In campaign-like speech, self-assured Biden calls for unity to ‘finish the job’

Washington: Joe Biden’s State of the Union address displayed a self-assured president emboldened by a string of policy victories and a credible record needed to win a second term in the White House.

The question is whether enough Americans want him there for another four years.

“When the middle class does well, the poor have a ladder up and the wealthy still do well,” Joe Biden said.Credit:AP

With Biden expected to announce his plans for re-election within weeks, potentially setting up a rematch against Donald Trump, this speech was as much a 2024 campaign pitch as it was an annual rallying cry to the nation.

On domestic issues, he touted his administration’s post-pandemic economy recovery, including the creation of a 12 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in more 50 years, and gas prices finally falling after last year’s highs.

On foreign policy, he pointed to the war in Ukraine as an example of the global alliances he has helped rebuild, calling Vladimir Putin’s invasion “a test for the ages” that the US and its NATO allies had passed.

And on the issue of unity, Biden made the case that he hasn’t just achieved important legislative changes, from modest gun reform and record infrastructure investment, to manufacturing laws designed to make the US more competitive against China.

He did so, in many cases, with bipartisan support and a wafer thin Senate majority.

After 36 years as a senator, eight years as vice president under Barack Obama, and two years as president, Biden pitched himself as an effective politician who doesn’t just talk about unity. He works across the aisle and gets things done.

But one of the big challenges the president faces is the disconnect between what his administration has achieved, and what Americans think he has achieved.

Indeed, a new Washington Post/ABC news poll found 62 per cent of Americans think Biden has accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing”, while only 36 per cent say he has accomplished “a great deal” or “a good amount”.

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol on February 7.Credit:AP

Few Americans want to see a Trump-Biden rematch next year, and even the majority of Democrats and Democrat supporters say they would prefer someone else to run for president instead.

Among them are folks like lawyer Ron Filipkowski, a Republican-turned-Democrat, who voted for Biden in 2020 hoping he would be a “transitional figure” who could get the country out of “MAGA Trump world”.

“Joe Biden was the first Democrat I ever voted for in my life, and I did it because I wanted him to be a one-term president,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in the lead up to the State of the Union.

President Joe Biden arrives and shakes hands with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy before delivering his 2023 State of the Union address.Credit:AP

“But the reality is, he would be 86 years old in his last year in office [if re-elected]… and the guy’s got a lot of miles on his odometer. I’m very thankful for him stepping up off the plate and beating Donald Trump, but I think it’s time to pass the torch.”

While Biden might be the first octogenarian in the White House, at the State of the Union he was a president who knew he had runs on the board. He was energetic, in command of his message and determined to speak to the American people.

At times throughout his 72-minute speech, he even looked like he was having fun goading Republicans as they heckled him, in defiance of their leader.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy had earlier cautioned his members to behave, telling them in a closed-door meeting that the “mics are hot” and the cameras were likely to pick up their every move. Clearly, they didn’t care.

Last year’s address drew a prime-time audience of about 38 million Americans. This one, the first since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after the midterm elections, the stakes were even higher.

But despite the partisan divisions on clear display, Biden struck a more cooperative tone, calling on his adversaries to work with him in the interest of the nation: on gun reform, on border security, on the fentanyl crisis.

“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… We’ve been sent here to finish the job!”

With less than two years until the next presidential election, the clock is ticking.

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