Biden wastes no time laying into Trump as he comes out swinging in fiery State of the Union address

President Joe Biden had barely started giving his State of the Union address from the House of Representatives rostrum when he laid into his predecessor and likely 2024 election opponent, former president Donald Trump, for threatening to allow Russia to run roughshod over the democracies of the West while simultaneously castigating the Republican-led Congress for failing to authorise more defence aid to Ukraine.

Invoking Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech in 1941 warning of Hitler’s armies being “on the march” in Europe, Mr Biden said he’d come to the same chamber to tell the nation that it is facing an “unprecedented moment in the history of the Union” and to “wake up the Congress and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment”.

“What makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack, both at home and overseas, at the very same time overseas, Putin of Russia is on the march, invading Ukraine and sowing chaos throughout Europe and beyond,” he said.

“If anybody in this room thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you, he will not. But Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself.”

Mr Biden’s denunciation of Mr Trump and the GOP for refusing to support Ukraine’s fight against Russia was just an opening salvo in what became a full-throated defence of his administration’s policies and repeated exhortations to the assembled legislators to take up bipartisan legislation that has been blocked at Mr Trump’s behest. In a fiery address he challenged his opponents over the border, women’s health and Republicans’ efforts to rewrite history over the January 6 riot.

The president stressed that Ukraine isn’t asking for Americans to give their lives overseas, and said he is working to keep American soldiers from having to fight there. But he warned that funding for Ukraine is being blocked by “those who want us to walk away from our leadership in the world,” referring to Republicans who oppose aid to Kyiv because it would be a political win for the president.

Preisdent Joe Biden and First Lady Dr Jill Biden arrive ahead of his State of the Union address (REUTERS)
Preisdent Joe Biden and First Lady Dr Jill Biden arrive ahead of his State of the Union address (REUTERS)

Recalling how the late Republican president Ronald Reagan had told then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall in a moment of global leadership, Mr Biden called out Mr Trump without saying his name, referring to the disgraced ex-president’s recent promise to allow Russia to attack any Nato member that doesn’t, in his view, spend enough on defence.

“Now, my predecessor, a former Republican President, tells Putin, ‘Do whatever the hell you want’ — a former American President actually said that, bowing down to a Russian leader,” he said,

“It’s outrageous. It’s dangerous. It’s unacceptable,” he added.

The president’s condemnation of Mr Trump came on the same day that Sweden ended centuries of neutrality by joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance.

Biden gestures as he leaves the White House (AFP via Getty Images)
Biden gestures as he leaves the White House (AFP via Getty Images)

With Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, looking on, Mr Biden recalled how America was one of the alliance’s founding members when it was formed after the Second World War to “prevent war and keep the peace”.

“Mr Prime Minister, welcome to Nato, the strongest military alliance the world has ever known,” he said.

Turning back to the House and Senate members looking on, he called on them to pass the bipartisan national security supplemental funding bill that would provide defence aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and needed humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

“History is watching — if the United States walks away now, it will put Ukraine at risk, Europe at risk, the free world at risk, emboldening others who wish to do us harm,” he said.

Over and over again, the president called out Mr Trump — calling him “my predecessor” — and laid out the stark contrasts between his own policies and those favoured by the Republicans.

After calling them out over Mr Trump’s coziness with Mr Putin and calling the Russian leader a threat to the US from abroad, he immediately pivoted to describing threats to American democracy from within.

He said “history is watching” what Congress does on the foreign aid supplemental, and noted that the eyes of history were similarly watching during the January 6 attack on the Capitol, describing the attack as one committed by “insurrectionists” who’d “stormed this very Capitol and placed a dagger at the throat of American democracy”.

Continuing, the president warned that the January 6 attack, continued lies about the conduct of the 2020 election, and the attempt by Mr Trump and his allies to block the transfer of power nearly four years ago had “posed the gravest threat to our democracy since the Civil War”.

As Republicans booed, he said the insurrectionists had “failed” while America had “stood strong” as democracy had prevailed.

Yet Mr Biden also cautioned that Americans must still “be honest” about the continuing threat to democracy, and again called out Mr Trump.

“My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth of January 6th. I will not do that,” he said. “This is a moment to speak the truth and bury the lies. And here’s the simplest truth. You can’t love your country only when you win,” he said.

He called on the Republicans there to remember their oaths of office, to defend “against all threats foreign and domestic”.

“Respect free and fair elections! Restore trust in our institutions! And make clear — political violence has absolutely no place in America,” he said.

Mr Biden’s State of the Union speech, his third address to a joint session of Congress, started after he made his way through the House chamber while being greeted by throngs of members from both parties, including Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who handed him a button bearing the name of Laiken Riley, the University of Georgia student who was murdered, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant.

Marjorie Taylor Greene tries to hand a button bearing the name of Laiken Riley to Biden (AFP via Getty Images)
Marjorie Taylor Greene tries to hand a button bearing the name of Laiken Riley to Biden (AFP via Getty Images)

When he finally reached the House rostrum, Speaker Mike Johnson did not tell the members he had the traditional “high honour and distinct privilege” of presenting the president to them before Mr Biden started his speech.

And Mr Biden appeared to dispense with the detachment with which his predecessors have delivered their annual remarks to Congress, instead taking a more aggressive tone as he sometimes addressed people who were present in the chamber.

At one point, as he vowed to sign legislation codifying federal abortion rights into law after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, Mr Biden spoke directly to the Supreme Court justices when speaking of the electoral power of American women.

As three of the justices who’d signed on to the opinion stripping women of their right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy looked on, Mr Biden said: “With all due respect justices, women are not without electoral or political power”.

He then reminded viewers that Mr Trump, who appointed three of the justices who’d overturned Roe to the high court, continues to boast about his role in the decision, and said anyone who would brag about such a thing had “no clue about the power of women”.

“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,” he said.

Contrasting his view with Mr Trump and Republicans, he reminded them that they have promised to “pass a national ban on reproductive freedom”.

He asked: “My God, what freedoms will you take away next?”

Over and over again, the 46th president invoked the 45th as Republicans booed, hissed, and in some cases blatantly interrupted him, giving him a chance to react in real time.

When the topic turned to immigration, the president pointed out that a majority of House members and Senators support the bipartisan immigration reform and border security bill fashioned by Senate negotiators but rejected by GOP senators on orders from Mr Trump.

“The Border Patrol Union endorsed the bill. The Chamber of Commerce endorsed the bill. I believe that given the opportunity a majority of the House and Senate would endorse it as well, but unfortunately, politics have derailed it so far,” he said.

“I’m told my predecessor called Republicans in Congress and demanded they block the bill. He feels it would be a political win for me and a political loser for him,” he added.

At that point, Ms Greene, the Georgia congresswoman with a history of outbursts during Mr Biden’s annual speeches, began screaming about the slain Georgia student, Laiken Riley.

Biden speaks in front of Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (AFP via Getty Images)
Biden speaks in front of Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Biden paused, removed the button she’d given him and held it up for the cameras as he described Riley as “an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal”.

“To her parents, I say my heart goes out to you, having lost children myself. I understand,” he said.

He then called out Republicans once more for blocking the bipartisan bill, and for the second time in as many weeks, he invited Mr Trump to work with him by telling his allies in Congress to pass it.

All told, Mr Biden invoked Mr Trump as “my predecessor” a full 12 times during his speech, the first time any president has spoken of his re-election opponent since then-president Bill Clinton addressed his future opponent, then-Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas, during his 1996 State of the Union speech.

At the time, Mr Clinton brought up Dole’s service in the Second World War, drawing attention to the Kansan veteran’s age.

Mr Biden, the oldest president ever to serve, did the same towards the end of his remarks when he obliquely referred to Mr Trump as “some other people my age” and contrasted the ex-president’s view of America’s story as one of “resentment, revenge, and retribution.” with his view of a “future based on the core values that have defined America: Honesty, decency, dignity, equality”.

Biden’s speech was his last State of the Union address before the 5 November 2024 presidential election (AP)
Biden’s speech was his last State of the Union address before the 5 November 2024 presidential election (AP)

He quipped that in his long career, he’d been told he was both “too young” and “too old” at times, with the latter categorisation being a nod to those critics who say he is now too old to serve effectively.

Mr Trump and his allies have sought to portray the 46th president as an elderly, declining and bumbling figure who is too cognitively impaired to function.

But as Mr Biden left the House chamber to thunderous applause, one Democratic member — New York Representative Jerry Nadler — said that strategy may no longer work for the ex-president.

As Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar told Mr Biden he’d been “on fire,” Mr Nadler interjected.

“No one will be talking about cognitive impairment now,” he said.