Partisan clashes, boisterous stunts, savvy political maneuvering and a message of unity and progress defined President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union.
The Feb. 7 speech itself touched upon expected themes. There were calls for bipartisanship, though Biden was not unwilling to call out his Republican rivals. Biden also highlighted the Russia-Ukraine war and the importance of supporting the fight for democracy. The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States was present, and Biden formally acknowledged her during the remarks.
He talked of competing with China, highlighting the shooting down of a balloon U.S. officials accuse of being used for espionage, a claim which has been rejected by China.
What was perhaps more interesting was what was said and done by figures other than the president. Far right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene carried in a white balloon to the address to protest a perceived softness on China. Biden argued that his administration had developed greater capabilities to stop such threats than Trump had, earning further protest.
Indeed, every time Biden seemed to call out the actions of his Republican colleagues, it was met with boos, protests, and other loud chants. It manifested, most interestingly, on the subject of funding for Medicare and Social Security, which several Republican Senators have sought to cut funding for.
Biden raised concerns about these ambitions of some Republicans to cut funding for the programs. This prompted jeers from several Republican attendees. As multiple attendees accused Biden of lying about this, he seized upon the moment, saying “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?”
This maneuver prompted cheers from the hall, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy stood up “for [America’s] seniors,” as the president framed it.
Biden also prompted outcry from Republicans during his remarks on the opioid crisis. He invited Doug Griffin, a parent who lost a daughter to an opioid overdose to emphasize the human cost of the crisis. Emphasizing the toll of fentanyl addiction, Biden noted that 70,000 Americans died each year from overdosing on the drug. This was met with Republican accusations that weak border policy led to the deaths, with one representative blaming the president directly.
The address was not merely a series of heated back and forths. Biden touted a regrowth of the economy under his administration, including 12 million new jobs, which placed unemployment rates at a 50-year low. He also highlighted initiatives to bring back industry to America through the CHIPS and Science Act, with a specific aim of combating Chinese developments in semiconductor manufacturing.
Sentiments about competition with China were also combined with explicit declarations of loyalty to capitalism, likely influenced by recent House Resolution 9, which condemned socialism.
“Capitalism without competition is not capitalism. It is exploitation,” Biden said.
The president emphasized a corrective approach to capitalism, strengthening unions, granting paid family medical leave and a living wage for all.
Biden also took time to address violence in the country, and invited both Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Lunar New Year shooter, as well as the parents of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by police in Memphis on Jan. 7. Biden called for bans on assault weapons and for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would increase police training and make police funding conditional on preventing certain practices, such as no knock raids and chokeholds.
Ultimately, one theme prevailed in Biden’s address: completing the goals of his agenda. Much attention was given to the accomplishments of the administration, so far. But the ultimate emphasis was on coming together to accomplish everything.
“Let’s finish the job,” Biden said, on police reform, on economic recovery, on banning assault weapons and on building a stronger America overall.