U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday the “story of America is a story of progress and resilience” as he gave his second State of the Union address with a focus on his domestic economic policy, including an appeal to his Republican opponents to work together.
“Two years ago, COVID had shut down our businesses, closed our schools and robbed us of so much,” Biden told a joint session of Congress.
“Today, COVID no longer controls our lives,” he said.
“And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken,” he added.
Facing a Congress in which Republicans now have a majority in the House of Representatives, Biden cited legislation that Republican and Democratic lawmakers came together to pass, including a massive infrastructure bill, aid for Ukraine and protecting same-sex marriage rights.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus in this new Congress as well,” Biden said.
Biden said that to maintain the world’s strongest economy, the United States needs the best infrastructure, and he said new standards will require federal infrastructure projects to use only construction materials made in America.
“Lumber, glass, drywall, fiber-optic cable,” he said. “And on my watch, American roads, American bridges and American highways are going to be made with American products as well.”
Overall, Biden said, his economic focus is on “investing in places and people that have been forgotten.”
The president also argued for raising the debt ceiling, which is the maximum amount the U.S. Treasury can borrow to pay its bills. The U.S. hit its debt limit of $31.4 trillion in January. Congress now has until midyear to raise the limit before the U.S. defaults on its loans.
Biden said Congress has previously paid the country’s bills “to prevent an economic disaster.” He called on lawmakers to commit to making sure the credit of the United States will never be questioned.
Kevin McCarthy, the newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives, has said the Republican Party will continue to oppose what they see as excessive spending.
“Biden’s challenge in the State of the Union is to make the global case while also presenting himself as a leader who understands and is prepared to meet the day-to-day economic challenges facing Americans here at home,” political scientist Andrew Seligsohn said in a note to VOA.
Biden also was expected to discuss a range of foreign policy issues, administration officials said.
Relations with China, the nation Biden sees as the biggest competitor for the U.S., hit a new low last week when the U.S. shot down what it said was a Chinese spy balloon that traversed the country for a week, including over key military installations.
Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, told Lin Feng of VOA’s Mandarin Service that Biden needs to show he “is forging ahead with policies that strengthen the security of America and its allies. His words about China should highlight Beijing’s deeds, not words, but without adjectives. Let facts speak for themselves.”
Gun policy, immigration, health care, police reform and more were also likely to feature in the address.
President recognizes parents of Tyre Nichols
As is custom, the event hosted guests who symbolize some of the issues. The Congressional Black Caucus invited the parents of slain Memphis resident Tyre Nichols to the address.
Nichols, 29, was killed by five Black police officers in January. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have used the tragedy to urge Congress to revisit the stalled police reform act that Democrats proposed after the 2020 killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
And Jeremi Suri, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, also noted that Biden will use the speech to rally support. Biden has not officially announced whether he will run for reelection in 2024. His critics say at 80, he is too old for another term.
“He will depict Republicans as ideologues, while he is a pragmatist for the American people,” he told VOA.