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Biden Takes on Trump Over Russia, Democracy in Fiery State of the Union Address

President Joseph Biden addressing joint Congress session
President Joseph Biden addressing joint Congress session

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - President Joe Biden assailed former President Donald Trump for kowtowing to Russia, failing to care about COVID-19 and papering over the January 6 Capitol assault on Thursday in a State of the Union speech making his case for re-election in 2024.

Biden, speaking before a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate, opened his remarks with a direct criticism of Trump for comments inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade other NATO nations if they did not spend more on defense.

"Now my predecessor, a former Republican president, tells Putin, quote, 'Do whatever you want,'" Biden said. "I think it's outrageous, it's dangerous and it's unacceptable."

Biden, who has been pushing Congress to provide additional funding to Ukraine for its war with Russia, also had a message for Putin: "We will not walk away," he said.

The president drew a contrast with Trump, his Republican challenger in the November 5 election, over democracy, abortion rights and the economy during a speech that Democrats see as a high profile chance for Biden to press his case for a second term in front of a rare TV audience of millions of Americans.

Biden came out swinging at the top of his speech with robust attacks. He accused Trump and Republicans of trying to rewrite history about the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot by the former president's supporters seeking to overturn Biden's 2020 victory.

"My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth about January 6. I will not do that," Biden said, a signal that he will emphasize the issue during his re-election campaign. "You can't love your country only when you win."

He also knocked Republicans for seeking to roll back healthcare provisions under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and driving up deficits and jibed them for taking money from legislation they had opposed.

Suffering from low approval ratings, Biden faces discontent among progressives in his party about his support for Israel in its war against Hamas and from Republicans over his stance on immigration, but the mood among Democrats in the chamber was rapturous. They greeted Biden with cheers and applause, prompting him to quip that he should leave before he even began.

Trump, meanwhile, sent a steady stream of messages blasting Biden on his Truth Social platform. "He looks so angry when he’s talking, which is a trait of people who know they are 'losing it,'" Trump wrote. "The anger and shouting is not helpful to bringing our Country back together!"


Opinion polls show Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, closely matched in the race. Most American voters are unenthusiastic about the rematch after Biden defeated Trump four years ago.

Trump, facing multiple criminal charges as he fights for re-election, says he plans to punish political foes and deport millions of migrants if he wins a second White House term. Representative Troy Nehls, a Republican, wore a shirt with Trump's face and the words "Never surrender" on it.

The speech may be the Democratic president's biggest stage to reach voters weighing whether to vote for him, choose Trump, or sit out the election. Nikki Haley, Trump's last remaining rival for his party's presidential nomination, dropped out on Wednesday.

Biden emphasized his support of abortion rights and pledged to make them the law of the land if Americans voted in enough Democratic lawmakers to do so.

He also sought to burnish his reputation about the strength of the U.S. economy and renew his quest to make wealthy Americans and corporations pay more in taxes, unveiling proposals including higher minimum taxes for companies and Americans with wealth over $100 million.

Any such tax reform is unlikely to pass unless Democrats win strong majorities in both houses of Congress in the November vote, which is not forecast.

Biden proposed new measures to lower housing costs, including a $10,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers - an acknowledgement of consumers' distress over high mortgage interest rates - while boasting of U.S economic progress under his tenure.

The U.S. economy is performing better than most high-income countries, with continued job growth and consumer spending.

However, Republican voters tell pollsters they are deeplu dissatisfied with the economy, and Americans overall give Trump better marks in polls for economic issues.

"Joe Biden is on the run from his record ... to escape accountability for the horrific devastation he and his party have created," Trump posted before the speech on his Truth Social platform.


Biden was expected to try to cool anger among many Democrats over his support for Israel's offensive in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. He will announce during the speech that the U.S. military will build a a port on Gaza's Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian assistance by sea, U.S. officials told reporters.

Biden used the speech to push, again, for a $95 billion aid package for weapoms tp Ukraine and aid to Israel that has been blocked by Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The president wife's guests for the speech include Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who was in Washington as Sweden finally joins NATO on Thursday, two years after Russia's invasion of Ukraine - indicating Biden will speak on his support for the security alliance, another constrast with Trump.

Other White House guests included people affected by in vitro fertilization or abortion restrictions, a veteran of the 1965 Bloody Sunday attack on Black marchers in Selma, Alabama, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain and others.

U.S. Senator Katie Britt of Alabama, who will deliver Republicans' formal response to Biden's speech, planned to attack him over immigration and the economy.

“The true, unvarnished State of our Union begins and ends with this: Our families are hurting. Our country can do better,” she will say, according to excerpts. "President Biden’s border crisis is a disgrace. It’s despicable. And it’s almost entirely preventable.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason, Gabriella Borter, Idrees Ali and Steve Holland; additional reporting by David Lawder, David Morgan, Jonathan Landay, Susan Heavey, Makini Brice, Katharine Jackson and Paul Grant; Editing by Heather Timmons and Howard Goller