Biden knocks Trump over NATO, democracy in State of the Union address

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden declared democracy under threat at home and abroad and called former President Donald Trump’s position on NATO unacceptable on Thursday in a State of the Union speech designed to contrast visions with his 2024 Republican opponent.
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 Nov. 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, suffering from low approval ratings, 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.
Some lawmakers wore ceasefire pins to signal their protest, but many chanted, “Four more years!” as he entered the chamber.
Multiple women lawmakers in the audience wore white to promote reproductive rights.
Biden highlighted the threats to democracy he argues Trump poses as the former president repeats false claims about his 2020 election loss and proposes jailing political enemies.
“My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy. A future based on the core values that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity, equality,” Biden will say, according to speech excerpts released ahead of time. “Now some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That’s not me.”
Trump, who is 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.

Age, economy at issue
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.
The president’s reference to “other people my age” is an attempt to underscore that the two men are both old. Biden, who has faced concerns about his mental acuity, was not expected to mention Trump, who also makes regular gaffes and verbal slip-ups, by name.
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 sought to burnish his reputation with Americans about the strength of the US 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 also 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 USeconomic progress under his tenure.
“I came to office determined to get us through one of the toughest periods in our nation’s history. And we have. It doesn’t make the news, but in thousands of cities and towns the American people are writing the greatest comeback story never told,” Biden will say of his economic record since 2021, according to excerpts.
The US economy is performing better than most high-income countries, with continued job growth and consumer spending.
However, Republican voters tell pollsters they are deeply 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.

Gaza port, Ukraine funds
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 US military will build a port on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian assistance by sea, US officials told reporters.
Biden used the speech to push, again, for a $95 billion aid package for weapons to Ukraine and aid to Israel that has been blocked by Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson.
The president’s wife’s guests for the speech include Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who was in Washington as Sweden formally joins NATO on Thursday, two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — indicating Biden will speak on his support for the security alliance, another contrast 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.
US 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.”

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