At 9 p.m. EST on Feb. 7, President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address in the U.S. House of Representatives. During the 75-minute-long speech, Biden said that the U.S. economy had rebounded during his two years in office, demanded America’s debt ceiling to raise further, and advocated the expansion of public healthcare.
He also reached out for bipartisan support from the Republicans, pointing to the infrastructure and gun control bills passed last year with the help of votes from GOP lawmakers, saying that “if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress.”
With America already laden under $31.4 trillion in debt, raising the debt ceiling further is a must if the country is to avoid a default. Republicans want to cut government spending in exchange for allowing more debt, but Biden said he would not negotiate on that point, and would veto any opposing bill.
He stressed that the previous Trump administration had raised the debt ceiling three times, and accumulated an outsized proportion of national debt. ““Nearly 25 percent of the entire national debt that took over 200 years to accumulate was added by just one administration alone—the last one,” he said.
America’s entire GDP was about $25.46 trillion in 2022. The GOP enjoys a slight majority in the House, while Democrats and Republicans each hold 49 seats in the 100-member Senate; Biden’s vice president Kamala Harris wields the tiebreaker vote. Majorities are needed in both chambers of Congress to overturn a presidential veto.
Medicare for all
Biden also said he would expand Medicare to cover all Americans, and highlighted the capping of the cost of insulin for seniors at $35 per month — as mandated by the recent Affordable Insulin Now Act — in a move to curb the country’s notoriously marked-up drug costs.
“Let’s expand Medicare for everyone,” Biden said, adding that he would make the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as Obamacare) permanent as well.
Biden called to raise taxes on billionaires, then decried Republicans for wanting to “sunset” Medicare and Social Security, receiving boos from the GOP side of Congress. He then clarified that his accusation was not directed at the entire party.
While speaking of the need for bipartisanship, the president repeated condemnation of the Jan. 6, 2021 riots at and inside the U.S. Capitol building, calling the event the worst crisis for American democracy since the Civil War.
“Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken,” he said.
The events of Jan. 6 saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in Washington D.C. to support then-President Donald Trump in his fight against alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The demonstrations were marred by the presence of violent participants who confronted police and breached the Capitol building. Several people were killed before Trump — a Republican populist — called upon the demonstrators to stay peaceful, support law enforcement, and vacate the area.
The Civil War, which broke out in 1861 and saw multiple states secede from the Union, claimed the lives of 700,000 soldiers and civilians before coming to a close in 1865, making it the deadliest war in American history.
Biden obliquely referenced the previous week’s Chinese spy balloon incident, saying that “as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”
The Chinese high-altitude balloon, determined to be a reconnaissance vehicle, was spotted on Feb. 1 flying over a U.S. nuclear missile base in Montana. Amidst calls for the balloon to be shot down, the Biden administration waited for it to pass over the rest of the country before destroying it.
The president said he was “committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” while saying that the key point was to compete with Beijing.
Republican legislators applauded when Biden also admitted the need to clean up government wastage and illicit use of public funding, noting that around $500 billion in pandemic relief spending had been lost to misallocation, fraud, and other forms of abuse.
“As we emerge from this crisis, stronger, we’re also gotta double down on prosecuting criminals who stole relief money meant to keep workers and small businesses afloat,” Biden said, echoing Republican demands that such violations be investigated.
Biden also called to boost American manufacturing, saying he would require U.S. government construction to source their materials from inside the country.
Democrat legislators praised Biden’s speech for being positive and optimistic; Republicans noted the president’s attempts at reaching out to the opposition, but criticized Biden for papering over glaring crises facing the U.S., such as rising crime, lawlessness, and social discord, surging illegal immigration, and energy woes amid the transition away from fossil fuels.
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who once served as press secretary for Trump, slammed the State of the Union remarks.
“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire. But you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race,” Sanders said in her rebuttal.
An opinion poll by Reuters/Ipsos conducted on Feb. 5 found Biden’s approval rating among Americans at 41 percent.
But before Biden’s arrival, Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Kamala Harris smiled and chatted from the dais.
McCarthy said earlier on Feb. 7 that he would not rip up Biden’s speech, referencing the actions of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi after Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address.
“I respect the other side,” McCarthy said in a video. “I can disagree on policy. But I want to make sure this country is stronger, economically sound, energy independent, secure and accountable.” He said he urged Biden not to use the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans” in his speech, a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Reuters contributed to this report.