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Biden's State of the Union address is the opening speech of the presidential election


Was it a State of the Union address or a campaign speech?


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My fellow Americans...

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESS MEMBERS: Four more years. Four more years.

BIDEN: ...The issue facing our nation isn't how old we are. It's how old are our ideas. Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are the oldest of ideas.


Speaking to a joint session of Congress last night, President Biden rejected both concerns over his age and the man he referred to only as his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now for analysis of the president's speech is NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Now, this week feels like the unofficial start of Trump versus Biden part two. Nikki Haley suspends her campaign, leaving Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee. And then Biden did not say Trump's name 13 times in last night's State of the Union. So what stood out to you?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, there were a lot of expectations on Biden last night, not just for the content of his speech, but for the performance, for the delivery. And Biden was feisty. He was willing to engage in unscripted moments with Republicans in the crowd. He did have some stumbles, though. And notably, toward the end, he took on the issue of his age directly.

You know, this was a speech that, in my view, offered contrast with Republicans on everything from the economy to abortion to immigration. And unlike some of the previous State of the Unions that Biden has delivered, this speech was not about trying to find common ground with Republicans. You know, at the same time, there were a couple of moments where Biden asked Republicans to work with him, for example, on more aid for Ukraine and a border bill. Though I should point out that immigration legislation is dead in Congress.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So on immigration, because that's been one of the GOP's favorite avenues of attack on the president, how did he try to address that?

KHALID: Biden blamed House Republicans for blocking that bipartisan border deal last month, and he did criticize Trump rather directly on this issue - again, not by name. But he talked about how Donald Trump has spoken about immigrants as poisoning the blood of the country. But really, A, the moment that stood out to me was when Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia shouted at Biden about Laken Riley. She's a nursing student who was killed last month, and an undocumented immigrant has been arrested for the crime.





BIDEN: Lincoln Riley (ph), an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal. That's right.

KHALID: You know, this back-and-forth, I think, shows just how complicated it is for Biden to navigate immigration. He is already facing criticism from some within his own party for his get-tough approach. And using the term illegal is only going to underscore that concern. You know, and at the same time, it is unclear whether he'll win over independent voters who have identified border security as one of their top priorities.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, President Biden has come under a lot of pressure from some Democrats on how he's handled Israel's war against Hamas. What did he have to say about Gaza?

KHALID: Well, he's been criticized for showing a lack of empathy for Palestinians. And last night, he spoke in more compassionate terms about Palestinians than we have heard from him before. He referred to the situation as heartbreaking and spoke of orphaned children, families without food. He also spoke directly to Israeli leaders, saying that humanitarian assistance cannot be a bargaining chip. And he outlined plans to establish a temporary pier on the Gaza coast to get humanitarian aid into the region via sea. You know, ultimately, I will say on this issue, though, A, what Biden wants, what his White House really wants is a temporary cease-fire to free hostages and allow more aid into the Gaza Strip via land.

MARTÍNEZ: That is NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks a lot.

KHALID: Good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.