Just 10 months ago, President Joe Biden walked into a similar setting in the House chamber — with far fewer guests but far more masks — to declare the nation “ready for takeoff.”
“America is on the move again,” Biden said on the eve of his 100th day in office, “turning peril into possibility, crisis into opportunity, setback into strength.”
Perils, crises and setbacks dominated the months that followed, alongside frustration, anger, drift and even fear. They converged to create the chaotic forces that surrounded Biden’s first official State of the Union address.
Biden’s prescription on Tuesday night was to taper off — not so much in terms of rhetoric, but in terms of achievable goals. Bold proposals for billions of dollars in new spending have been replaced by new proposals to control inflation, somewhat vague goals included in a “unity agenda for the nation” plus the promise that the measures already adopted will give better results.
On the major global crisis of the moment, Biden sought to channel the measure of unity from Ukraine’s side into something bigger. He drew bipartisan applause as he outlined new moves to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.
“American diplomacy matters,” the president said. “Putin was wrong. We are ready.”
It was a speech crafted for a particularly perilous time, mindful of the challenges facing the nation and the possible, if not inevitable, political backlash against the ruling party. Even as Putin’s forces advance on Kiev, the president has warned that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine will bring “costs around the world”, including soaring gas prices.
“I know the news about what’s happening can be alarming to all Americans,” Biden said. “But I want you to know that everything will be fine. Everything will be fine.”
The president appeared to answer questions about whether Democrats should brag about their accomplishments with a definite “yes.”
“The US bailout has helped workers — and left no one behind,” Biden said, drawing broad applause from Democrats and some mockery from Republicans in the House chamber. “And it worked. It created jobs. Lots of jobs.”
But Biden didn’t tout the “Build Back Better” plan he spent much of the last year unsuccessfully trying to get Congress through. Instead, he pleaded with Congress to pass smaller measures to promote innovation and competition, raise taxes on American businesses and control costs after what he acknowledged have been two “punishing” years. of the pandemic.
“My top priority is to control prices,” Biden said.
Notably, Biden chastised some voices on the progressive left, saying “we should all be okay” with not “defunding the police.” He drew Republican applause for that, as well as his vow to both “secure the border and fix the immigration system.”
The main elements of Biden’s “unity agenda” outlined Tuesday night are arguably as popular as they will be difficult to achieve. Ending the opioid crisis, supporting veterans, ending cancer “as we know it”, tackling children’s mental health specifically – all are lofty goals not the kind of thing which are never fully realized.
Along those same lines, as Biden and virtually everyone in attendance went maskless to a packed house on Tuesday, he ushered in what he billed as a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. After memorably declaring that the nation was on the verge of “declaring our independence in the face of a deadly virus” last July 4, the president is now outlining new strategies that “combat the virus as we do other diseases. “.
“I know you’re tired, frustrated and exhausted,” he said. “But I know that too. Thanks to the progress we’ve made, thanks to your resilience and the tools this Congress has given us, tonight, I can say that we are moving forward safely, returning to more normal routines.”
For their part, Republicans leave little mystery about how they plan to attack Biden and his fellow Democrats — or about their expectation of a midterm election just eight months away.
In the official GOP response, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds listed what she described as Biden’s failures, including pointing blame for the failure of many American children to return to home. normal, learning in mask-free environments.
“Instead of moving America forward, it feels like President Biden and his party sent us back in time to the late ’70s and early ’80s,” Reynolds said in a speech at Monks.
Politically, Biden has limped along in his State of the Union – with an approval rating of just 37% in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, with Republicans holding a 50% to 40% advantage on who should control Congress and three out of four Americans who view the economy in a negative light.
In a time that would seem to demand leadership, only 36% of Americans polled said they saw him as a strong leader, while just 43% said he could be trusted in a crisis.
With Democrats still in control of Congress, as well as the broad unity spawned by the Ukraine crisis, Biden’s political woes seemed distant for much of Tuesday night’s speech. But that fact was implicit in much of what the president described — and chose not to address — during his first State of the Union.
Biden waited until almost the end of his speech to deliver the line most presidents employ — “the State of the Union is strong” — then quickly offered a coda explaining why and what it means.
“Because you, the American people, are strong,” Biden continued. “We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we will be stronger in a year than we are today.”