State of the Union: Takeaways from President Biden's address to the nation

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Friday, March 8, 2024
Biden uses feisty State of the Union to contrast with Trump, sell voters on a second term
President Joe Biden delivered a defiant argument for a second term in his State of the Union speech Thursday night, lacing into GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON -- The State of the Union address is one of the durable set pieces of the presidency, a forum that almost always favors the speaker in a one-way conversation with millions of Americans.

Most of the speeches are instantly dissected, and almost as quickly forgotten. But this is a most unusual year, with President Joe Biden needing to make the case not simply that his policies warrant a a second term, but that he has the personal capacity at age 81 to do the job.


He laid out the clear contours of the campaign ahead, criticizing former President Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection and going after the Supreme Court, with justices present, over its ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Also, the shrinking size of a Snickers bar.

Here are some key takeaways from the speech.


Biden opened the speech with fiery denunciations of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, then singled out Republicans in the chamber and GOP foe Trump. But he refused to utter Trump's name, saying that "my predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth about Jan. 6."

He wrapped that into a larger theme that democracy is threatened like no time since the Civil War, signaling a clear line of attack he will use against the man he would not name.

He also criticized "my predecessor" for Trump's assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin can "do whatever the hell he wants" with respect to NATO allies, and he implored Congress to pass additional aid for Ukraine.

Speaking with a vigor that his supporters have said has been lacking, he set up a contrast between his internationalist view of the world and the more isolationist leaning of his "predecessor."

President Joe Biden arrives for the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., watch.
President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill, March 7, 2024, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., watch.
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Biden used almost the entirety of the speech to find ways to try to persuade Americans of the contrast.


When asked about his age and how it affects is ability to be president, Biden's stock answer is: Watch me.

On Thursday night, he delivered what a lot of his own supporters had found wanting. It was a high energy, forceful speech, and at times he taunted Republicans with ad-libs. When they heckled his support for bipartisan border security legislation, Biden said, "Look at the facts, I know you know how to read."

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2024.
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2024.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Biden stumbled over a few words, but it was a more vigorous performance than other speeches where his remarks can be meandering or hard to hear. It was also a rejoinder to criticisms that Biden is too old to keep serving as president. He would be 86 at the end of a second term, and Republicans - though Trump is only four years younger - have relished slicing and dicing videos of the president to make him look as feeble as possible on social media.

Biden leaned into his age, mentioning he was born during World War II, but defended his vision for the country as fresh. "You can't lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back."


The president said efforts to restrict abortion were an "assault on freedom," and he derided the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, with three members of the Supreme Court who were in the majority in that decision, seated just feet away.

He also welcomed Kate Cox, a Dallas mother whose fetus had a fatal condition that put her own health at risk. She had to leave the state in order to get an abortion. "My God," Biden said, "what freedoms will you take away next?"

Through much of his career, Biden has not emphasized abortion rights. In his speech, he showed how much he believes that issue could be a key to a second term.


Back to "my predecessor." Biden playfully said that the Obama-era health care law is still a "big deal," paying homage to the moment as vice president he used more colorful language to describe the landmark policy win for President Barack Obama. And he vowed to work to make a tax credit tied to the law permanent.

"Over 100 million of you can no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition," Biden said. "Well, my predecessor, many in this chamber, want to take the prescription drug benefit away by repealing the Affordable Care Act. I'm not going let that happen."

Biden appeared to slip in a riff about pharmaceutical companies selling their drugs at a cheaper prices around the globe, telling the audience that he'd like to take them on Air Force One to several major global cities including Moscow to see how much they would save on the same drugs.

Biden quickly caught himself, saying it was "probably" the case even in Russia, and pressed ahead. "Bring your prescription with you. And I promise you I'll get it for you for 40%. The cost you pay now."


The bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas was an unavoidable backdrop to Biden's speech. His motorcade took a different route to the U.S. Capitol after protesters blocked part of Pennsylvania Avenue. Inside the House chamber, some lawmakers wore keffiyehs, the black and white checkered scarves that have symbolized solidarity with Palestinians.

Biden announced plans for the U.S. military to help establish a temporary pier on the coast of Gaza, an effort that the administration says should significantly boost the flow of aid into the besieged territory.

The unveiling of the plan was perhaps the most substantive element of his address that touched on the war. It allowed Biden to demonstrate that he's taking action in the face of anger and defiance from some Democrats over his strong support for Israel even as the Palestinian death toll mounts. It also comes after Biden last week approved the U.S. military airdropping aid into Gaza.

The temporary pier, Biden said," will enable a massive increase in humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza."

But at the same time he called on the Israelis to do more to alleviate the suffering even as they try to eliminate Hamas. "To Israel, I say this humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip," Biden said.


Biden outlined an economic vision that went big and small. He touted a post-pandemic economic recovery that didn't sacrifice job creation in order to tame inflation. With housing prices still high, he proposed a tax credit that would reduce mortgage costs.

He also hammered Republicans for tax policies that favor the wealthy. "Check the numbers. Folks at home, does anybody really think the tax code is fair?"

Biden said there should be a minimum tax rate of 25% on billionaires, saying "no billionaire should pay a lower federal tax rate than a teacher, a sanitation worker or a nurse."

The president talked about cracking down on junk fees that can chip away at Americans' budgets and he criticized snack companies for "shrinkflation," which means getting less product for the same price.

"You get charged the same amount and you got about 10% fewer Snickers in it."

President Biden visits Belvidere near plant Stellantis will reopen

President Joe Biden visited Belvidere Thursday to meet with the UAW after Stellantis agreed to reopen auto plant, then attended a Chicago fundraiser,


The State of the Union is a chance for presidents to lay out their goals and rally Americans to support their plans.

The president showcased his accomplishments on infrastructure and manufacturing, and pushed Congress to approve more aid to Ukraine, tougher migration rules and lower drug prices. He also sought to remind voters of the situation he inherited when he entered office in 2021 amid a raging pandemic and a contracting economy.

Taking a victory lap in selling his legislative accomplishments, such as one that bolsters manufacturing of computer chips nationwide, Biden veered from his prepared script to take a dig at Republicans who voted against such policies but are eager to take credit for them back home.

President Biden visits Belvidere near plant Stellantis will reopen

President Joe Biden visited Belvidere Thursday to meet with the UAW after Stellantis agreed to reopen auto plant, then attended a Chicago fundraiser,

"If any of you don't want that money in your districts," Biden said, "just let me know."

Biden also called for tax reform, reiterating a longtime push to boost taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

"I propose a minimum tax for billionaires of 25%, just 25%. You know what that would raise? That would raise $500 billion over the next 10 years. Imagine what that could do for America," he said, noting the additional funds could fund things like expanded child care.


Biden urged Congress to send him a bill that would combine foreign military aid to Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine with stricter border reforms than Democrats have historically supported.

The bill initially had buy-in from top Republicans but was killed in the Senate after former President Donald Trump came out against it. The chamber later passed a bill that included the foreign aid but not the border component, though that bill too is languishing in the House of Representatives.

"Look folks, we have a simple choice. We can fight about fixing the border, or we can fix it. I'm ready to fix it. Send me the border bill now," he said.

Biden departed from his prepared remarks while discussing his border policy after the name Laken Riley was called out.

The 22-year-old Georgia nursing student was allegedly murdered by a Venezuelan migrant who officials say was illegally in the U.S.

President Joe Biden holds up a Laken Riley button as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Thursday March 7, 2024, in Washington.
President Joe Biden holds up a Laken Riley button as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, March 7, 2024, in Washington.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

"Laken Riley! An innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal," Biden said.

Addressing her parents, he said. "My heart goes out to you having lost children myself."

He said Republicans owe it to Americans to "get this bill done."


The opposing party traditionally stages its own response to the speech. This year, Republicans chose Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama. At 42 years old, she's the youngest female senator and some party leaders hope she could be a rising star.

But whatever she says, many will be waiting to see Trump's own response. In a post on his Truth Social account, Trump promised to provide "LIVE, Play by Play" commentary on Biden's speech. As Trump cruises toward the Republican presidential nomination, his remarks will help frame the stakes of the election.

Who is Sen. Katie Britt, the Alabama Republican giving the SOTU response?

In her response to Biden's State of the Union address, Senator Katie Britt called out the President for the strife of families across the Nation.



When Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972, the State of the Union address was appointment television for tens of millions of Americans who watched on three major networks.

Now it is so much more than a television event. The traditional ways of measuring viewers has shown a steady decline. Biden's address last year drew the second smallest audience for the annual event in at least 30 years, according to the Nielsen company.

WATCH | Expelled GOP Rep. George Santos reappears on House floor before State of the Union

Disgraced former Republican Rep. George Santos arrived in the House chamber on Thursday night about an hour before President Joe andBiden's speech was to begin about three months after he became the first House member to be expelled in more than 20 years.

The audience is so fragmented that Biden's campaign was prepared with targeted segments to pump out to specific audiences on social media. Guests whose stories were highlighted in the speech will make the rounds on local television markets to talk about the real-life impact of Biden's policies. And look for Biden and his surrogates to find creative ways to get bits of his message to Americans that didn't tune in on Thursday evening.

Hours before delivering the address, Biden posted on his X account a video of him getting advice on delivering the big speech from actors, including Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Geena Davis, who have played president in the movies and TV.

ABC News contributed to this report.