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The White House: President Biden’s State of the Union Address 2024
Arizona lawmakers pan, praise Biden’s combative State of the Union address
Wednesday, March 13, 2024
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden delivered a combative State of the Union address last Thursday that laid out his achievements and baited Republicans for not doing more, a tone that did not sit well with Arizona’s GOP lawmakers.

Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson, called it a “divisive” address that sounded “more like a campaign speech than anything else,” noting that Biden repeatedly targeted former President Donald Trump while glossing over other issues.

“He (Biden) mentioned his predecessor more than anything that I heard him say. So, he was obsessed with that, making comparisons, and quite frankly, when you compare where we were as a nation … it isn’t even close,” Ciscomani said.

Democrats, not surprisingly, praised the speech both for its tone and for the agenda Biden laid out. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, said he was pleased to hear Biden talk about “kitchen table issues.”

“I was very pleased to hear him put forward a plan to lower the cost of, especially, first-time home ownership, which is one of the major issues facing us here in the United States of America,” Stanton said. “We need to bring back the child tax credit, ease the burden on middle-class taxpayers. That is a pocketbook issue as well.”

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden, to the right in the doorframe, heads into the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address on Thursday night. Photo by Ian McKinney / Cronkite News

The 67-minute speech, the last of Biden’s first term, was interrupted repeatedly by applause from Democrats, as well as the occasional outburst from Republicans upset with the president’s jabs at the GOP and at Trump.

“Is it really a surprise Biden is blaming the Republicans on the border crisis?” Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, asked in a social media post Thursday. “Of course he doesn’t want to take accountability for halting construction of the border wall, ending ‘Remain in Mexico,’ starting catch-and-release, and more. He’s failed, and he knows it.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, accused Republicans of being “fixated on the southern border,” noting that a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate was killed by GOP lawmakers “for the sake of campaign politics.”

He said that Biden’s tenure has been a success compared to four years of Trump. But he also warned Biden against “pushing for Trump-era immigration policies that have not yielded any positive results and only worsened conditions at the border for families and individuals seeking refuge in our country.

“Real immigration reform is needed, and it begins with providing the necessary resources to localities like those in Southern Arizona that are at the forefront of the situation,” Grijalva said in a prepared statement.

Border security was just one of the areas where Biden expressed a desire to find bipartisan solutions, as he said the country faces “an unprecedented moment in the history of the Union.”

In addition to championing his administration’s accomplishments during the wide-ranging speech, Biden called for everything from an assault-weapons ban to legislation to fight “shrink-flation,” or manufacturers selling smaller portions for the same price.

He also pledged to restore the abortion rights that were lost when the Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision, and promised to continue providing military assistance to Ukraine for its war against Russia.

Mark Kelly
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, heads to the House chamber ahead of President Joe Biden’t State of the Union address, which Kelly said spelled out a “clear choice” between progress and “going backwards.” Photo by Ian McKinney / Cronkite News

In the background of the policy debates were concerns over Biden’s age – he is 81 now and would be 86 when he left office if he served a full second term. But Stanton called Biden’s performance a “good, passionate, energetic speech” that should help to dispel some of those concerns.

“The speech itself was energetic. He was passionate. … He certainly delivered that tonight,” Stanton said.

He was particularly pleased to hear Biden mention the CHIPS and Science Act, which Stanton said could benefit Arizona more than any other state.

“We are the epicenter of semiconductor manufacturing, advanced manufacturing in the United States of America. The CHIPS Act was a huge win for this country, but particularly a strong win for the state of Arizona,” Stanton said.

Ciscomani was struck by what was not mentioned in the speech, particularly shocked that “I’m not sure if he even mentioned our veterans.”

“Last year I remember walking away from this, trying to find something that I could actually work with him on, and he mentioned veterans, and my thought walking away was, ‘OK, well at least we could probably do some work on veterans together,’” Ciscomani said. “But this time he didn’t really focus on that at all.”

Ciscomani also said he did not think Biden focused enough on the border and that, when he did, “He points a finger at other people and doesn’t take responsibility for the crisis he created.”

Stanton disagreed. pointing out that Biden has tried to work across the aisle to get laws passed on things like reducing pharmaceutical prices.

“Right now we’re a very divided nation, and we need the occupant of the White House, we need President Biden to try to bridge that gap, to bring people together,” Stanton said. “When he talks about working to continue to reduce pharmaceutical drug prices, that’s an issue that is overwhelmingly popular with the American people.”

Despite what he characterized as a disappointing speech, Ciscomani called himself a “glass-half-full kind of guy” and pledged to work in a bipartisan fashion.

“In spite of the terrible speech last night that fell way short, I’m still optimistic because I look at the people in my district,” Ciscomani said. “I was sent up here to fix problems. That’s what I’m focused on doing.”

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Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News. It is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.