority leader, which was his previous title.
Once his speech was underway, Biden talked about his hope for the White House and House Republicans to work together.
But all indications seem to point to that being a pipe dream as neither the president nor the GOP lawmakers showed signs of backing down in a remarkable display of public bickering.
Earlier Tuesday, McCarthy asked his Republican lawmakers to behave while the president spoke, making it clear he wanted no shenanigans on the House floor.
The lawmakers were reminded that boom mics will be on so ‘people’s conversations will be picked up, and anything you’re reading on your phone’ could been seen by a camera lens, a GOP lawmaker said.
The speaker also promised to behave himself and not cause any ‘theatrics,’ specifically saying he won’t do as Nancy Pelosi did during Donald Trump’s final State of the Union address and tear up the text of the speech.
But the evening showed that McCarthy, who won the speakership in a midnight vote after 15 ballots, is still struggling to control some of the conservative elements of his conference after many Republicans heckled Biden in response to a range of talking points.
Biden tried to bring order back.
As the shouting continued, the president responded: ‘I’m glad to see it, I enjoy conversion.’
And McCarthy tried to calm down his side, shushing some Republicans who appeared to be yelling about the border after Biden called for Congress to codify a path to citizenship for Dreamers.
‘If we don’t pass my immigration reform, at least passed my plan to provide equipment for officers to secure the border. And a pathway to citizenship for dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, essential workers,’ Biden said as he talked about problems at the border, where illegal crossings have reached record levels.
Democrats applauded but Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas laughed and shook his head.
Other Republicans shouted: ‘Secure the border.’ McCarty shushed them to let Biden continue.
President Joe Biden giving the State of the Union Address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol. State of the Union Address in Washington, US – 07 Feb 2023
Speaker Kevin McCarthy shakes President Biden’s hand at the start of the State of the Union
Lingering in the backdrop of Biden’s remarks is the fight to raise the debt limit.
Republicans want to slash federal spending in exchange for increasing the nation’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit. Biden wants it raised with no conditions attached.
But Republicans have said they don’t want to cut Medicare and Social Security – two entitlement programs important to older voters – despite Biden insistence to the contrary.
‘All of you at home should know what (the Republicans’) plans are. Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans… some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,’ Biden exclaimed, which drew boos and shouts of ‘liar’ from across the aisle.
Biden’s push to raise taxes on the wealthy also garnered negative feedback.
‘We have to reward work not just wealth. Pass my proposal for the billionaire minimum tax,’ he said. ‘But no billionaire should be paying a lower tax rate than a schoolteacher or firefighter.’
In the past, Biden has proposed a 20% levy on households with a net worth of more than $100 million.
‘The tax system is not fair.’ He dropped his voice to a whisper to make his point: ‘It’s not fair.’
‘Look, the idea that in 2020, 55 of the largest corporations in America, the fortune 500, made $40 billion in profits and paid 0 in federal taxes, 0? Folks, simply not fair,’ he said, raising his voice to be heard over the GOP catcalling him with shouts and booing.
McCarthy simply sat in silence behind Biden as the president spoke, shaking his head.
Biden also talked about police reform and a crisis that has seen many black men shot by cops.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus brought more than a dozen families to the speech that have been affected by police violence. And Biden is under heavy pressure from his party to take action.
In his speech, Biden noted he’s never had to have ‘the talk’ with his kids – Beau, Ashley, and Hunter – about what to do when a police officer pulls them over.
‘We have an obligation to make sure all people are safe. Public safety depends on public trust, as all of us know, but too often that trust is violated,’ he said.
‘I never have to tell you of a police officer turned pulled you over, turn on your interior lights right away. Don’t reach for your license. Keep your hands on the stealing steering wheel. that every single time your kid got in a car,’ he noted.
Biden acknowledged the parents of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old man who was beaten to death by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, who were seated in the first lady’s box.
‘What happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better,’ Biden said.
He called for more training for police officers.
‘Give law enforcement the real training they need. Hold them to higher standards. Help them succeed in keeping a safe. We also need more first responders and professionals to adjust to the growing mental health and substance abuse,’ he said.
Biden went on to rail against gun violence and called for an all-out ban on automatic assault weapons.
‘Ban assault weapons once and for all. We did it before. I led the fight to ban them in 1994. In the 10 years the ban was law, mass shootings went down. After Republicans let it expire, mass shootings tripled. Let´s finish the job and ban assault weapons again,’ he declared.
Vice President Kamala Harris shakes hands with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy when she arrives in the House chamber for the State of the Union address
First lady Jill Biden arrives at the State of the Union address; second gentleman Doug Emhoff is next to her
The president made a big deal of his plans to restore America as a world leader in manufacturing and infrastructure, drilling down on plans to boost domestic development of key tech like semiconductors and invest in myriad infrastructure projects.
‘Semiconductors, the small computer chips the size of your fingertip that power everything from cellphones to automobiles, and so much more. These chips were invented right here in America.
‘America used to make nearly 40percent of the world’s chips. But in the last few decades, we lost our edge and we’re down to producing only 10 percent. We all saw what happened during the pandemic when chip factories overseas shut down.
‘That’s why we came together to pass the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act. We´re making sure the supply chain for America begins in America.
‘We´ve already created 800,000 manufacturing jobs even without this law. With this new law, we will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs across the country. That’s going to come from companies that have announced more than $300 billion in investments in American manufacturing in the last two years.
‘But to maintain the strongest economy in the world, we also need the best infrastructure in the world. We used to be Number 1 in the world in infrastructure, then we fell to Number 13th. Now we’re coming back because we came together to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the largest investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower´s Interstate Highway System.
‘This law will help further unite all of America. Major projects like the Brent Spence bridge between Kentucky and Ohio over the Ohio River. Built 60 years ago. Badly in need of repairs. One of the nation’s most congested freight routes carrying $2 billion worth of freight every day. Folks have been talking about fixing it for decades, but we’re finally going to get it done.’
President Joe Biden arrives in Congress for his State of The Union address on February 8th, 2023 in Washington, DC
President Joe Biden departs Congress after his State of The Union address on February 8th, 2023 in Washington, DC
During his 1 hour 13-minute speech, Biden used some of his favorite tactics to make a point – whispering at times and raising his voice to a shout at others.
He garbled his words while warning Republicans not to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, passed when Democrats controlled Congress.
‘Now some members here threatening – and I know it’s not an official party position – So I’m not going to exaggerate but certainly to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act… As my football coaches like to say – lots of luck in your senior year,’ he said.
But he ultimately got his message out: ‘Make no mistake… I will veto it.’
Biden’s remarks touted his economic record, called for more taxes on the wealthy and also made a big point of his plans to cut everyday costs for the American consumer following a period of economic turbulence.
‘My administration is taking on ‘junk’ fees, those hidden surcharges too many businesses use to make you pay more.
‘Junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most folks in homes like the one I grew up in. They add up to hundreds of dollars a month. They make it harder for you to pay the bills or afford that family trip. I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and gets away with it.
‘Not anymore. We’ve written a bill to stop all that. It’s called the Junk Fee Prevention Act. We’ll ban surprise ‘resort fees’ that hotels tack on to your bill. These fees can cost you up to $90 a night at hotels that aren´t even resorts. We’ll make cable internet and cellphone companies stop charging you up to $200 or more when you decide to switch to another provider. We’ll cap service fees on tickets to concerts and sporting events and make companies disclose all fees upfront. And we’ll prohibit airlines from charging up to $50 roundtrip for families just to sit together.’
President Joe Biden speaks to Congress during his State of The Union address on February 8th, 2023 in Washington, DC
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) smiles as President Joe Biden speaks to Congress during his State of The Union address on February 8th, 2023 in Washington, DC
Biden touched on immigration issues, the opioid crisis and condemned the flow of drugs like fentanyl into the United States – though Republicans quickly pointed fingers back at the President and told him ‘it’s your fault!’.
‘Let’s come together on immigration and make it a bipartisan issue like it was before. We now have a record number of personnel working to secure the border, arresting 8,000 human smugglers and seizing over 23,000 pounds of fentanyl in just the last several months,’ the President said.
‘If you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border. And a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers.
‘Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year. Let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production, sale, and trafficking, with more drug detection machines to inspect cargo and stop pills and powder at the border. Working with couriers like Fed Ex to inspect more packages for drugs. Strong penalties to crack down on fentanyl trafficking.’
President Joe Biden in the presidential limo known as the Beast on his way to the Capitol
The U.S. Capitol is seen through security fencing erected before President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress during the annual State of the Union address
The president hasn’t announced he will seek another term – but his State of the Union address felt like a soft launch of his 2024 campaign.
He never openly stated plans to run, but incessantly repeated the mantra ‘let’s get the job done’, seemingly calling for another four years in the White House to continue working on legislation and proposals set forth in yesterday’s speech.
Biden is expected to make a formal announcement on his 2024 campaign in the coming weeks. He will take his sales job on the road as he heads to Wisconsin on Wednesday and Florida on Thursday.
The president’s approval rating was hovering at around 40% ahead of his annual address to the nation, which was heavily focused on domestic social and economic policy.
Biden in contrast barely mentioned the war in the Ukraine, which took up much of his remarks in last year’s speech.
He pointed to Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova, seated next to the first lady, and said: ‘We are going to stand with you. As long as it takes.’
Biden also barely mentioned China, including the spy balloon the U.S. military recently shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
‘I am committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,’ he said.
Then, in an opaque reference to the spy balloon: ‘But make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did. And let’s be clear: winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world.’
Bono greets Paul Pelosi – the two men have seats next to each other in Jill Biden’s box
The Presidential limousine sits on the South Lawn in front of the White House ahead of Biden’s departure for Capitol Hill