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Last Tuesday, February 7, Joe Biden entered the chamber for his second State of the Union. Although the president was greeted with a standing ovation by members of Congress, the honeymoon was quite brief. The speech was marked by some booing, shouting and even a kiss between the first lady and the second gentleman. Nothing was missing.
The president took the podium in a friendly tone and asked for applause for the congressional leaders. The first was Kevin McCarthy, who exchanged a couple of smiles with the president. Biden jumped at the chance and warned him: “I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.”
Then it was the turn of Hakeem Jeffries, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi, in that order. Once the formalities were over, Biden began his speech, which lasted 73 minutes.
1) Biden and a divided Congress: two long years ahead
There was much anticipation about the beginning of the relationship between Biden and the Republican-controlled House. The reality is that there are better ways to start a relationship. Some GOP members of Congress were quick to note their discomfort with the president’s words and the boos were repeated throughout the evening. Even McCarthy shook his head repeatedly.
The peak of tension came when the head of state accused Republicans of seeking to “sunset” Medicare and Social Security. Once the boos erupted, Marjorie Taylor Greene did not miss the opportunity to shout “liar!” at him.
Making up his own statements, Biden tried to clarify, “I don’t think it is a majority of you,” though he was barely audible above the Republican murmur.
Another of the evening’s spicy moments came when Biden referred to the opioid crisis afflicting the United States. When he stated and lamented that the drug is taking 70,000 lives a year, Representative Andy Ogles raised his voice and told the president “it’s your fault”.
In conclusion, Biden and the divided Congress got off on the wrong foot on the always difficult path of bipartisanship. The president’s agenda is a bit far from the main issues of concern to Republicans, and it is uncertain whether he will be able to pass any major legislation before 2024.
2) The White House agenda for 2023
Biden set out to make clear the priorities he will push from the Oval Office in the new year. He first sweetened the ears of moderates by offering some issues on which he might work together with Republicans, such as fighting the opioid epidemic and mental health care.
He went on to name somewhat more partisan topics, such as an assault weapons ban, codification of abortion rights, a new tax on billionaires, and union protections.
“The vice president and I are doing everything we can to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient privacy. But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans. Make no mistake; if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it,” Biden exclaimed on abortion.
In addition, he insisted that millionaires must pay their “fair share,” which immediately struck a chord in the face of much of the GOP.
3) Biden stuck out his chest about the economy
First and foremost, he sought to absolve himself of responsibility for the high inflation that the United States still experiences, stating, “Inflation has been a global problem because the pandemic disrupted our supply chains and Putin’s unfair and brutal war disrupted energy as well as food supplies”.
“But we’re better positioned than any country on Earth. We have more to do, but here at home, inflation is coming down,” the president added. At the same time, he indicated that the economy was “teetering” when his administration arrived and that they had created a record 12 million new jobs.
Some Republicans and conservatives accused the claim of misleading, arguing that many of those jobs are the ones that were lost in the first place with the coronavirus lockdowns.
4) An unintentional joke
Biden also took the opportunity to criticize the oil and gas industry, given that gasoline prices have risen considerably since the former senator landed in the White House.
He stated in the State of the Union that the industry made record profits during a global energy crisis because it “invested too little of that profit to increase domestic production and keep gas prices down.”
“Instead, they used those record profits to buy back their own stock, rewarding their CEOs and shareholders. Corporations ought to do the right thing,” he said.
After giving a couple of jabs at the industry, he acknowledged that “we’re going to need oil and gas for a while,” which drew a hiss from some progressive Democrats. While every line of the speech is millimetrically calculated, reactions and all, there was one sentence that set off an unexpected guffaw.
“We’re going to need oil for at least another decade,” Biden again acknowledged, prompting laughter from the Republican side of the chamber, since they presume they will need it for much longer than another decade. Even Kevin McCarthy succumbed to the laughter of his colleagues.
5) Time to remember Tyre Nichols
Perhaps the most poignant “Lenny Skutnik moment” of the evening was when Biden honored the parents of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old who was shot and killed by police officers in Memphis.
“I know most cops are good. decent people. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield. But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better. Give law enforcement the real training they need. Hold them to higher standards. Help them succeed in keeping us safe,” the president said.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, were given a standing ovation by Congress after the head of state mentioned them.
The pearl of the night: a kiss between Jill Biden and Douglas Emhoff
This summary could not end without recalling perhaps the most viral moment of the evening. The first lady entered the venue wearing a purple dress, she greeted Emhoff warmly, perhaps too warmly.
She took him by the hand and proceeded to give him what looked like a kiss on the lips. Everyone continued as if nothing had happened and proceeded to chat with the people nearby. Of course, the comments were not long in coming and the image immediately went viral on social networks.
“Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff greet each other with… a kiss on the lips? Is this… normal?” one user asked on Twitter.
Joaquín Núñez es licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política nacional norteamericana. Confeso hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda. Contacto: [email protected] // Joaquín Núñez has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and national American politics. Confessed fan of Racing Club of Avellaneda. Contact: [email protected]