WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden called the state of the union “strong,” in his second such address Feb. 7, calling for national unity even as he argued for some Democratic priorities including reiterating his call to codify Roe v. Wade.
Biden’s 2023 State of the Union was his first to a divided Congress, as Republicans began their slim House majority in January, and his first to a full chamber, as the event had reduced seating capacity for several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden called on Congress to codify Roe v. Wade “to protect every woman’s constitutional right to choose.” The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022 overturned the high court’s previous abortion-related precedents in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
The president also said he would veto any effort to restrict the procedure at a federal level, as some states have done since the Dobbs decision.
“Make no mistake; if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it,” Biden said.
At times conciliatory and at others boisterous, Biden, a Catholic Democrat, touted job growth and a bipartisan infrastructure package passed during the first part of his term, while outlining his remaining agenda items including banning assault rifles, restoring the expired child tax credit and passing immigration reform.
Celebrating the infrastructure law, Biden joked that Republicans who voted against it could still attend groundbreaking ceremonies on new bridges in their districts, prompting laughter from those who supported the bill.
In his address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Biden recognized congressional leadership, quipping to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., “I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.”
But the address was marked by tense moments, as Biden took swipes at some Republicans he said wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, and as Republican members heckled the president during portions of his speech. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., was heard in the chamber calling Biden a liar. At another time, Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., yelled “your fault” while Biden discussed drug overdose deaths.
Biden struck a populist tone at times, calling for legislation to ban so-called junk fees, “those hidden surcharges too many businesses use to make you pay more,” or lowering the price of prescription drugs.
The U.S. Constitution requires the president to “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” First dubbed the “Annual Message,” the practice has taken various forms throughout American history, per the House Historian’s office, at times taking the form of a written message to Congress, while at others delivered in person by the president, and broadcast on radio or television.
Biden acknowledged that requirement in his address, saying, “I have come here to fulfill my constitutional duty to report on the state of the union.”
“And here is my report,” he said. “Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the state of the union is strong.”
Biden has not yet formally declared his next presidential campaign, but he is widely expected to seek a second term. Biden used the term “finish the job” multiple times during his speech, which some pundits described as setting the stage for his next campaign.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, R-Ark., who delivered the GOP rebuttal to the speech, signaled how the party will respond to Biden’s anticipated campaign, dismissing his agenda items as “woke fantasies.”
Sanders hit Biden on inflation, crime, and what she characterized as lax responses to a surge of migrants at the southern border and threats from China, as well as culture war items like gender policy.
“Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight,” said Sanders, who was previously White House press secretary for former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., delivered a GOP rebuttal in Spanish.
Ciscomani, whose family immigrated from Mexico to the United States when he was a child and whose father worked as a bus driver, said his father taught the family the value of hard work and respect for their new nation; and how his mother taught them that “all is possible with faith.”
Ciscomani claimed there is a lack of leadership from the Biden administration and offered the Republican Party as an alternative he said could tackle economic issues facing families. Ciscomani shared his family history and attempted to link Republican beliefs to the American dream.
“If you speak with my father today, he would say, ‘In what other part of the world could you have our history?'” Ciscomani said. “‘We arrived in this country with nothing, we learned English and became immersed in the culture, obtained our citizenship. I drove a bus for most of my life and my son is now a member of the United States’ Congress. Where else can we have our story?’ The answer is simple, nowhere else in the world. This happens in the United States, the country of opportunity.”
Ciscomani said there are many such stories making up the American dream, “a dream that is worth defending.”
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Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Maria-Pia Chin contributed to this report.