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Biden’s State of the Union: A Message of Unity and Left-Wing Populism

In his State of the Union address on Feb. 7, President Joe Biden sought to push his economic agenda and called for renewed bipartisanship, while also being met with loud objections from Republican lawmakers. Biden began by congratulating the new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and stressing how in his first two years Democrats and Republicans had come together to pass big legislation, such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill.[0] He then boasted about the 12.1 million jobs created in his first two years, more than any other president has created in four years.[1]

Biden also addressed concerns about cutting the nation’s biggest entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, in a bid to set the stakes for the upcoming debt limit battle. When Republican lawmakers responded with boos, Biden departed from his prepared remarks and addressed the outrage by saying, “As we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be touched?”[2] Cheers and clapping filled the room.[3] He exclaimed, “All right! We got unanimity!”[3]

The president also called for the capping of insulin costs at $35 a month so everyone can afford it, a policy change that could save diabetics hundreds of dollars a month on a life-saving prescription they need every day.[4] Biden also highlighted the international support for Ukraine he orchestrated after Russia’s invasion, receiving a lengthy bipartisan standing ovation when he recognized Ukraine's ambassador Oksana Markarova.[1] He vowed to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes, and noted that the U.S. had provided more aid than any other country in raw dollars but ranks ninth when the sum is measured as a percentage of the gross domestic product.[4]

Overall, Biden sought to marry a message of unity with a left-wing populist vision for 2024 in his State of the Union address. He declared his economic plan “is working” and called for citizens who are sour on the direction of the country to recognize the progress he’s ushered in, and share his optimism.[5] Despite the heckles, Biden was able to turn the rowdiness to his advantage, using it to reinforce his message and challenge Republicans who were shouting at him from the chamber floor.[6]

0. “Joe Biden’s Spirited State of the Union Speech” The Atlantic, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2023/02/joe-biden-state-of-the-union-republicans-heckle/672989/

1. “Fact check State of the Union: Biden 2023 speech on economy, COVID-19” USA TODAY, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2023/02/08/fact-check-state-of-the-union/11196747002/

2. “Why Republican heckling of Biden’s State of the Union mattered” MSNBC, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/republican-heckling-bidens-state-union-mattered-rcna69664

3. “Key takeaways: Biden boasts about his wins and lays out populist 2024 themes” NBC News, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/joe-biden/key-takeaways-biden-boasts-wins-lays-populist-2024-themes-rcna68923

4. “Analysis | Biden's 2022 State of the Union proposals: What flopped and what succeeded” The Washington Post, 5 Feb. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/02/05/bidens-2022-state-union-proposals-what-flopped-what-succeeded/

5. “Biden Springs Trap for Republicans in State of the Union” New York Magazine, 8 Feb. 2023, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2023/02/biden-2023-state-of-the-union.html

6. “Five questions for Biden’s State of the Union address” The Hill, 7 Feb. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/3846259-five-questions-for-bidens-state-of-the-union-address/