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Biden looks inward at ‘fiesty’ State of the Union

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WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden urged unity and touted a blue-collar economic resurgence on Tuesday in a rousing State of the Union speech before a raucous Congress that doubled as a bid to persuade voters he still has what it takes to seek reelection at age 80.

At times smiling and joking, at times showing anger, Biden concluded his address, viewed on television by tens of millions of Americans, by saying that “because the soul of this nation is strong… the state of the union is strong.” And without mentioning the 2024 election, he said: “Let’s finish the job.” The speech, clocking in at 72 minutes, was remarkable for the granular focus on kitchen table issues, rather than soaring rhetoric or foreign affairs.

The Democrat, who has been written off even by some supporters as too old, gave as good as he got in an unusually boisterous event, with far-right Republicans heckling and mocking throughout.

According to BBC News, as Mr Biden turned his attention to raising the debt limit, he was jeered at and heckled.

He then tried to link Republican demands on the debt limit to some conservative proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare—the popular government-run retirement and health insurance programmes.

Republicans howled in anger and responded to this with hoots of derision, while Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, shouted that the president was a “liar”.

The BBC also called the speech “America first, foreign policy last” as the Chinese surveillance balloon, which was a huge story in America for the last few days, received barely a mention from the president, in the bottom third of his speech. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also received scant attention.

Democracy ‘bruised’ but ‘safe’

Biden has yet to announce a reelection run but is expected to declare soon. Tuesday’s speech could serve as an opening audition.

He pitched a centrist, populist vision of a country healing after Covid and the turmoil of Donald Trump’s one-term presidency. And Biden’s patience, even humorous ripostes to Republican jeering backed up his claim to represent a calmer alternative to the still-powerful Trump wing.

At the speech’s core was Biden’s boisterous call for ‘Made in America’ nationalism and populist policies to rebuild the industrial heartland — the kind of rhetoric that once helped Trump lead Republican gains in previously Democratic working-class strongholds.

Biden touted unemployment figures, now at a half-century low, and the stabilizing of inflation, as he promised to fight for the “forgotten” people of the economy.

For decades, “manufacturing jobs moved overseas, factories closed down,” Biden said.

“Jobs are coming back. Pride is coming back,” he said.

Biden also warned Republicans in strong terms not to use their newfound power in the House to block the usually uncontroversial procedure extending the US debt limit — something that could send the United States crashing into default on its national debt.

“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage,” Biden said.

The most emotional moment came when Biden called for reforms to policing and gun ownership laws.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023


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