Ns News Online Desk: WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden exhorted Congress Tuesday night to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he delivered a State of the Union address aimed at reassuring a country beset by pessimism and fraught political divisions.
In his 73-minute speech, Biden sought to portray a nation dramatically improved from the one he took charge of two years ago: from a reeling economy to one prosperous with new jobs; from a crippled, pandemic-weary nation to one that has now reopened, and a democracy that has survived its biggest test since the Civil War.
“Folks, the story of America is a story of progress and resilience. Of always moving forward. Of never, ever, giving up,” Biden said. “It’s a story unique among all nations. We’re the only country that has emerged from every crisis we’ve ever entered stronger than when we got into it.”
“We’re not finished yet by any stretch of the imagination,” he declared.
The backdrop for the annual address was markedly different from the previous two years, with a Republican speaker now sitting expressionless behind Biden and newly empowered GOP lawmakers in the chamber sometimes shouting criticism of him and his administration.
As Biden, 80, prepares for a likely reelection bid, he sought to prove to a skeptical nation that his stewardship has delivered results both at home and abroad. He highlighted record job creation during his tenure as the country has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, and pointed to areas of bipartisan progress in his first two years in office, including on states’ vital infrastructure projects and high-tech manufacturing. And he said, “There is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important thing in this Congress as well.”
“The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere,” Biden said. “That’s always been my vision for the country: to restore the soul of the nation, to rebuild the backbone of America — the middle class — and unite the country.”
“We’ve been sent here to finish the job!”
But the challenges for Biden are many: economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China and more. Signs of past trauma at the Capitol, most notably the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, were unavoidable: A large fence encircled the complex, and lawmakers and those in attendance faced tighter-than-usual security.
From the start, the heightened partisan divisions were clear. Democrats — including Vice President Kamala Harris — jumped to applause as Biden began his speech. New Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, though he had greeted the president warmly when he entered the chamber, stayed in his seat.
The speech came as Biden has shifted his sights after spending his first two years pushing through major bills such as the bipartisan infrastructure package, legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate measures. With Republicans now in control of the House, and even meeting the government’s fiscal obligations far from certain, Biden is turning his focus to implementing those massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements.
Instead of flashy proposals, the president offered an encouraging assessment of the nation’s condition, declaring that two years after the Capitol attack, America’s democracy was “unbowed and unbroken.”
The president took to the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of U.S. adults say things are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats don’t want Biden to seek another term.
He sought to confront those sentiments head-on.
“You wonder whether the path even exists anymore for your children to get ahead without having to move away,” Biden said. “I get that. That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last several years.”
Biden on Wednesday was to travel to Wisconsin, as he and members of his Cabinet embark on a two-day, 20-state blitz to highlight economic progress in his first two years in office.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained a national profile as former President Donald Trump’s press secretary, delivered the Republican response to Biden’s speech.
She focused much of her remarks on social issues, including race in business and education and alleged big-tech censorship of conservatives.
“While you reap the consequences of their failures, the Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day,” she said. “Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”
“The choice is between normal and crazy,” she added.
With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the White House and legislators from both parties invited guests designed to drive home political messages with their presence in the House chamber. The mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, who was severely beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, were among those seated with first lady Jill Biden. Other Biden guests included the rock star/humanitarian Bono and 26-year-old Brandon Tsay, who disarmed a gunman in last month’s Monterey Park, California, shooting.
“There’s no words to describe the heartache and grief of losing a child,” Biden said after introducing RowVaughn and Rodney Wells to a standing ovation. He called on Congress to “rise to this moment” to make meaningful change in policing.