Washington: US President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night, seeking to overcome pessimism in the country and concerns about his own leadership.
His speech before a politically divided Congress came at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research.
The setting for Biden's speech looked markedly different from a year ago, when it was Democratic stalwart Nancy Pelosi seated behind him as House speaker. She's been replaced by Republican Kevin McCarthy, as Biden's party lost control of the House of Representatives.
Biden calls on Republicans to work together
With Republicans now in control of the House, Biden pointed to areas of bipartisan progress in his first two years in office, including on states' vital infrastructure and high tech manufacturing.
"There is no reason we can't work together in this new Congress," the president said.
Biden called on Republicans to work with him to "finish the job'' of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation. The president uttered the phrase "finish the job" 13 times during his address. It sounded like a slogan he might employ for a reelection campaign.
"The story of America is a story of progress and resilience," the president declared.
He highlighted record job creation under his tenure as the country has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden also said that two years after the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the country's democracy is "bruised," but "unbowed and unbroken."
Restoring blue-collar pride
As Biden announced near record low unemployment and creation of 800,000 manufacturing jobs, he told Americans his economic plan aims to rebuild the country's manufacturing base despite pressure from the Ukraine war and pandemic-related disruptions.
"We're better positioned than any country on Earth right now," he said. For decades, "manufacturing jobs moved overseas, factories closed down," Biden said.
"Jobs are coming back. Pride is coming back," he said. "This is my view of a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America."
Biden attacks oil companies amid energy criss
In his speech, Biden accused big oil companies of profiteering during the recent energy crisis, and urged a huge tax hike on corporate stock buybacks to steer them to invest more in production.
"Last year, they made $200 billion (€186 billion) in the midst of a global energy crisis. I think it's outrageous," Biden said.
Biden also blasted big pharmaceutical companies for "unfairly" charging high prices, saying Americans "pay more for prescription drugs than any major nation on Earth."
The president called for extending the new $35 per month price cap on insulin for people on Medicare to everyone in the country.
Police reform and new taxes
Reforms in policing loomed large in Biden's speech after the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man fatally beaten by officers in Memphis, Tennessee last month.
The president called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill named for a Black man killed under the knee of a white police officer in 2020.
He also insisted that Congress vote to require background checks for all gun sales, require safe storage of firearms and ban assault weapons.
In addition, he pushed for Congress to pass the "billionaire minimum tax" and to quadruple the 1% tax on corporate share buybacks that was enacted in Democrats' climate and health care bill passed last year, known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
Support for Ukraine
Last year's address occurred just days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and as many in the West doubted Kyiv's ability to withstand the assault. Over the past year, the US and other allies have sent tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to bolster Ukraine's defenses.
In his address, Biden promised that the United States will support Ukraine for as long as it takes to fight off the Russian invasion.
"Ambassador, America is united in our support for your country. We will stand with you as long as it takes," Biden said, addressing Ukraine's ambassador to Washington, Oksana Markarova.
He also mentioned the tensions between the United States and China, spotlighted by a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by the US military this week.
"Make no mistake about it: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did," Biden told Congress.
Republicans boo Biden
Biden got into a spirited exchange with congressional Republicans, drawing boos by asserting that some hardline conservatives want to end Social Security and Medicare in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
In response, Republicans in the House chamber hollered, booed and shouted "liar!" Some Republicans even jumped to their feet to object. The proposal comes from one of the senators, but it hasn't been endorsed by the majority of the Republican Party.
In response, Biden told his audience, "So we all agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the table. Right?'' That drew a standing ovation from members of both parties.
Meanwhile, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who once served as 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.
"In the radical left's America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire," 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.''
Former US President Donald Trump also gave a response to the address, blaming Biden for inflation and migration at the US-Mexico border. Trump is the only Republican so far to announce a run for the White House.
It was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the Capitol had been fully reopened for the event. The parents of Tyre Nichols were among those seated with First Lady Jill Biden.
Other Biden guests included not only Ukraine's Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova but also former Afghan Ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani, the rock star/humanitarian Bono and the 26-year-old who disarmed a gunman in last month's Monterey Park, California, shooting.