State of the Union 2023: Biden talks up America's prospects

US democracy remains 'unbowed and unbroken', President Biden says in fiery speech

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A combative President Joe Biden sought to undermine Republican detractors and reassure America about the direction the US is headed as it tackles a bewildering array of challenges that are perceived very differently across the polarised country.

During a fiery State of the Union address late on Tuesday, Mr Biden waded deep into domestic issues and sparred with jeering Republicans who heckled him during remarks that often sounded like a campaign speech.

"The story of America is a story of progress and resilience," he said in the 80-minute speech, telling the nation that America has recovered quickly from the Covid-19 pandemic and emerged more robust than before.

"We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we entered it. That is what we are doing again."

The Democratic president took repeated swipes at Republicans, pointing to the January 6, 2021 mob attack by supporters of Donald Trump as posing an existential threat to America.

"Two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken," Mr Biden said.

Although he has yet to officially announce a re-election bid, Mr Biden has hinted that he intends to do so and has started the year with a sharper tone against Republicans at campaign-style events.

Washington pundits said the speech served as a preview of sorts for Mr Biden's expected run, even though most Democrats do not want him to, according to recent polls.

He appeared to relish moments of drama with Republican detractors, some of whom could be heard shouting"liar" as he attacked the conservative party on key issues including health care and pension entitlements.

His address to Congress, a Constitutionally mandated update to legislators, comes at an odd time in the American political landscape.

Fear of a recession abounds but job openings are at historic highs. Inflation is still a worry, but price increases have started to cool down. Global challenges including the war in Ukraine are many, while America remains prosperous yet heavily indebted.

Outlining a "blue collar blueprint to rebuild America", Mr Biden said workers should be given greater opportunities to unionise and said Congress should pass a minimum tax on billionaires.

"Reward work, not just wealth," Mr Biden said. "No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter."

The speech focused on domestic issues, including calling for police reform and a ban on assault weapons, but he mentioned China as a primary competitor and warned Beijing following the shoot down of a suspected spy balloon.

"Make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did," he said.

He also attacked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his "brutal war" against Ukraine.

"A murderous assault, evoking images of the death and destruction Europe suffered in World War II," he said.

"Putin’s invasion has been a test for the ages. A test for America. .... We united Nato and built a global coalition. We stood against Putin’s aggression."

Joe Biden takes aim at Russia and China in State of the Union speech

Joe Biden takes aim at Russia and China in State of the Union speech

The Republicans, whose rebuttal was delivered by Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, sought to paint an unabashedly grim picture of the US, attacking Mr Biden for his age and on several issues including immigration.

“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country,” said a downbeat-sounding Ms Sanders, 40.

She also condemned the Democrats for being "woke" and fuelling America's culture wars that have pitted people against one another on a range of issues including whether the country's racist past should be taught in schools and whether women should have access to abortion.

"The Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day," Ms Sanders said.

Oil and gas

Mr Biden drew scornful laughter from Republicans when he told Congress the US would need oil “for at least another decade.″

The comment came as he promoted a landmark law to slow climate change that authorises hundreds of billions of dollars to boost renewable energy such as wind and solar power and help consumers buy electric vehicles and energy-efficient appliances.

He criticised US hydrocarbon producers for making $200 billion in profits during the global energy crisis.

"It’s outrageous. They invested too little of that profit to increase domestic production and keep gas prices down," Mr Biden said as he called for corporations to "do the right thing".

Joe Biden admits US will 'still need oil' despite climate change fight

Joe Biden admits US will 'still need oil' despite climate change fight

The Republicans now control the US House of Representatives, though their drumbeat of pessimism about America seems to be failing to resonate beyond members of their own party.

Mr Biden's Democratic Party retained control of the Senate after last November's midterm elections and the better than anticipated results have invigorated the 80-year-old president, who appears set to declare that he will run again in 2024.

He appealed to Republicans to work with him to pass bipartisan legislation, a feat achieved several times in the last session of Congress with the passage of infrastructure spending, gun reform, and other bills.

"To my Republican friends, if we could work together last Congress there's no reason we can't work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress," Mr Biden said.

Updated: February 08, 2023, 4:30 AM