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State of the Union highlights and key moments from Biden’s 2024 address

Washington — President Biden delivered his third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday, issuing a full-throated defense of his record in one of his most energetic and assertive speeches of his presidency.

He used the address to contrast his vision for the country with that of “my predecessor,” a reference to former President Donald Trump, who has all but wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination. Without naming him, Mr. Biden criticized Trump for the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, his economic record and his opposition to a bipartisan border security bill that stalled in Congress earlier this year.

The defiant speech came at a crucial time, when many voters are expressing doubts about Mr. Biden’s age and his ability to do the job. He spoke for more than an hour, and took several interruptions in stride, responding to heckling lawmakers at some points. He lingered in the well of the House chamber long after the end of the speech, glad-handing and posing for photos with Democratic members.

Here are the highlights and key moments from Mr. Biden’s 2024 State of the Union address:

“Freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas”


Biden opens State of the Union address with focus on democracy

07:26

Mr. Biden began his speech with a quip: “If I were smart, I’d go home.”

He then turned serious and immediately raised the stakes of the election, telling those assembled in the House chamber that Americans “face an unprecedented moment in the history of the union.”

Mr. Biden said he came to the House chamber to “wake up this Congress and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment.”

The president warned that not since President Abraham Lincoln have freedom and democracy been under threat in the U.S. But, Mr. Biden continued, “what makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas at the very same time.”

He turned to foreign policy and urged lawmakers to pass assistance for Ukraine to help it defend itself from Russia. Mr. Biden took his first jab at Trump, criticizing his predecessor for his stance toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and accused him of bowing down to the Russian leader.

“It’s outrageous. It’s dangerous. It’s unacceptable,” the president said.

On Jan. 6: “You can’t love your country only when you win”

Mr. Biden told lawmakers that “history is watching — just like history watched three years ago on Jan. 6, when an insurrection stormed this very Capitol and placed a dagger to the throat of American democracy.”

He noted that many of the assembled lawmakers were present on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of hundreds of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol and violently tried to prevent the transfer of power.

“Jan. 6 [and] lies about the 2020 election and the plots to steal the election posed the gravest threat to democracy since the Civil War. But they failed,” he continued. “My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth about Jan. 6. I will not do that. This is the moment to speak the truth, and to bury the lies. Here’s the simple truth: You can’t love your country only when you win.”

A testy exchange on immigration: “Send me the border bill now!”


Biden criticizes Republicans for rejecting border deal

05:42

Arguably the most contentious moment of the night came when the president turned to the subject of immigration. He implored Republican lawmakers to support a bill that would strengthen security along the U.S.-Mexico border. The legislation stalled last month after Trump signaled he opposed it. Some Republicans have said they don’t want to hand Mr. Biden a victory on the issue heading into the election.

“I’m told my predecessor called members of Congress in the Senate to demand they block the bill,” Mr. Biden said. Congressional Republicans, the president said, “owe it to the American people” to pass the proposal.

“We can fight about the border or we can fix it,” he said. “I’m ready to fix it. Send me the border bill now.”

Mr. Biden noted that the legislation was endorsed by the Border Patrol Union and Chamber of Commerce, which sparked yelling from Republicans.

“Look at the facts,” he said. “I know you know how to read.”

Trump, Mr. Biden added, should implore lawmakers to back the compromise,”instead of playing politics.”

His comments drew heckles from Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. The interruption prompted Mr. Biden to veer off script and express his condolences to the parents of Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student who was killed last month. The suspect in the case is a Venezuelan migrant who crossed the U.S. southern border illegally in September 2022. Republican lawmakers have highlighted the murder extensively.

Mr. Biden held up a button with Riley’s name that Greene handed him when he walked into the Senate chamber. He referred to Riley as an “innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” and said “my heart goes out to” her family.

On abortion and Roe v. Wade: “[Trump] the reason it was overturned, and he brags about it” 


Biden calls on Congress to guarantee right to IVF nationwide

04:00

The president spoke extensively about the issue of reproductive rights and abortion, one of Republicans’ major political vulnerabilities heading into the general election race. He called attention to a mother from Alabama who was attending as a guest of first lady Jill Biden. He said she and her husband were undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments when the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos are legally considered children. Several IVF providers halted treatments in response. 

Mr. Biden tied that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2022 overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that recognized a right to abortion nationwide. The 2022 ruling threw the issue of abortion back to the states. Trump appointed three of the justices who voted in favor of overturning Roe.

“My predecessor came into office determined to see Roe v. Wade overturned. He’s the reason it was overturned, and he brags about it. Look at the chaos that has resulted,” he said, calling on lawmakers to protect access to IVF nationwide.

He then introduced Kate Cox, a Texas woman who was forced to travel out of state to obtain an abortion after learning her fetus had a fatal condition. Mr. Biden criticized Republicans who have pledged to pass a national ban on abortion.

“Those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women. But they found out. When reproductive freedom was on the ballot, we won in 2022 and 2023, and we’ll win again in 2024,” Mr. Biden said, prompting another enthusiastic round of cheers from Democrats, many of whom were wearing white to express support for reproductive rights.

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

A victory lap on the economy and infrastructure

The president touted his economic accomplishments, highlighting a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package meant to revitalize the nation’s roads, bridges, waterways and public transit, and legislation that aims to boost domestic production of semiconductor chips.

Mr. Biden noted that some Republicans who opposed the infrastructure bill have been cheering investments in their districts.

“If any of you don’t want that money in your district, just let me know,” he said.

The president introduced Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers, and Dawn Simms, a third-generation UAW worker in Belvidere, Illinois, to celebrate the end of the historic strike last year that resulted in a labor agreement with the Detroit Big 3 auto manufacturers. Mr. Biden became the first president to ever participate in a picket line amid that strike. 

“Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class,” he said. “When Americans get knocked down, we get back up!”

Obamacare: “Still a very big deal”

When he was vice president in 2010, Mr. Biden introduced President Barack Obama at the ceremony where Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. He was heard on a hot mic telling Obama, “This is a big f—ing deal.”

Fourteen years later, in a section on prescription drugs and lowering health care costs in the State of the Union, the president harkened back to what became one of the most well-known lines of his career.

“Folks, the Affordable Care Act — the old Obamacare. It’s still a very big deal,” he said, eliciting a round of laughs and applause from Democratic lawmakers.

Shunning criticisms of his age and highlighting his experience


Biden pokes fun at age criticisms in closing State of the Union remarks

05:20

As he neared the end of his speech — even joking to Sen. Lindsey Graham that he has “a few more things” to say — Mr. Biden didn’t shy away from his age, but instead said his years in public service have provided him clarity.

“I know it may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while. When you get to be my age, certain things become clearer than ever before,” he said. “I know the American story. Again and again I’ve seen the contest between competing forces in the battle for the soul of our nation. Between those who want to pull America back to the past and those who want to move America into the future.”

The president said he has learned to “embrace freedom and democracy, a future based on core values that have defined America: Honesty. Decency. Dignity. Equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbor.”

Mr. Biden then drew contrasts to Trump, though again, he did not mention him by name.

“Other people my age see a different story. The American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution,” he said. “That’s not me.”

Mr. Biden is 81 years old and Trump is 77 years old.

The president noted that during his long career, he has been told he’s too young and too old. But he said that despite his age, he has “always known what endures. I’ve known our North Star.”

“The very idea of America, that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives,” he said.

In closing, the president insisted he has “never been more optimistic about our future than I am now.”

“So let’s build a future together,” Mr. Biden said.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez and Leo Rocha contributed to this report.

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