Updated Mar 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

State of the Union: Fired up Biden challenges GOP on immigration and abortion

 President Joe Biden speaks during a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 7, 2024

President Biden speaks during the State of the Union at the Capitol on March 7. Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden delivered an impassioned State of the Union address on Thursday, seeming to relish a chance to spar with Republicans and confront Americans' concerns about his age as he ramps up his re-election campaign.

Why it matters: Biden's final State of the Union before November's election offered a high-profile opportunity to highlight his accomplishments — and his capacity and energy — to a highly skeptical electorate.

Driving the news: Biden didn't take long to take aim at former President Trump, without naming him, for his comment inviting Russia to attack NATO allies who don't spend enough on defense.

  • "My predecessor, a former Republican president, tells Putin, quote, 'do whatever the hell you want.' That's a quote. A former president actually said that — bowing down to a Russian leader. I think it's outrageous, it's dangerous and it's unacceptable."
  • He also slammed Trump's record on abortion — blaming him for the "chaos" after Roe v. Wade was overturned — and guns, arguing that while Trump said people should "get over" a mass shooting, "I say, 'stop it.'"

Biden faced heckling from Republicans as he turned to immigration, challenging them over their refusal to pass an immigration reform bill that included increased border security.

  • "You're saying no. Look at the facts. I know you know how to read," Biden said.
  • Challenged by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to mention Laken Riley, who was found dead last month after jogging on the University of Georgia campus, Biden said Riley "was killed by an illegal" — a line that later drew backlash from some Democrats.
  • But Biden also criticized Trump's hard-line rhetoric and policies as he forcefully defended the bipartisan border deal. "I will not demonize immigrants saying they are poison in the blood of our country."
  • The bill failed after Trump — wary of giving Biden a "win" on the border months before the election — called on Republicans to oppose it.

Biden also spoke at length about reproductive rights, pledging to "restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again" if Democrats take Congress along with the White House.

  • Those "bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade had no clue about the power of women," Biden said, "but they found out reproductive freedom was on the ballot. We won in 2020 and 2022 and we'll win again in 2024."

Biden made a populist economic appeal, pledging that the era where "the wealthy and biggest corporations get all the breaks" is over.

  • "Do you really think the wealthy and big corporations need another $2 trillion in tax breaks?" Biden said. "I sure don't. I'm going to keep fighting like hell to make it fair!"
  • He touted his pro-union credentials, promised to bring down prescription drug prices, and dinged Republicans for voting against his infrastructure package but seeking credit for the projects it enabled.

On foreign policy, he announced that he has ordered the U.S. military to conduct an "emergency mission" to open up a maritime route to boost aid to Gaza.

Near the end, Biden jokingly addressed his age: "I've been told I'm too old."

  • Alluding to Trump, he said the real question was, "How old are our ideas?"
  • "Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas. But you can't lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back."

The other side: Alabama Sen. Katie Britt (R) delivered the GOP response to Biden's address.

  • Britt came into the spotlight recently after she criticized the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children.
  • Trump, in a prebuttal to Biden's speech, zeroed in on illegal immigration and said Biden had failed to secure the southern border.

Go deeper: "Outrageous": Biden repeatedly jabs Trump during State of the Union

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