Biden’s fiery & forceful State of the Union speech features Israel, Trump & Laken Riley: Key takeaways

Read the key takeaways from Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech

US President Joe Biden, during a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Election-year politics will increase the focus on Biden’s remarks and lawmakers’ reactions, as he’s stumping to the nation just months before voters will decide control of the House, Senate, and White House. Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg(Bloomberg)

President Joe Biden on Thursday attacked former President Donald Trump’s vision for America, criticized Israel and was challenged on immigration in his last State of the Union speech before the two men face off in the November U.S. election.

Here are some takeaways from the State of the Union address on Thursday.

TOUGH WORDS FOR ISRAEL

Biden issued a sharp directive to Israel’s leaders, telling them not to hold up humanitarian aid to Palestinians for political purposes.

“To the leadership of Israel I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden said. “Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority. As we look to the future, the only real solution to this situation is a two-state solution.”

Biden has faced increasing pressure from fellow Democrats over his support for Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian Hamas militants.

“I’ve been working non-stop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for six weeks,” he said, reiterating U.S. policy but using the word “ceasefire” that his administration once shied away from.

LAKEN RILEY AND IMMIGRATION

Goaded by Trump-allied Republican U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Biden went off script to address the case of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student from the U.S. state of Georgia, who was allegedly murdered last month by an undocumented immigrant who had been released on parole.

Republicans, who blame Biden and his administration’s border policies for the deaths of Americans killed by illegal migrants, have seized on Riley’s death as a symbol of Democrats’ failure.

“It’s about Laken Riley,” shouted Greene during the speech, interrupting Biden as he talked about the border. “Say her name!”

Biden picked up a button Greene thrust into his hand as he walked to the podium, and repeated Riley’s name, saying she was an innocent woman killed by “an illegal.” He said thousands are killed by “legal” U.S. residents before sending his thoughts to Riley’s family.

BYE BIDENOMICS

One word missing from the speech was “Bidenomics,” the White House’s previous slogan for his economic agenda that was the centerpiece of a cross-country tour last year.

Democrats running for office in congressional races have avoided the phrase and senior Democrats have been encouraging the White House to ditch the catch-all slogan and focus instead on specific details, like price caps on prescription drugs, data on job growth and unemployment figures.

It seemed Biden took their advice.

BIDEN TEASES REPUBLICANS

Biden used levity to jab at his Republican opponents.

He greeted Greene’s donning of a Trump campaign hat on the House floor with a face of mock surprise before turning away.

Appearing to go off script, the president ribbed Republicans for enjoying, and taking credit for, Biden-backed federal investments that they voted against. “If any of you don’t want that money in your districts, just let me know,” he said to laughs from Democrats.

He also cracked a joke about Republicans being close to Russia, while talking about how expensive prescription drugs are in America compared to other countries.

“Any of you want to get in Air Force One with me and fly to Toronto, Berlin, Moscow? I mean, excuse me – and, well, even Moscow, probably.” He said drugs there would be far cheaper than in the United States.

And he hinted at a profane comment he once made on a hot mic about the 2010 healthcare reform law passed when he was vice president. “The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, is still a very big deal,” Biden said, omitting the original expletive.

MIKE JOHNSON’S ‘POKER FACE’

A visibly annoyed Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson sat behind Biden’s left shoulder throughout the one-hour, eight-minute speech. It’s the traditional seat for the speaker of the House – who is second-in-line to the presidency after the vice president – and made the Louisiana Republican’s expressions highly visible to television viewers.

“People are saying that I made funny facial expressions. I tried to keep a poker face,” Johnson told reporters. “But it was very difficult. I disagreed so vehemently with so much of what he said.”

Johnson’s reactions were more subdued than those of former Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at the end of then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 address took her copy of the text and ostentatiously ripped it in two.

VIGOROUS OR YELLING?

Through most of the speech, the 81-year-old president’s delivery was energetic and forceful enough to exceed even some Democrats’ expectations. He spoke for over an hour.

“Trump and the Republicans have spent months going after Biden’s energy and stamina and in front of the whole country, Biden giving them an absolute and well deserved scolding,” said Democratic strategist Eric Koch.

The hashtag “yelling” trended on X, the former Twitter, in postings about his speech, and his slight cough seemed to become more persistent toward the end of his delivery.

“In my career, I’ve been told I was too young,” he said, to laughter, adding “and I’ve been told I’m too old.”

Whether young or old, he has always known America’s “North Star,” he said – the American idea that “we’re all created equal.”

Some people have old ideas, he said, in an apparent nod at Trump. “Hate, anger, revenge, retribution, are the oldest of ideas,” he said.

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