The Biggest Moments From Joe Biden’s 2024 State of the Union Address

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Delivering what will likely be his most-watched speech before the upcoming Democratic convention, President Joe Biden used his State of the Union address in Washington on Thursday to draw a sharp contrast between his administration's accomplishments and priorities and those of his Republican rival, former President Donald Trump.

Among a range of topics, Biden spoke about abortion rights, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and the border crisis, which he blamed Republicans for not helping him to fix.

President Biden Delivers State Of The Union Address
President Joe Biden delivers a State of the Union address at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday, March 7, 2024.Shawn Thew—EPA/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The election-year speech comes at a critical juncture for the 81-year-old President and candidate for re-election, who faces skepticism over his age and fitness for a second term—compounded by criticism from some corners of his own party over his handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict. During his address, Biden sought to assure the public of his vigor and determination, rejecting suggestions of frailty, including during intermittent sparring with Republican hecklers in the audience.

“My purpose tonight is to both wake up this Congress, and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment either,” President Biden declared before laying out his vision for the nation’s future.

Read More: Full Transcript: Read President Joe Biden’s 2024 State of the Union Address

These are the key moments from Biden’s 2024 State of the Union:

Pressuring the GOP on Ukraine

Biden began his speech with a plea to far-right members of Congress to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, arguing that “freedom and democracy are under attack” and that Russia’s aggression will not stop at Ukraine. He said the U.S. needs to continue to provide weapons to Kyiv, which has requested long-range missiles, ammunition, and artillery to take on Russia.

Notably, House Speaker Mike Johnson nodded along and applauded Biden’s plea, even though he is yet to put legislation that would provide $60 billion for Ukraine on the House floor amid opposition from some members of his party.

“Assistance for Ukraine is being blocked by those who want us to walk away from our leadership in the world,” Biden said. “It wasn’t that long ago when a Republican President, Ronald Reagan, thundered, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ Now, my predecessor, a former Republican President, tells Putin, “Do whatever the hell you want.”

“History is watching,” Biden added. “If the United States walks away now, it will put Ukraine at risk.” (Also watching from the seat in the room next to First Lady Jill Biden was the Prime Minister of Sweden, which just joined NATO.)

A contrast with Trump

While Biden did not mention his Republican challenger by name, he made his criticism clear. Not long into his speech, he referenced the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling it the “gravest threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War.”

“My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth of January 6th,” Biden said in reference to Trump. “I will not do that.”

“Here’s the simple truth: you can’t love your country only when you win,” Biden said.

Reproductive rights take center stage

Biden reiterated his pledge to codify Roe v. Wade if he’s re-elected with Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, ensuring that abortion and reproductive rights remain a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. He criticized the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark decision nearly two years ago, claiming that “those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women, but they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot. We won in 2022 and 2020, and we’ll win again in 2024.”

Biden’s early emphasis on reproductive rights reflects its growing importance as a pivotal issue in the upcoming election year, particularly as the issue helped mobilize Democratic voters in red states in the 2022 midterms and last year’s elections.

Read More: Biden Targets Republicans on IVF and Abortion Access in State of the Union

In attendance at Biden’s address were several individuals whose lives have been profoundly affected by reproductive care restrictions, including a doctor who came under attack for providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim and two women who had to flee their home states to terminate pregnancies due to fatal fetal abnormalities. As expected, Biden placed the blame for their pain on Trump. “My predecessor came to office determined to see Roe v. Wade overturned,” Biden said. “He’s the reason it was overturned. In fact, he brags about it. Look at the chaos that has resulted.”

Several Democratic women lawmakers in attendance wore white and were donning “Fighting for Reproductive Freedom” pins meant to amplify the need to protect access to reproductive care. 

Border policy riles up Republicans

Lawmakers in attendance mostly maintained decorum up until Biden mentioned the border, a controversial topic that has divided Congress. Biden slammed Republicans for walking away from a bipartisan border security deal that collapsed last month—and he shot back when some Republicans started to groan and boo.

“Oh you don’t like that bill, huh? That conservatives got together and said was a good bill? I’ll be darned,” he said, going off script before rattling off details of the proposal as well as its wide-ranging endorsers, including the Border Patrol union and the Chamber of Commerce. “Unfortunately, politics has derailed this bill so far.”

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was donning a red Make America Great Again hat and frequently vocalized her discontent throughout the evening, interrupted Biden’s remarks to call on him to honor Laken Riley, who authorities believe was killed by an undocumented immigrant in Athens, Ga.

President Biden Delivers State Of The Union Address
Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican from Georgia, in the House Chamber during Biden’s State of the Union address on March 7, 2024.Julia Nikhinson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Biden responded directly: “Laken Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal. To her parents, I say: my heart goes out to you having lost children myself, I understand.”

(Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and two other progressive Democrats told TIME afterwards that they were disappointed in Biden for using the word “illegal” in reference to migrants.)

Biden then alluded to Trump again—whom he repeatedly referred to not by name but simply as “my predecessor” throughout his speech—saying: “If my predecessor is watching, instead of playing politics and pressuring members of Congress to block this bill, join me in telling Congress to pass it. We can do it together. … We can fight about the border, or we can fix it. I’m ready to fix it.”

Rep. Delia Ramirez, a progressive Illinois Democrat, told TIME after the address that she wanted to hear Biden emphasize how immigrants are crucial to the American workforce instead of touting a bipartisan bill that would have added restrictions on immigration. “Democrats, in some cases, we are sounding just like the other side,” she says. “What we heard tonight wasn't very different from what we’ve heard from the other side. And I wish I would have heard him with more conviction say no human being is illegal.”

Biden threads the needle on Israel and Gaza

Facing pressure from progressive Democrats to do more to de-escalate the Israel-Hamas war, Biden said that his administration has been working “non-stop” on a six-week immediate ceasefire that would return hostages and ease the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. “The United States has been leading international efforts to get more humanitarian assistance into Gaza,” Biden said, announcing plans for the U.S. military to establish a temporary port along the coast of Gaza in the coming weeks that will be able to receive large ships with food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.

“Israel has a right to go after Hamas,” Biden reaffirmed. But he went on to give a direct plea to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.” He added that the “only real solution is a two-state solution.”

In an interview after the State of the Union, Jayapal, who has called for a ceasefire in Gaza, praised Biden for mentioning the humanitarian crisis during his address, calling it “an incredibly progressive speech” but adding that she wants to see Biden’s administration back it up with action.

President Biden Delivers State Of The Union Address
Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush, progressive Democrats from Michigan and Missouri respectively, hold up signs calling for a Gaza ceasefire during Biden’s State of the Union.Julia Nikhinson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

I’m a capitalist, but…

During the extended portion of Biden’s speech focused on the economy, Biden listed his accomplishments, including “historic job growth” and “inflation keeps coming down.” He highlighted positive trends such as declining unemployment rates, a buoyant stock market, and growing consumer confidence.

“I inherited an economy that was on the brink,” Biden said. “Now our economy is the envy of the world.” (A recent poll from CBS News-YouGov found that 65% of Americans said the economy under Trump was good, but just 38% said it’s currently good under Biden. Fifty-five percent of those polled said Biden’s policies would make prices go up, while only 34% said the same thing about Trump’s policies.)

Biden asserted, “Wall Street didn’t build this country!” rather the middle class and unions did. He added he was “proud to be the first President in American history to walk a picket line.”

Read More: Biden Just Delivered a Top Career Performance. He Needed It.

Biden also renewed his “billionaire tax” proposal that would require those with wealth of more than $100 million to pay at least 25% of their income in taxes, a progressive policy push that would almost certainly be dead on arrival in the Republican-led House. “Look, I’m a capitalist. If you want to make a million bucks—great,” Biden said. “Just pay your fair share in taxes.”

He also called on Congress to raise taxes on large corporations, a proposal that could play a crucial role in his re-election bid by highlighting a stark difference between the two political parties. Many of the tax cuts signed into law by Trump in 2017 are set to expire at the end of next year, meaning the next president will be able to shape the nation’s tax policy.

“For folks at home does anybody really think the tax code is fair?” Biden asked. “Do you really think the wealthy and big corporations need another $2 trillion in tax breaks? I sure don’t. I’m going to keep fighting like hell to make it fair.”

Biden also said his administration is working to cut credit card fees and called on Congress to crack down on “shrinkflation.”

Age on display

Biden waited until the end to confront the pervasive question on the minds of many voters: his age. “I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while,” Biden joked in his closing remarks. “And when you get to my age certain things become clearer than ever before. I know the American story.”

Read More: In Republican Response to State of the Union, Britt Calls Biden ‘Dithering and Diminished’

As concerns over his age and memory intensify, Biden has found himself playing defense following allegations about his mental state from a report on his handling of classified documents. While the report did not recommend pursuing charges against Biden for his actions, Special Counsel Robert Hur highlighted instances, which Biden denies, where Biden allegedly struggled to recall key dates from his vice presidency and the year his son Beau died, leading Hur to describe the President as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Biden concluded: “The issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are, it’s how old our ideas are. Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas. But you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back. To lead America, the land of possibilities, you need a vision for the future of what America can and should be. Tonight you’ve heard mine.”

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