Biden Jump-Starts 2024 Race in State of the Union Aimed at Trump

President Joe Biden sought to breathe new life into his reelection rematch against Donald Trump, delivering a spirited and sharply political State of the Union speech that sparred with Republicans and targeted an opponent he didn’t ever name.

Biden’s speech, lasting a little over an hour, laid out his pitch for a second term and highlights from his first, while repeatedly taking aim only at his “predecessor.”

The White House used the speech to more sharply frame the reelection race that, as of now, polls show Trump winning as voters express doubts about Biden’s fitness at age 81. Biden’s team believes his fortunes will improve as more Americans tune in to the rematch and compare him directly to Trump.

Democrats swarmed Biden to congratulate him after a speech that should quell some doubts, for now, about Biden as the party’s standard-bearer. Biden peppered his address with contrasts and excoriated Trump for ending abortion protections, shrugging off gun violence, emboldening Russia, his record of tax cuts for the wealthy and his rival’s fomenting of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

“You can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back,” Biden told lawmakers, dignitaries and other guests at the Capitol on Thursday. “To lead America, the land of possibilities, you need a vision for the future of what can and should be done.”

Trump’s near-sweep of Republican contests on Super Tuesday has all but cemented him as the Republican nominee and tees up a repeat of the bitterly contested 2020 election, one that polls show voters aren’t enthusiastic about. For Biden, the stakes of the speech were high as he looks to boost sagging approval ratings, narrow a polling gap with Trump and beat back concerns about his age.

The scene of the speech was heaped with politics of the moment — attendees draped in colors supporting Ukraine, firebrand Republicans wearing Trump merchandise and some Democratic lawmakers silently holding signs calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. Some members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus wore white to symbolize support for women’s abortion rights, a galvanizing electoral issue for Biden’s party.

Katie Britt, a US Senator and rising Republican star from Alabama, where the state supreme court recently issued a ruling complicating fertility treatments, delivered the GOP rebuttal. Britt, with a kitchen backdrop, drew a link between the border crisis and safety for families. She said she visited the southern border and met a woman who had been the victim of sex trafficking. 

Biden began the speech by linking crises of democracy at home and abroad — blaming Trump and Republicans for measures curtailing freedom and warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the march in Europe, and wouldn’t stop in Ukraine if America abandons Kyiv.  

“My purpose tonight is to both wake up this Congress and alert the American people that this is no ordinary time either,” Biden said. “Not since President Lincoln and the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault here at home as they are today.” 

Biden’s speech laid out the makings of a reelection platform: raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, expand a cap on insulin prices and drug costs, push to pass a law enacting Roe v. Wade, expand background checks on gun purchases, do more to build housing and pushing through a border bill. 

He predicted a tailwind for Democrats in this year’s election from outcry over restrictions on abortion and in-vitro fertilization treatments. 

Political Outcry 

Biden also addressed the political outcry he’s facing over America’s support of Israel and the conflict in Gaza. He announced the US would help build a temporary pier to get aid into Gaza, called on Israel to do more to ease suffering there while also saying his government wouldn’t rest until all hostages are released by Hamas, which the US deems a terror group. Families of the hostages were among the attendees at the speech. 

He also framed the moment as a crossroads in America’s fight against both Russian aggression and China’s economic clout.

“I’ve made sure that the most advanced American technologies can’t be used in China’s weapons,” he said. “For all his tough talk on China, it never occurred to my predecessor to do any of that. I want competition with China, not conflict.”

Democrats cheered throughout the speech, while Republicans were regularly silent. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — wearing a Trump baseball cap — walked Republicans into a trap, shouting the name of a woman from her state slain by an undocumented immigrant. Biden pulled out a pin bearing the woman’s name and acknowledged her family, then chided Republicans for blocking stronger border measures.

“We can fight about fixing the border or we can fix it, and I’m ready to fix it,” Biden said. “Send me the border bill now.”

Biden scoffed at Republicans who booed his assertion that Trump’s tax cuts “exploded” the federal deficit, scowling at them and challenging them to “check the numbers.”

Near the end of his speech, Biden nodded to his biggest electoral liability: his age. At 81, he’s already the oldest US president ever and would be 86 at the end of a second term. 

“I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while. And when you get to my age, certain things become clearer than ever before,” he said.

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