Much of the focus around President Biden’s State of the Union speech was on the raucous reactions from House Republicans in the chamber as they heckled and jeered the president from their seats.
But the content of Biden’s speech reflected his policy priorities, his views on polarizing issues and his approach to politics as he readies for a reelection bid.
Here are five key lines from Biden’s address.
“Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible. Maybe that’s you watching at home.”
Biden sought to address a major criticism of his administration head on, acknowledging that while the economy has made gains under his leadership, it hasn’t worked for everyone.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released one day before the State of the Union showed 62 percent of Americans think the president accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing” in his first two years in office, and 4 out of 10 of those polled indicated they are personally worse off financially since Biden became president, the most recorded in that survey in 37 years.
Biden’s speech featured several references to a populist economic agenda — calls for higher pay for teachers, talk of higher taxes for wealthy Americans and the creation of jobs for those without college degrees. He sought to appeal to those Americans who may not have been enamored by the passage of bipartisan legislation or did not feel the slow but steady decline in gas prices in recent months, which did not do enough to change their outlook.
The ‘Big Lie’
“Just a few months ago, unhinged by the ‘Big Lie,’ an assailant unleashed political violence in the home of the then-Speaker of this House of Representatives. Using the very same language that insurrectionists who stalked these halls chanted on January 6th.”
Biden recognized Paul Pelosi, the husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who was sitting with the first lady in her box watching the speech. Paul Pelosi was just a few months removed from being severely injured after an attacker entered his home and beat him with a hammer.
The president has routinely called out political violence, but the way Biden connected the attack on Pelosi to the events of Jan. 6, 2021, showed how he views the insurrection at the Capitol two years ago as a defining moment that still ripples throughout the country.
Biden’s mention of the “Big Lie,” a reference to former President Trump’s repeated claims that the 2020 election was stolen, was also perhaps as close as Biden got to mentioning his predecessor by name during his speech.
‘Big Tech’ cry
“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for experimenting [that] they’re doing running children for profit. And it’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on our kids and teenagers online.”
Amid Biden’s many calls for bipartisan action, his singling out of “Big Tech” was a populist rallying cry that lawmakers in both parties could get behind.
Biden called on Congress to work across party lines to address how tech companies collect data on kids and teens and how they use that information to target advertisements to them.
Kids’ online safety has emerged as a rare unifying issue in a deeply divided Congress, however. Despite bipartisan support lawmakers failed to get a kids’ online privacy bill across the finish line last year.
Biden hasn’t often adopted the language of populist lawmakers, but he did on Tuesday night as he at various points called out “Big Tech,” “Big Pharma” and “Big Oil” for preying on Americans.
‘Do something’ on police reform
“Let’s come together to finish the job on police reform. Do something. Do something.”
One of the most notable and somber moments of the evening was when Biden recognized the parents of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died last month days after he was brutally beaten by Memphis police.
Nichols’s death has renewed nationwide debate over how police treat Black people, and it has reignited discussion over policing reform legislation in Congress.
Biden sought to balance gratitude for law enforcement and their bravery with the plea for something to change as the nation reels from seeing yet another Black man being mistreated by police.
His straightforward call for lawmakers to “do something” was also something of an acknowledgment that he could only accomplish so much through his executive authority to make needed reforms.
Medicare, Social Security ‘sunset’
“Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. … Anybody who doubts it, contact my office. I’ll give you a copy of the proposal. … So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? Alright, we got unanimity!”
Biden went off script as he spoke about Medicare and Social Security, essentially engaging directly with Republicans in the chamber who protested his claim that the GOP wanted to cut those programs.
Biden appeared to be referencing a proposal from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) from last year that called for all federal legislation to sunset after five years. But Republicans largely distanced themselves from that proposal and appeared to take offense at Biden’s suggestion they supported cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) yelled out “liar!” and other Republicans shook their heads or called out in protest.
When Biden said the government would protect Medicare and Social Security, the remarks were met with bipartisan cheers. Biden then ad-libbed, quipping that there appeared to be unanimous agreement that those programs should not be on the chopping block.
Biden’s bit of improvisation may prove to be useful for the White House in the coming months as they negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling. The administration has been adamant that it will not negotiate over spending cuts tied to the debt ceiling, with Biden pledging to veto any cuts to Social Security or Medicare.