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Biden to Congress: 'Finish the Job'    02/08 06:07

   President Joe Biden exhorted Congress Tuesday night to work with him to 
"finish the job" of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he 
delivered a State of the Union address aimed at reassuring a country beset by 
pessimism and fraught political divisions.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden exhorted Congress Tuesday night to 
work with him to "finish the job" of rebuilding the economy and uniting the 
nation as he delivered a State of the Union address aimed at reassuring a 
country beset by pessimism and fraught political divisions.

   In his 73-minute speech, Biden sought to portray a nation dramatically 
improved from the one he took charge of two years ago: from a reeling economy 
to one prosperous with new jobs; from a crippled, pandemic-weary nation to one 
that has now reopened, and a democracy that has survived its biggest test since 
the Civil War.

   "Folks, the story of America is a story of progress and resilience. Of 
always moving forward. Of never, ever, giving up," Biden said. "It's a story 
unique among all nations. We're the only country that has emerged from every 
crisis we've ever entered stronger than when we got into it."

   "We're not finished yet by any stretch of the imagination," he declared.

   The backdrop for the annual address was markedly different from the previous 
two years, with a Republican speaker now sitting expressionless behind Biden 
and newly empowered GOP lawmakers in the chamber sometimes shouting criticism 
of him and his administration.

   As Biden, 80, prepares for a likely reelection bid, he sought to prove to a 
skeptical nation that his stewardship has delivered results both at home and 
abroad. He highlighted record job creation during his tenure as the country has 
emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, and pointed to areas of bipartisan progress 
in his first two years in office, including on states' vital infrastructure 
projects and high-tech manufacturing. And he said, "There is no reason we can't 
work together and find consensus on important thing in this Congress as well."

   "The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, 
power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us 
nowhere," Biden said. "That's always been my vision for the country: to restore 
the soul of the nation, to rebuild the backbone of America -- the middle class 
-- and unite the country."

   "We've been sent here to finish the job!"

   But the challenges for Biden are many: economic uncertainty, a wearying war 
in Ukraine, growing tensions with China and more. Signs of past trauma at the 
Capitol, most notably the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, were unavoidable: A large 
fence encircled the complex, and lawmakers and those in attendance faced 
tighter-than-usual security.

   From the start, the heightened partisan divisions were clear. Democrats -- 
including Vice President Kamala Harris -- jumped to applause as Biden began his 
speech. New Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, though he had greeted the 
president warmly when he entered the chamber, stayed in his seat.

   The speech came as Biden has shifted his sights after spending his first two 
years pushing through major bills such as the bipartisan infrastructure 
package, legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate measures. 
With Republicans now in control of the House, and even meeting the government's 
fiscal obligations far from certain, Biden is turning his focus to implementing 
those massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements.

   Instead of flashy proposals, the president offered an encouraging assessment 
of the nation's condition, declaring that two years after the Capitol attack, 
America's democracy was "unbowed and unbroken."

   The president took to the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of 
U.S. adults say things are headed in the right direction, according to a new 
poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About 
three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats 
don't want Biden to seek another term.

   He sought to confront those sentiments head-on.

   "You wonder whether the path even exists anymore for your children to get 
ahead without having to move away," Biden said. "I get that. That's why we're 
building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is 
coming back because of the choices we made in the last several years."

   Biden on Wednesday was to travel to Wisconsin, as he and members of his 
Cabinet embark on a two-day, 20-state blitz to highlight economic progress in 
his first two years in office.

   Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained a national profile as 
former President Donald Trump's press secretary, delivered the Republican 
response to Biden's speech.

   She focused much of her remarks on social issues, including race in business 
and education and alleged big-tech censorship of conservatives.

   "While you reap the consequences of their failures, the Biden administration 
seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face 
every day," she said. "Most Americans simply want to live their lives in 
freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn't 
start and never wanted to fight."

   "The choice is between normal and crazy," she added.

   With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the White House and legislators from 
both parties invited guests designed to drive home political messages with 
their presence in the House chamber. The mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, 
who was severely beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, were 
among those seated with first lady Jill Biden. Other Biden guests included the 
rock star/humanitarian Bono and 26-year-old Brandon Tsay, who disarmed a gunman 
in last month's Monterey Park, California, shooting.

   "There's no words to describe the heartache and grief of losing a child," 
Biden said after introducing RowVaughn and Rodney Wells to a standing ovation. 
He called on Congress to "rise to this moment" to make meaningful change in 
policing.

   Biden drew bipartisan applause when he praised most law enforcement officers 
as "good, decent, honorable people" but added that "when police officers or 
police departments violate the public's trust, they must be held accountable."

   Members of the Congressional Black Caucus invited family members of those 
involved in police incidents, as they sought to press for action on police 
reform in the wake of Nichols' death.

   Biden, not known for his lofty oratory, appeared relaxed and confident as he 
delivered his address. He casually adlibbed jokes and rejoinders, seeming to 
feed off the responses from Democratic lawmakers who frequently stood with 
thunderous ovations and playfully engaging with Republican critics.

   Addressing Republicans who voted against the big bipartisan infrastructure 
law, Biden said he'd still ensure their pet projects received federal support. 
"I promised to be the president for all Americans," he said. "We'll fund these 
projects. And I'll see you at the ground-breaking."

   Occasional Republican heckling -- some drawing hushes from McCarthy -- 
reflected the newly empowered GOP that is itching to undo many of Biden's 
achievements and vowing to pursue a multitude of investigations -- including 
looking into the recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as 
vice president at his home and former office.

   Though he pledged bipartisanship where possible, Biden also underscored the 
sharp tensions that exist: He discussed GOP efforts to repeal the Democrats' 
2022 climate change and healthcare law and their reluctance to increase the 
federal debt limit, the nation's legal borrowing authority that must be raised 
later this year or risk default.

   "Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans -- 
some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I am not saying 
it's a majority," Biden said. As GOP lawmakers in the audience pushed back, 
Biden responded: "We're not going to be moved into being threatened to default 
on the debt if we don't respond."

   Still, some Republicans refused to back down, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor 
Greene, R-Ga., and others jumping to their feet, some yelling "Liar!"

   The president answered back, "Stand up and show them: We will not cut Social 
Security! We will not cut Medicare!"

   As Republicans continued to protest his accusations, he said, "We've got 
unanimity."

   While hopes for large-scale bipartisanship are slim, Biden reissued his 2022 
appeal for Congress to get behind his "unity agenda" of actions to address the 
opioid epidemic, mental health, veterans' health and cancer.

   In fiery refrains, Biden said the phrase "finish the job" 13 times, 
challenging lawmakers to complete the work of his administration on capping 
insulin costs for all Americans, confronting climate change, raising taxes on 
the wealthy and corporations and banning assault-style weapons. But on all of 
those fronts, the divided government is even less likely to yield than the 
Congress under sole Democratic control.

   The speech came days after Biden ordered the military to shoot down a 
suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew brazenly across the country, 
captivating the nation and serving as a reminder of tense relations between the 
two global powers.

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

   Last year's address occurred just days after Russia launched its invasion of 
Ukraine and as many in the West doubted Kyiv's ability to withstand the 
onslaught. Over the past year, the U.S. and other allies have sent tens of 
billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to bolster Ukraine's 
defenses. Now, Biden must make the case -- both at home and abroad -- for 
sustaining that coalition as the war drags on.

   "Together, we did what America always does at our best," Biden said. "We 
led. We united NATO. We built a global coalition. We stood against Putin's 
aggression. We stood with the Ukrainian people."

 
 
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