WASHINGTON — As expected, Newton County's two congressmen from opposing parties had widely varying reactions to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday with one highly critical and the other saying it was "forceful" and "positive."
Biden exhorted Congress to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he delivered the address aimed at reassuring a country beset by pessimism and fraught political divisions.
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.
In his 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.
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 things 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.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Jackson, of Georgia's 10th Congressional District, released a statement after hearing his first State of the Union address as a member of Congress following his November election.
“Two years of Biden’s failed leadership and America last policies have devastated our country, and no amount of lipstick is going to make this pig pretty," Collins said.
"With historically high inflation, an out-of-control southern border, and energy prices remaining stubbornly high, the Biden administration can only be characterized as an abject failure with no intention of changing course.”
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Stonecrest, of Georgia's 4th Congressional District, said, “Despite the unfortunate and unprecedented level of Republican heckling, last night President Biden delivered a forceful, positive and inspiring message to American people that the state of our union is strong, but there is a lot more work to be done.
"If Republicans and Democrats come together like we did last session, we can finish the job.”
News Editor Tom Spigolon of The Covington News contributed to this report.