State of the Union speech: US President Biden attacks Trump head-on

In a combative speech to Congress, US President Joe Biden warned of dangers to democracy if his expected election rival Donald Trump returned to the White House. He wanted to “wake up Congress and make the American people aware of the danger,” said Biden on Thursday evening (local time) in his annual State of the Union address. He accused Trump of being submissive to Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin.

The 81-year-old used his appearance before the Senate and House of Representatives to intensify his dispute with his predecessor. The right-wing populist had triumphed two days earlier in the opposition Republican primaries on “Super Tuesday” and thus all but secured his renewed nomination as presidential candidate.

In his speech, which lasted just over an hour, Biden never called his opponent by name, but still attacked him head-on. Not since President Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War (1861-65) have “freedom and democracy at home been under such attack as they are today,” he warned.

The president said of Trump that he bows to Putin. Trump told the Russian leader: “Do whatever you want.” This is “outrageous, dangerous and unacceptable.” Biden was referring to Trump's announcement that he would not help NATO members with low defense spending in the event of a Russian attack and would instead encourage Russia to “do whatever it wants with them.”

In contrast to this, Biden said about his relationship with Putin: “I will not give in.” At the same time, he appealed to the Republicans to release the new aid package for Ukraine worth 60 billion dollars (around 55.7 billion euros), which they had been blocking for months. Ukraine can stop Putin's war of aggression “if we support it and provide it with the weapons it needs to defend itself.”

Biden also discussed the Gaza war in detail – this also against the background that his support for Israel is viewed critically by the left wing of his Democratic Party. Biden renewed his call for an immediate six-week ceasefire between Israel and the radical Islamic group Hamas.

The US President appealed to Israel to “let more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip” and not to use it as “leverage.” Biden also announced that the US Army would build a temporary port in the Gaza Strip to deliver large amounts of aid.

In the domestic policy part of his speech, Biden praised his own economic record, which many US voters view critically: “I inherited an economy that was on the edge of the abyss,” but now the US economy is “the envy of the world.” The president highlighted that 15 million new jobs were created during his time in office and unemployment fell to its lowest level in 50 years.

In the speech on the evening before International Women's Day, Biden also vehemently supported the right to abortion. Anyone who brags about abolishing this right has “no idea about the power of women.” Biden and the Democrats are betting on being able to score points on the abortion issue in the November elections after the majority conservative Supreme Court annulled the nationwide right to abortion that has been in effect for around 50 years.

The US President also called for a compromise on immigration policy, which the Republicans also refused under pressure from Trump. Biden has tightened his migration policy course in view of the record numbers of migrants entering the country irregularly. However, referring to a Trump statement, he stressed: “I will not demonize immigrants by saying they 'poison the blood of our country'.”

The prime-time speech was also an opportunity for Biden to counter widespread criticism that he was too old and weak for another term in office. In contrast to other performances, this time he made no slips of the tongue or mix-ups; he presented himself fresh and combative.

Biden also made the odd joke: “I know it might not seem like it, but I’ve been at it for a while,” he said with a grin. But “when you're my age, certain things become clearer than ever before.” Democratic lawmakers cheered several times during the speech and shouted, “Four more years!”, while Republicans watched Biden's appearance largely in silence.