President Joe Biden focused primarily on economic matters in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, dealing with job creation, boosting U.S. manufacturing, infrastructure, taxes, and similar matters.
But he did get in mentions of the Equality Act, marriage equality, abortion rights, gun control, police reform, and other issues in a speech that was energetic, optimistic, and assertive, challenging Republicans who sought to shout him down.
“We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we entered it,” Biden said early in the speech. “That is what we are doing again.”
“As I stand here tonight, we have created a record 12 million new jobs, more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years,” he said. “Two years ago, COVID had shut down our businesses, closed our schools, and robbed us of so much. Today, COVID no longer controls our lives. And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken.”
He noted legislation passed on a bipartisan basis over the past two years. “Yes, we disagreed plenty,” he said. “And yes, there were times when Democrats had to go it alone. But time and again, Democrats and Republicans came together. … In fact, I signed over 300 bipartisan laws since becoming president. From reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act to the Electoral Count Reform Act to the Respect for Marriage Act that protects the right to marry the person you love.”
He touted low unemployment and the Inflation Reduction Act, which some Republicans are threatening to repeal. He proposed higher taxes on corporate stock buybacks. He noted his administration has reduced the federal deficit by $1.7 trillion in the past two years, while under the previous administration, America’s deficit went up four years in a row. Because of those record deficits, no president added more to the national debt in any four years than my predecessor.” When there was a bit of booing, he said, “Check it out.”
Biden pressed on raising the debt ceiling, which some Republicans in Congress are resisting. “Let us commit here tonight that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will never, ever be questioned,” he said. “Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what their plans are.”
“Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” he said. “That means if Congress doesn't vote to keep them, those programs will go away. Other Republicans say if we don't cut Social Security and Medicare, they'll let America default on its debt for the first time in our history. I won't let that happen.”
When some in the audience protested, apparently saying Republicans won’t do that, he said, “Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?”
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy had met with Republican members earlier in the day to advise them not to act up during the speech, but some did just the same, chiefly far-right, combative members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
He spent substantial time on police reform, with the parents of Tyre Nichols, beaten to death by Memphis, Tenn., police, in the audience.
“I've never had to have the talk with my children — Beau, Hunter, and Ashley — that so many Black and brown families have had with their children,” he said. “‘If a police officer pulls you over, turn on your interior lights. Don't reach for your license. Keep your hands on the steering wheel.’ Imagine having to worry like that every day in America.”
“Here's what Tyre's mom shared with me when I asked her how she finds the courage to carry on and speak out,” he continued. “With faith in God, she said her son ‘was a beautiful soul and something good will come from this.’ Imagine how much courage and character that takes.”
“We know police officers put their lives on the line every day, and we ask them to do too much,” Biden said. “To be counselors, social workers, psychologists; responding to drug overdoses, mental health crises, and more. We ask too much of them. I know most cops are good. decent people. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield. But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better. … When police officers or departments violate the public's trust, we must hold them accountable.”
Other guests at the speech included Brandon Tsay, who helped disarm the gunman at the mass shooting in Monterey Park, Calif.; Paul Pelosi, husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the survivor of a violent assault; and a couple whose daughter has recently recovered from cancer.
Biden pushed for better gun control and reinstating the assault weapons ban; passing immigration reform and creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers (undocumented immigrants brought here as children); and “pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border.”
Someone yelled out that it was Biden’s fault that the addictive drug fentanyl is coming across the border from Mexico, but he pointed out that law enforcement had arrested “8,000 human smugglers and [seized] over 23,000 pounds of fentanyl in just the last several months.”
Raising wages, lowering drug prices, and waging war on cancer got shout-outs as well.
Toward the end of his speech, Biden said, Congress must restore the right the Supreme Court took away last year and codify Roe v. Wade to protect every woman's constitutional right to choose. The vice president and I are doing everything we can to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient privacy. But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans. Make no mistake; if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it. Let's also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.”
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s Republican response to the address was heavy on the code word “woke,” which the right has co-opted to attack pro-LGBTQ+ and anti-racist efforts. “He’s the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” she said after noting she’s the first woman governor of Arkansas. She also contrasted her age, 40, with his, 80.
“We are under attack in a left-wing culture war” in which everyone is forced to “salute their flags and worship their false idols,” she said. She further claimed that children are being taught to hate each other because of their race.
LGBTQ+ advocates praised Biden’s address.
“President Biden included LGBTQ people in his vision for a more equal, more free and more compassionate country," said a statement from GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. "In re-upping his call for Congress to pass the Equality Act and protect transgender youth, the President is leading by example to expand freedom so no one is left behind. The call is urgent. LGBTQ Americans’ safety and dignity are under attack in state legislatures across the country, and our protections are at risk from the hostile majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Every lawmaker and every voter must speak up for LGBTQ people, and secure protections against discrimination so we all have a greater chance to belong, be safe and to succeed.”
“Tonight, in front of Congress and the nation, President Biden called attention to the campaign of hatred that is driving discriminatory legislation that targets transgender kids in statehouses around the country,” said a statement from Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson, who was in attendance. “Extremist lawmakers are banning best-practice, doctor approved care, kicking kids off sports teams, censoring curriculum and more. None of this is news to the LGBTQ+ community, but too many others don’t seem to be getting the message that this is an emergency — families are being driven from their homes, people are being forced back into the closet, because decades-old homophobia, transphobia and discrimination are being resurrected in the form of anti-trans hatred. When marriage equality was under threat from the extreme rhetoric of a Supreme Court justice, Congress and the president took quick action to pass into law the Respect for Marriage Act. Now, as he calls for passage of the Equality Act, we appreciate that President Biden is making a point to focus national attention on this urgent topic and stand up for transgender kids, because we need our nation’s leaders to show up and prove that collectively, we are greater than hate.”
Robinson also released a statement noting that Sanders's response was an attack on LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people. “Tonight, Sarah Huckabee Sanders picked up right where she left off as Donald Trump’s press secretary," Robinson said. "Just as she’s been doing in her brief tenure as Governor of Arkansas, she used her moment in the spotlight to spread dangerous misinformation, lie to the American people, and remind all of us what will happen if Republicans take back the White House next year. It’s just plain despicable that she used her platform tonight to sow division by demonizing the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender and nonbinary people.
“Transgender kids just want to grow up feeling loved, respected, and valued for who they are. But politicians like Gov. Huckabee Sanders are making that nearly impossible with their neverending attacks on these kids. The American people deserve better than the dangerous vision the Governor outlined tonight. We have real needs, like passing national LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections in the Equality Act, protecting voting rights, taking on police brutality, and bringing back abortion access nationwide. We are going to continue doing everything we can to fight politicians like Gov. Huckabee Sanders and the destructive policies they want to impose on the rest of us.”
Find a transcript of Biden's speech here.