State of the Union 2024: Biden gives fiery address and tries to tackle Trump

US President says military will build temporary port on Gaza's coast to allow more aid to enter enclave

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US President Joe Biden gave a high-stakes, fiery address to Congress late on Thursday in which he sought to challenge perceptions that he is too old for the job and convince Americans he deserves a second term in the White House.

Mr Biden, 81, also urged Americans to reject the “resentment, revenge and retribution” of his Republican challenger Donald Trump and tackled head-on many of the issues that have seen his approval ratings plummet, including the situation in Gaza and the Middle East, the economy and immigration.

Delivering the State of the Union, the annual speech for US presidents, Mr Biden appeared keen to project energy and alacrity. He joked about his age and often spoke in a thunderous voice while goading Republican hecklers.

Though the speech largely focused on domestic issues, Mr Biden addressed global crises including the Israel-Gaza war. He started his speech by highlighting the Republican-controlled House of Representatives' failure to fund Ukraine's military.

He said the US military would conduct an emergency mission to construct a temporary pier off the Gaza Strip to increase aid flows into the war-ravaged enclave, where more than two million people face starvation.

Mr Biden repeated his support for Israel, but said it needed to do more to get aid into Gaza.

“Israel must also do its part, Israel must allow more aid into Gaza and ensure that humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the crossfire,” he said.

Mr Biden said more than 30,000 Palestinians had been killed since October 7, most of whom were not members of Hamas, seemingly confirming the Gaza health authority's tally that Israel has frequently played down.

“Thousands and thousands are innocent women and children. Girls and boys also orphaned, homes destroyed, neighbourhoods in rubble, cities in ruin. It’s heartbreaking," he said.

Joe Biden announces plan for aid pier in Gaza

Joe Biden announces plan for aid pier in Gaza

The announcement of the pier emphasised the intense political pressure Mr Biden is under for his steadfast support for Israel and highlighted how such backing could become a political liability in an election year.

Mr Biden bypassed Congress twice to expedite weapons sales to Israel and continues to reject demands – even from his own Democratic Party – to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

But his administration has grown increasingly frustrated with Israel as the humanitarian crisis worsens in the enclave.

“To the leadership of Israel I say this: humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” he said. “Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.”

His stance on Gaza has drawn extreme anger from Arab and Muslim communities across the US, as well as from progressive Democrats and younger voters – key voting blocs in his coalition that helped put him in office in the 2020 election.

Outside the US Capitol on Thursday evening, dozens of protesters who called themselves the "People’s State of The Union" gathered and laid out a large Palestinian flag and a banner that read: “Biden’s legacy is genocide."

A recent poll by Data for Progress found that 67 per cent of Americans support a ceasefire in Gaza, and that voters broadly support conditioning aid to Israel.

Several of the domestic issues Mr Biden tackled appeared to be pitched towards younger voters, including scrapping “junk fees”, addressing climate change and hiking taxes on the super rich and corporations.

Immigration and the economy

During the more than hour-long address, Republicans interrupted Mr Biden several times and he pushed back quickly, seeming to relish the combative exchanges, particularly around the issue of immigration.

“I will not demonise immigrants saying they 'poison the blood of our country' as [Mr Trump] said in his own words,” he said.

“I will not separate families, I will not ban people from America because of their faith,” he added in an apparent reference to Mr Trump's ban on people from Muslim-majority countries that the former president has said he would reinstate if he wins in November.

With Vice President Kamala Harris and Mike Johnson, Speaker of the House, behind him, Mr Biden did not name Mr Trump, instead referring to him several times as his "predecessor".

Mr Biden, already the oldest president in American history, is campaigning for a second four-year term in the November 5 election. But he has been facing low approval ratings, and questions about his age and mental acuity.

Opinion polls show American voters are not excited about the probable Biden-Trump 2024 rematch, with Mr Biden trailing Mr Trump in polls.

Mr Biden touted the achievements of his administration over the past three years, which have included lowering inflation, creating more jobs and passing the infrastructure bill, a landmark bipartisan domestic spending agenda.

He also blamed Republicans for rejecting a bipartisan bill that would have strengthened rules along the US-Mexico border.

The bill also included $60 billion in funding for Ukraine, which Mr Biden says is critical for Kyiv to defend itself against Russia.

“Ukraine can stop [Russian President Vladimir] Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself,” Mr Biden said. “That is all Ukraine is asking, they are not asking for American soldiers.

“But now assistance for Ukraine is being blocked by those who want us to walk away from our leadership in the world."

He criticised Mr Trump for suggesting the US might not protect Nato allies who are not spending enough on defence from any Russian invasion.

“A former American President actually said that, bowing down to a Russian leader,” Mr Biden said. “It’s outrageous. It’s dangerous. It’s unacceptable.”

The Republican-controlled House has refused to pass the legislation which already passed in the Senate, after Mr Trump pressured Republicans not to bring it to a vote and potentially hand Mr Biden an election-year win.

Updated: March 14, 2024, 3:28 AM