For the last year, President Joe Biden has felt your pain – your pain at the pump, your pain at the grocery store. On Tuesday night, he had a different message: Things have gotten better because of me.
“Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back, because of the choices we made in the last two years,” Biden said.
Biden isn’t officially running for a second term, but his speech hinted at the pitch he’d make if he decides to do it.
He pushed an economic message early, pointing to employment numbers, returning to the theme with his bipartisan package that will invest in new infrastructure and technology to fight climate change. He threw some red meat to the Democratic base, calling Congress to pass tax hikes on the wealthy, enact an assault weapons ban and protect the right to abortion, all policies with no real chance of passing a Republican-controlled House.
The address was also an opportunity for Biden to show his party and the public that he’s got the energy for the job. While he emphasized bipartisanship, a signature of his political career, he also confronted Republican hecklers in the crowd, seeming to revel in the confrontation.
Here are a few of our top takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union:
Biden makes a call to tax the rich
When it came to wealth during his 2020 presidential run, Biden said there was no need to “demonize” the rich and pledged not to raise taxes on households making more than $400,000.
On Tuesday, the president was far more critical of wealthy individuals and corporations. He blasted corporations and billionaires, oil executives, big tech and pharmaceutical companies, slamming corporate greed and asking for tax hikes on the wealthy, including quadrupling the tax on stock buybacks.
“Reward work, not just wealth,” Biden said.
Polling has found it’s a popular issue: 57 percent of Americans believe billionaires are taxed too little in the U.S., one poll found last year. In another poll, more than half of Americans said they support redistributing wealth “by heavy taxes on the rich.”
Biden doesn’t yet know who his opponent in 2024 will be, but Donald Trump, who has already announced, has a record of cutting taxes for the wealthy. Biden clearly sees an opening.
Biden is on your side
Biden has had it with “junk” fees. (Who hasn’t?) He said he wants to end overdraft and late fees on credit cards, ban “resort fees” at hotels, cap service fees on concert tickets and even prohibit airlines from charging families to sit together on flights.
The president seemed to make several policy promises with an eye toward helping voters with the nuts and bolts of everyday life: The new infrastructure law will help restore American manufacturing, get rid of lead pipes and expand high-speed internet access, he said.
The strategy combats one of Biden’s major weaknesses as he heads into reelection: That many people don’t seem to be experiencing the Biden administration’s policy wins — at least not yet. Americans have repeatedly said in polls that they aren’t aware of major legislation, like the 2021 infrastructure law, that’s been passed during the Biden administration or aren’t feeling the impact of his policies.
Biden wants moderate Republicans
Raising the debt ceiling is one of the most daunting tasks ahead this year for Biden and congressional leaders. But during Biden’s speech, he seemed to inch forward in gathering support from at least some of the GOP conference.
After saying that “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” Biden was met with audible boos and a disappointing headshake from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was seated behind him. After a back-and-forth with the audience, Biden encouraged them to “contact my office,” insisting that it is being proposed by individuals who he “politely not naming.”
Those unnamed members are members of the House Freedom Caucus, whose interests often part ways with those of mainstream Republicans like McCarthy. Following additional shouting from the crowd, Biden eventually went on to say: “So folks, as we apparently all agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now.
Biden’s comments about protecting entitlement spending were met with standing ovations not only from Democrats, but many Republicans and McCarthy, too. Even Biden looked surprised.
“If anyone tries to cut Social Security, I will stop them. And if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I will stop them. I will not allow them to be taken away,” Biden said.
Then he added: “Apparently, it’s not going to be a problem."
Politics Reporter Sophie Tatum contributed to this piece.