Biden delivers feisty State of the Union speech

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Biden delivers feisty State of the Union speech

US President Joe Biden delivered a fiery State of the Union address on Thursday, taking repeated swipes at Donald Trump and covering the broad themes of his re-election campaign.

Mr Biden used the term “my predecessor” to refer to Mr Trump 13 times in a speech that lasted more than an hour.

He accused his likely election opponent of “bowing down” to Russia and criticised him over the Capitol riot.

Mr Biden also covered immigration, abortion, the economy and Gaza.

The atmosphere in the House chamber was raucous at times, with loud cheering from Democrats and heckling from some Republicans.

It was a spectacle more typical of a political convention than a State of the Union address – a constitutionally mandated report that is usually heavy on pageantry and policy.

But this is an election year and the stakes for Mr Biden were high. He was feisty and confrontational as he sought to draw the battle lines for his nascent campaign.

Unsurprisingly, many of his barbs were aimed at Mr Trump given he is almost certain to be his opponent in November’s general election.

“My predecessor failed the most basic duty any president owes the American people – the duty to care,” he said in reference to Mr Trump’s handling of the Covid pandemic. “That is unforgivable.”

He criticised Mr Trump for his recent comments about Russia and Nato, and said that he sought to “bury the truth” about the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

He blamed him for the Supreme Court decision to overturn the Roe v Wade ruling which guaranteed abortion rights and for blocking bipartisan immigration reforms.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, had promised to react in real time to the speech on his Truth Social platform. “Biden is on the run from his record and lying like crazy to try to escape accountability for the horrific devastation he and his party have created,” he wrote.

“They continue the very policies that are causing this horror show to go,” he said.

Mr Biden aggressive approach on Thursday may have been born, at least in part, out of necessity. At 81, he is the oldest president in US history and has been beset by questions about his age and mental acuity.

His approval ratings are the lowest of any modern president seeking re-election. He is in a statistical dead heat with Mr Trump, however, who also is viewed negatively by voters.

Even when Mr Biden addressed his age, he did so with a jab at Mr Trump, who at 77 is only a few years younger than him.

“I know it may not look like it, but I’ve been around for a while,” he said. After rattling off a list of positive attributes he said defined America, he added a kicker.

“Some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge and retribution.”

Mr Biden regularly ad-libbed responses to what was at times a hostile audience on the Republican side of the chamber. He quipped, parried and expressed mock surprise at their outbursts.

When the topic turned to immigration, a subject of political vulnerability for the president, he was once again ready to engage. But here, he stumbled.

After Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene accused him of ignoring the murder of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley, allegedly by an undocumented Venezuelan immigrant, Mr Biden held up a button with her name on it – one Ms Greene had given him as he walked in.

After seemingly mispronouncing her name as “Lincoln” Riley, he said she was murdered by an “illegal” – a term criticised by immigrant-rights groups.

Mr Biden went on to call for Republicans to support the bipartisan immigration legislation passed by the Senate and accused Mr Trump of “playing politics” by opposing the bill for electoral gain. The damage, however, may have been done.