Mar 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

5 takeaways from Biden's big night

President Biden makes two fists as he stands behind a podium with Vice President Harris and House Speaker Mike Johnson in the background.

President Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House chamber as Vice President Harris and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) look on. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden eased Democrats' concerns about his age with a feisty and commanding State of the Union address Thursday night.

Why it matters: With anger, humor and frequent ad-libs that baited his Republican critics, Biden, 81, tried to show voters he's capable of serving another four-year term at a time when polls show voters don't think he is.

  • "Hard for anyone at any age to give that performance," former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on CNN.
  • "Nobody is going to talk about cognitive impairment now," cameras caught Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) telling Biden after the speech.

Five takeaways from Biden's big night:

  1. He came ready to fight
  • Biden had been spoiling for the chance to punch back against Republican criticisms about his age and policies — and his speech became a raucous affair as he repeatedly looked to engage with GOP lawmakers.
  • He was ready for hecklers — and eager to defang them. He both mocked his Republican critics and offered to meet them in the middle on some issues, particularly immigration.

Without uttering his name, Biden repeatedly attacked presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on everything from Ukraine to immigration, abortion and democracy.

  • He referred to Trump only as "my predecessor" more than a dozen times, along with "former president," and "some other people."
  • Biden also drew attention to Trump's age — 77 — by saying, "Some other people my age" have a darker view of America.

2. Spreading the blame on immigration

  • Biden sought to shift some of the blame for the crisis along the southern border to the GOP.
  • After embracing restrictive immigration policies — including some he campaigned against in 2020 — in a failed bipartisan Senate deal, Biden tried to portray Republicans as responsible for the ongoing problems.
  • "We can fight about fixing the border, or we can fix it," he said.
  • One misstep: Biden infuriated some Democrats in an ad-libbed moment by using language they find degrading. He called the alleged killer of Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student, "an illegal."

3. A call for voters to back abortion rights

  • Biden cast himself as a protector of Americans' health care and drew cheers from fellow Democrats when he took aim at Trump's comments on abortion rights.
  • "Those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America. But they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and won in 2022, 2023, and they will find out again in 2024."
  • He wanted to draw a clear contrast with Republicans on an issue that Democrats see as a potent vote-getter — but he didn't utter the word "abortion," which he's said he's not "big on."

4. A gamble on the economy

  • Biden continued to argue that his economic record is better than voters give him credit for — a tactic some Democrats worry is tone-deaf, noting polls that indicate most Americans don't agree.
  • Biden went further than in the past, predicting that inflation will continue to decline without an increase in unemployment.
  • "The landing is and will be soft," he promised, a line that wasn't in his prepared remarks.
  • He also cited familiar numbers about record low unemployment, especially for Black and Hispanic Americans. And he repeated his plans to increase corporate tax rates from 21% to 28%.
  • But in his victory lap, Biden acknowledged that many Americans aren't satisfied, especially when it comes to housing. He unveiled a plan for a two-year tax credit of $400 a month, geared to first-time homebuyers, to help take the sting out of high mortgage rates.

5. Katie Britt's VP audition

  • Alabama Sen. Katie Britt delivered the GOP response — which doubled as a high-profile audition to be Trump's VP pick.
  • Britt — 42, the youngest woman in the Senate — spoke from her kitchen as she described Biden as a "dithering and diminished leader."
  • Her performance was widely mocked by Democrats as melodramatic and odd.
  • Trump appears to like Britt, however, and recently credited her for helping to persuade him to embrace IVF protections after the Alabama Supreme Court created legal murkiness over whether the practice could continue in the state.
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