Savannah Brooks ’26
On Tuesday, going into his second State of the Union address and his first before a divided Congress, President Joe Biden had a lot to prove. An NBC News poll in late January had the President from Delaware polling at 45% approval, a rating that had remained relatively stagnant since November. Biden was also receiving heavy fire from Republicans, particularly on social media, for his response to the Chinese-operated balloon shot down over the Atlantic last Saturday and has been facing public questioning from Republicans and Democrats alike on his ability to run for re-election in 2024 since he would be 82 if inaugurated again.
The dramatic night started even before President Biden took the podium: He notably refused to shake freshman Representative George Santos’ (R-NY) hand when passing him in the aisle of the House Chamber. Santos, who is currently undergoing an ethics investigation due to his extensive falsehoods on the campaign trail and while in office, also was involved in a minor verbal altercation with veteran Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) that quickly went viral on social media where Romney reportedly scolded Santos for being in the front of the group of representatives greeting the President, telling him “you don’t belong here.”
President Biden, flanked by newly crowned Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Vice President Kamala Harris, also from California, seemed in high spirits and gave a very optimistic speech from the beginning, where he cracked a few jokes (one at Speaker McCarthy’s expense, who, after shaking hands with the President and Vice President, spent most of the night stone-faced and shaking his head).
President Biden began with highlighting various accomplishments and stressed a sense of unity with Republicans, who control the House. He commended Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who he and his party rarely get along with, on being the longest-serving Senate leader and discussed the importance of the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. President Biden quickly shifted the rhetoric, however, to promoting his agendas that have not been passed into law, including building an economy from the middle rather than from the top, introducing a law to make all federal projects buy their materials from American manufacturers, reducing the price of insulin to $35 a week, and slowing the progression of climate change.
One of the most notable moments of the night came when President Biden accused some Republicans of wanting to slash Social Security and Medicare, earning a heavy amount of boos and jeers from Republicans, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) shouting “you lie” at him. President Biden, whose vocal gaffes are often Republicans’ main source of criticism, seemed to revel in the moment, quipping, “I enjoy conversion” with a smile on his face, seemingly trapping Republicans into supporting the two programs. Although he received these kinds of boos and jeers several times during his speech, they did not visibly negatively impact him and often seemed to energize him more than anything else.
As is customary at the State of the Union, President Biden had several guests, including Tyre Nichols’ parents. Nichols was brutally murdered by five Memphis police officers on January 7th after reportedly being stopped for reckless driving. All five officers and a sixth who was a part of the initial stop have been terminated and charged with several felonies. The release of the body camera footage from the arrest and subsequent murder of Nichols sparked country-wide protests, including one in Bridgeport, CT, on the 29th. President Biden used the opportunity to discuss the need for more professional training and more accountability of police officers, even saying that most cops he knows are good people, likely a defense against accusations by Republican congresspeople claiming that he wants to defund the police. President Biden also invited Brandon Tsay, who disarmed a gunman in Montery Park, CA, after the death of 11 civilians. President Biden proposed banning assault weapons while introducing Tsay. President Biden also invited Bono for his philanthropy work on HIV/AIDS, Ambassador Oksana Markarova of Ukraine, and several others.
President Biden also made a strong stance against Republicans after they took the House, including committing to vetoing any abortion ban or any attempt to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which keeps drug prices down. Overall, his speech was incredibly optimistic considering his approval rating, even with quite a few weaponized callouts against Republicans and his predecessor.
The customary opposition response to the State of the Union came from recently elected Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas who served as former President Donald Trump’s Press Secretary for most of his term. Governor Sanders, the youngest governor in the country and her state’s first female governor, delivered a speech that stood as President Biden’s opposite; where President Biden was optimistic and hopeful, Governor Sanders’ speech contained many dire warnings and was very nostalgic. Governor Sanders came down hard on President Biden and the Democrats, calling the GOP “normal” and the Democrats “crazy,” referring to “CRT” and claiming that President Biden has given up his presidency to a “woke mob” and that the Democrats are raising children to hate one another on account of their race.
Governor Sanders spent little time on President Biden’s actual speech, only referring to it when saying she didn’t believe anything he said. She was largely anecdotal, discussing her time in Iraq on Christmas Day in 2018 in which she described how the soldiers clapped and cheered for President Trump. She also mentioned her own executive orders that she has passed in Arkansas since her election, including one that prohibits the use of the word “Latinx” in official documents. She held that Democrats were attempting to “control” people’s lives with big government. This comment came in the middle of controversy regarding Florida Governor Ron Desantis, who many view as the party’s unofficial frontrunner for the 2024 presidential race, issuing heavy academic restrictions on Florida schools, including the banning of numerous books.
In terms of looking forward, Governor Sanders appeared to call for a generational turnover of Republican leadership, saying that “it’s time for a new generation to lead.” Although she wasn’t specific, this could refer to the 80-year-old President Biden, the 76-year-old former President and current presidential candidate Trump, or both.