5 major takeaways from Joe Biden’s State of the Union address

5 major takeaways from Joe Biden’s State of the Union address
President Joe Biden delivered the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday, March 7, 2024 (Getty Images)

5 major takeaways from President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address

(Getty Images)
On March 7, President Joe Biden gave an impassioned third State of the Union address, outlining his achievements, detailing his agenda for a second term, addressing questions about his age and fitness, and drawing contrasts with Republicans, including former POTUS Donald Trump. (Getty Images)

President Joe Biden delivered a significant third State of the Union address on Thursday, March 7, which could be one of the most pivotal speeches he gives as he gears up for reelection. The 81-year-old Commander-in-Chief's speech was extensive in its objectives, including highlighting his accomplishments in office, setting out his second-term agenda, addressing concerns regarding his age and fitness, and presenting a stark dissimilarity with Republicans, including his presumptive opponent, Donald Trump. The address was a passionate one, quite distinct from his previous State of the Union speeches. Intent on demonstrating his energy and willingness to engage with conservatives across the political divide, President Biden delivered a distinctly political speech that his associates believed would reassure Democrats concerned about the incumbent’s political prospects. Here are five talking points coming out of Thursday’s State of the Union.

1. Joe Biden goes after Donald Trump right off the bat

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President Joe Biden repeatedly referred to Donald Trump without ever mentioning his name, attacking the former POTUS by calling him "my predecessor" in numerous instances during his State of the Union address on Thursday. (Getty Images)

During his remarks, President Joe Biden made it a point to not mention his predecessor’s name. However, it was evident that Trump was the central subject of Thursday’s State of the Union address, making it a particularly politically charged annual speech. The speech was reflective of the extraordinary political climate that Biden currently faces, where the political norms of the past decades have been largely set aside. Biden took several swipes at Trump, referencing him as "my predecessor" at least thirteen times in his prepared remarks, effectively utilizing the bully pulpit of the White House to skewer his presumptive opponent come November 2024. In the very opening of his speech, he criticized the former president for his statement about encouraging Russia to invade NATO members who do not meet defense spending targets. Soon after, he condemned election lies following the 2020 election as the "gravest threat to democracy" since the US Civil War. Throughout his speech, Biden made clear contrasts with Trump on hot-button issues such as abortion, immigration, and taxes, to name a few. Democrats in the audience backed him up with rapturous applause. This served as a clear indication of how President Biden perceives the upcoming general election campaign as critical for the future of American democracy. In addition to highlighting his own achievements, Biden also emphasized the potential consequences of Trump's return to the White House.

2. Biden delivered an unpredictable and uninhibited State of the Union speech

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference in the State
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called out for President Joe Biden to 'say her name,' referring to murdered nursing student Laken Riley, upon which Biden held up a commemorative button and spoke on the matter during his address. (Getty Images)

The State of the Union speeches have traditionally been an occasion for the president to present the administration's policies and proposals to Congress. However, the most recent speech delivered by Biden on Thursday diverged from the norm, as he spontaneously ad-libbed lines and engaged in discussions with Republican representatives. As a result, it was the most lively State of the Union in years, with the House chamber filled with election-year fervor. Biden's impromptu exchanges with Republicans on issues such as taxes, Social Security, and immigration gave him a boost of energy, and he seamlessly incorporated these moments into his speech. In fact, he had anticipated the possibility of such exchanges after his previous year's State of the Union address, where his back-and-forth with Republicans in the audience had garnered widespread attention. By casually engaging with Republicans, Biden demonstrated his willingness to engage in dialogue and his ability to refute their arguments. These exchanges not only allowed him to showcase his openness to opposing viewpoints but also to exhibit his grasp of the issues at hand. At one point during his address, Biden was interrupted by Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, who attempted to turn the spotlight on the murder of nursing student Laken Riley by an undocumented immigrant. President Biden answered the Georgia Republican straight-up by picking up one of the pins the congresswoman had been passing out that read “Say Her Name: Laken Riley” and the term “illegal,” which isn’t entirely how Democrats designate immigrants.

3. Biden appeared assertive and vigorous despite age-related worries

Joe Biden (Getty Images)
Despite widespread concerns and even intra-party reluctance about President Joe Biden's age and fitness, the 81-year-old Commander-in-Chief addressed this issue during his speech on Thursday. (Getty Images)

The ongoing concerns regarding President Joe Biden's age and capability to govern have emerged as one of the key themes of the 2024 presidential campaign. This has led to some Democrats expressing their preference for an alternative candidate. Given this setting, it was inevitable that Biden would address this issue during his State of the Union speech, despite any reluctance from his side. Apart from the content of his address, the tone and demeanor of his delivery were crucial factors in how his message was received by the American people. The president delivered a spirited speech, which was a noticeable departure from his earlier, more subdued efforts that had been a cause of concern for his supporters. In the days leading up to the speech, the commander-in-chief had spent considerable time rehearsing and refining his delivery, both at the White House and the presidential retreat of Camp David. This preparation paid off, as he delivered a forceful and articulate speech in a loud and animated manner on Thursday night. His aides had acknowledged beforehand that this issue was on the minds of voters and that the president was ready to address it, albeit briefly. In his speech, he sought to turn the tables on his opponent by noting that Trump was almost the same age as him but had a dated, vindictive outlook. “When you get to be my age, certain things become clearer than ever,” Biden remarked to some faint chuckles from the audience. He continued, “The issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are, it’s how old our ideas are.” Biden later noted that we “can’t lead with ancient ideas”, which was an attempt to defuse the chatter regarding his advanced age and redirect the narrative in his favor.

4. Joe Biden presented a compelling argument for US leadership overseas

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - JANUARY 15:  U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during day two of laying o
President Joe Biden addressed matters of global order, including the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel's conflict with Hamas in Gaza, emphasizing the need for humanitarian aid and plans to build a temporary port in Gaza to allow more food, water, and medicine to enter the conflict-ridden region. (Getty Images)

State of Union speeches usually prioritize concerns within US borders and Congress as the intended audience. Nonetheless, President Biden is currently navigating through deep global tensions out of his control. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war puts American assistance in question, while Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has created a humanitarian crisis that has divided Biden’s political coalition. Given the current events, it is inevitable that foreign affairs occupy a larger portion of Biden’s time than in previous addresses. Even though foreign policy is not always a top concern for voters, it took up much of the early part of his speech. Prior to his entrance into the Capitol, protests along his motorcade route exposed widespread discontent over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war. During his speech, Biden stated the importance of allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza and announced that he would direct the US military to construct a temporary port in Gaza. The port will allow more food, water, and medicine to enter the embattled strip, in line with his imperative to address the crisis created by the war.

5. Biden tries to reshape and recast the 2024 narrative

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: US President Joe Biden gives remarks in Statuary Hall of the U.S Capito
President Joe Biden's State of the Union speech aimed to address discontent among American voters about the country's direction and his accomplishments, therefore he focused on raising tax rates on the rich and reducing prescription medication costs. (Getty Images)

The primary objective of President Joe Biden's speech on Thursday was to remind American voters of his accomplishments over the past three years and to address the persistent discontent that many voters still harbor towards the country's current direction. Despite the economy's resurgence from the Covid-19 years, recent polls indicate that a substantial proportion of the American electorate remains skeptical of Biden's achievements. The president acknowledged that he could do more to explain his agenda to everyday Americans and referred to "the greatest comeback story never told" in his speech, which was partially aimed at countering the negative media coverage that he has received. However, Biden's team is mindful of the need to strike a balance between conveying populist themes and addressing valid concerns surrounding the economy that many Americans hold. Accordingly, the president's speech focused heavily on raising tax rates on the wealthy and corporations, as well as reducing the cost of prescription medication, which the Democrats believe will be popular with voters. Additionally, the Democrats hope that highlighting the issue of corporate greed and price gouging will resonate with voters, particularly in light of the persistent cost of living concerns that continue to plague the country. Overall, President Biden's speech was geared towards providing reassurance to American voters that he is actively addressing their concerns and that his policies are in line with their interests. By acknowledging the need for greater communication and emphasizing his commitment to addressing populist issues, President Biden hopes to gain the confidence of the American electorate and improve his poll numbers.

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