•      Mon Jul 22 2024

Five key takeaways from Joe Biden’s 2024 State of the Union address

Washington, DC – US President Joe Biden has touted his administration’s economic record and sought to distinguish himself from his predecessor Donald Trump, as he delivered his third State of the Union address just months before a United States presidential election.

Addressing a joint session of Congress on Thursday evening, the Democratic president repeatedly hit out at Trump, but did not mention his Republican rival by name.

“My purpose tonight is to wake up the Congress and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment,” Biden said, warning that “freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas”.

Recent polls show Biden and Trump neck-and-neck in their push for the White House, and their looming rematch in November’s presidential election cast a large shadow over Thursday’s State of the Union.

The speech provided an important platform for Biden, who continues to face questions over whether he is fit enough to seek a second term, as well as protests over his staunch backing of Israel despite its deadly military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Here are five key takeaways from his 2024 State of the Union address.

US to build ‘temporary pier’ to boost Gaza aid

Biden, who has faced months of fierce criticism for his unwavering support for Israelamid the Gaza war, announced that his administration would build a “temporary pier” off the coast of the Palestinian territory to facilitate aid deliveries.

The pier will be able to “receive large shipments carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelter”, Biden said during his speech, without specifying how long it would take to set up.

The move comes a week after the US airdropped 36,000 meals to hundreds of thousands of starving people in northern Gaza.

But the Biden administration has ruled out conditioning aid or stopping weapon transfers to Israel to pressure it to allow more assistance into Gaza, stressing that its support for the US ally remains “ironclad”.

Critics of Biden’s stance said the Gaza pier will likely fail to alleviate a growing hunger crisis in the territory. Israel has blocked aid deliveries as it continues its military offensive.

“It seems to be just another effort to divert attention from the real issue here, which is that 700,000 people are starving from north Gaza down, and Israel is not allowing humanitarian aid needed to them,” Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti told Al Jazeera ahead of Biden’s address.

More than 100 protesters demanding a Gaza ceasefire blocked a road leading to the US Capitol ahead of the speech on Thursday night. “What do we want? Permanent ceasefire. When do we want it? Now,” they chanted.

Pledges Ukraine support, touts pro-Israel bona fides

While Biden urged Israel to allow more aid into the Gaza Strip, he stressed that he has been a “lifelong supporter” of the US ally.

“No one has a stronger requisition than I do. I challenge any of you here,” he said.

He also urged Congress to unblock aid to Ukraine to help the country fend off Russia’s invasion. A growing number of Republican legislators have raised opposition to the high price tag of continued US funding for Kyiv.

“My message to President Putin, who I’ve known for a long time, is simple: We will not walk away. We will not bow down. I will not bow down,” Biden said.

He also hit out at Trump for saying that he would tell Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to a NATO country that does not spend enough on defence. “A former president actually said that, bowing down to a Russian leader,” Biden said during his address.

“I think it’s outrageous. It’s dangerous and it’s unacceptable.”

Contrast with Republican rival Trump

Biden has long tried to present himself as a bulwark protecting American democracy against Trump and the former Republican president’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) base — and that was a major theme again on Thursday night.

A mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol in January 2021, in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory. Trump also faces two criminal cases linked to his efforts to overturn the election results.

During his State of the Union address, Biden took multiple jabs at his Republican rival.

“My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth about January 6 – I will not do that,” Biden said. “Here is the simple truth: You can’t love your country only when you win.”

Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from the US Capitol, said Biden mentioned Trump at least 10 times throughout his speech, referring to him as “my predecessor”.

“It really was more of a campaign speech than it was a State of the Union speech,” Halkett said. “It was unusual for the fact that not only did [Biden] mention him once, but he continued to mention him throughout the speech with each topic that was mentioned.”

Abortion, reproductive rights

Biden also has tried to distinguish himself and his Democratic Party from American conservatives who celebrated a 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade. That landmark ruling had enshrined the constitutional right to abortion in the US for decades.

Republican-led states passed a slew of abortion restrictions and bans after Roe was overturned, spurring outrage. The issue resonates with many Democratic voters who have continued to call for access to abortion and reproductive health care.

On Thursday night, Biden promised to defend access to abortion nationwide.

“If you, the American people, send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I will restore Roe v Wade as the law of the land again,” he said.

Citing recent election victories for Democrats since the right to abortion was revoked, the US president also said the “electoral power” of women will help his party win votes again in November.

He also blamed Trump for the fall of Roe; the Republican president appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court who helped overturn the legal precedent.

Economy, economy, economy

Much of Biden’s speech focused on domestic issues, the most important of which was his administration’s handling of the economy.

The US president said he inherited an economy “on the brink” during the COVID-19 pandemic, but his policies helped revive it. “Now our economy is literally the envy of the world – 15 million new jobs in just three years,” he said.

Biden also paid a nod to US labour unions and the American middle class, while stressing that he plans to ensure that corporations pay their fair share.

“I’m a capitalist. You want to make a million or millions of bucks? That’s great. Just pay your fair share in taxes,” he said. “A fair tax code is how we invest to make this country great.”


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