At the State of the Union, Biden Delivered a General Election Stump Speech

Happy Friday! Let us know in the comments how, if you were president, you would have reacted to seeing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in her MAGA get-up at last night’s State of the Union address.

Up to Speed

  • No Labels, the bipartisan organization, announced Friday that nearly all of its 800 delegates voted to continue to pursue an alternative presidential ticket to compete against the Republican and Democratic tickets. In a statement from No Labels convention chair Mike Rawlings, the group said it would be moving “immediately to identify candidates to serve on the Unity presidential ticket.” Maryanne Martini, a spokeswoman for No Labels, told Dispatch Politics there will be a public announcement of the group’s selection process on Thursday, March 14.
  • President Joe Biden is hitting the campaign trail on the heels of Thursday’s State of the Union address, with events planned in the Philadelphia and Atlanta metro areas—two key micro battlegrounds in two crucial swing states. Biden is scheduled to be in Pennsylvania on Friday and Georgia on Saturday according to a campaign press release.
  • According to a White House press release, Biden is dispatching more than a dozen administration officials and members of his Cabinet throughout the country to tout proposals he unveiled during last night’s State of the Union address. They will visit red states and blue states, battleground states and safe states. Among them: Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
  • Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump also is hitting the campaign trail this weekend. The former president is scheduled to be in Georgia the same day as Biden to host an evening campaign rally in Rome, a rural community roughly 70 miles northwest of Atlanta.
  • With Nikki Haley out of the race, endorsements of Trump from Republican party figures continue to pour in. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his support for Trump even after years of a strained relationship between the two men. On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin endorsed Trump in a statement two days after the former president won the Old Dominion’s GOP primary. “It’s time to unite around strong leadership and policies that grow our great nation, not four more years of President Biden,” Youngkin said. 
  • Not every prominent Republican politician is backing Trump with that much enthusiasm. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a terse statement when asked by Dispatch Politics if he would endorse Trump for president. “The governor supports the Republican nominee,” said Cody Hall, a Kemp spokesman. Trump tried unsuccessfully in 2022 to oust Kemp by backing his primary challenger, but Kemp went on to win the GOP nomination overwhelmingly and win reelection soundly. Georgia voted for Biden in 2020, turning blue for the first time in a presidential race since 1996.
  • Disgraced Republican George Santos is attempting a political comeback, announcing Thursday in the middle of Biden’s State of the Union address that he is mounting a primary challenge to GOP Rep. Nick LaLota in New York’s 1st Congressional District. Santos was expelled midway through his first term in the House of Representatives back in December, amid a federal indictment for “conspiracy, wire fraud, false statements, falsification of records, aggravated identity theft, and credit card fraud.” Santos previously represented New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which Democrats captured in a special election after his expulsion. LaLota was among the New York Republicans who pushed for Santos’ expulsion out of concern that he would be a drag on their 2024 reelection prospects. 
  • The Labor Department reports that 275,000 jobs were created in the United States in February, surpassing expectations. The unemployment rate inched up slightly to 3.9 percent and revisions of the job gains in December showed somewhat less growth than originally reported. The Biden campaign is already touting the jobs numbers.
  • Be sure to read a new editorial from The Dispatch, which looks at the choices facing voters in this November’s election and urges Americans to demand better. “Look where the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ mindset and the ‘traditional GOP way’ have gotten us,” it reads. “A contest between the most unpopular presidential nominees in the history of polling.”

Biden’s Energetic and Partisan State of the Union

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on March 7, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on March 7, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden sought to prove during Thursday night’s State of the Union address that he could deliver an energetic speech, and he certainly accomplished that goal!

As University of Southern California journalism professor Christina Bellantoni observed, last year there were zero exclamation points in Biden’s prepared State of the Union remarks. But in 2024? There were 80! For an 81-year-old president dogged by concerns and criticism over his age and frailty, the style of Thursday’s State of the Union had its obvious upsides. 

But Biden’s remarks often resembled a typical campaign speech, more so than we’ve come to expect from a president’s annual address before Congress. The modern State of the Union usually capitalizes on stories of American heroes or foreign dissidents who sought freedom in the United States—the kind of moment that elicits a unanimous standing ovation in the House chamber and makes the hearts of viewers at home swell with American pride. Such stories were almost entirely absent from Biden’s 2024 address.

Rather, Biden drew attention to Americans in the gallery he portrayed as victims—or potential victims—of Republican policies on a range of issues. While he opened his speech by invoking Ronald Reagan and making an appeal to Republicans to aid Ukraine, he quickly pivoted to the issue of abortion by highlighting the story of Kate Cox, a Texas woman who sought an abortion because her unborn child had Trisomy 18—a condition that is often fatal in the first year of life—but had to travel out of state to obtain one due to Texas’ abortion law. Later, Biden drew attention to “Jasmine, whose 9-year-old sister Jackie was murdered with 21 classmates and teachers at her elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.”

“I’m proud we beat the NRA when I signed the most significant gun safety law in nearly 30 years because of this Congress,” Biden said. “We now must beat the NRA again!” 

The only bipartisan heroes in the gallery Biden highlighted were those who marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama—but he quickly pivoted to saying that “59 years later, there are forces taking us back in time: voter suppression, election subversion, unlimited dark money, extreme gerrymandering.” Other Americans in the gallery mentioned by Biden included an IVF patient from Alabama, United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain (whom Biden described as “a great friend and a great labor leader”), and a UAW worker. Again, it was closer to a stump speech. “Republicans will cut Social Security and give more tax cuts to the wealthy,” Biden said. He warned they were also “banning books.”

As for policy proposals, in addition to the old laundry list—from the PRO Act to the Equality Act—Biden discussed two significant new measures. On domestic policy, he proposed a $10,000 tax credit for homebuyers, saying:

I want to provide an annual tax credit that will give Americans $400 a month for the next two years as mortgage rates come down, to put toward their mortgage when they buy a first home or trade up for a little more space.

On foreign policy, he announced a U.S.-led “emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine, and temporary shelters.”

All in all, the State of the Union—delivered just two days after Super Tuesday—seemed like Biden’s opening salvo in the 2024 campaign. It revealed a candidate committed to shoring up the Democratic base but concerned above all else with showing the American people he has the energy to do the job for four more years.

For the DNC, Kennedy Poses a Threat to Biden

The Democratic Party is accelerating attacks on Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as the general election campaign gets underway in earnest, revealing a growing anxiety that the independent White House contender threatens to derail the reelection of President Joe Biden.

In recent weeks, the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the super PAC supporting Kennedy’s presidential bid of illegally coordinating with the candidate’s campaign. “American Values 2024 is in the process of making—and the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. campaign accepting—$15 million worth of unlawful, in-kind contributions to get on the ballot in multiple states,” the DNC said in a press release. Gaining ballot access across 50 states is a cumbersome, expensive process.

“This is yet another example of AV24 playing fast and loose with election law,” DNC senior adviser Mary Beth Cahill said in a statement. “It’s clear that they, along with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his campaign, don’t believe that the rules apply to them.”

Just last week, the DNC targeted Kennedy again, this time as the 70-year-old prepared to sit for a Saturday question-and-answer session at ETHDenver, a cryptocurrency industry conference. (Attendees gave his performance mixed reviews.) The DNC used the occasion to create a non-fungible token, a limited type of digital currency known as an NFT, highlighting Democratic allegations that Kennedy is running for president as a stalking horse for former President Donald Trump. 

The DNC rests that claim on the fact that Republican megadonor Timothy Mellon—a top Trump political financier who has given at least $15 million to the former president—is also among the biggest donors to the pro-Kennedy super PAC, American Values 2024. Mellon has contributed $20 million to the group, according to FEC filings. That entity is doing the legwork to obtain a presidential ballot line across the country for the independent presidential contender.

Democrats are crying foul.

“It’s critical that the American people know that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is not what he seems in this race,” DNC spokesman Alex Floyd said in a statement. “His candidacy is being propped up by megadonor Timothy Mellon, who is also Donald Trump’s largest contributor this cycle.” (Mellon is certainly among Trump’s largest contributors to date, per FEC filings, although it’s unclear as of this point in March if he is the largest.)

This week, the Kennedy campaign announced it has collected enough signatures to put the independent candidate on the ballot in Nevada, a key swing state Biden won only narrowly over Trump in 2020. The Kennedy campaign additionally claims that it is on track to put “Bobby on the ballot” in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., although some political observers remain doubtful he’ll reach that threshold. Still, the Democratic Party’s growing anxiety about his candidacy is understandable given public opinion polling. 

Nationally, Trump leads Biden by 1.8 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average in a head-to-head matchup, 47.6 percent to 45.8 percent. In a three-way race with Kennedy, the president trails his predecessor by 4.3 points: Trump 39.8 percent; Biden 35.5 percent; Kennedy 15 percent. As revealed by these numbers, both Trump and Biden suffer from Kennedy being in the race. 

But as the Democratic and Republican nominating processes end and the fall campaign begins following this week’s Super Tuesday primaries, it’s Biden who takes the bigger hit from Kennedy’s presence in the White House contest. Granted, that could change in the months ahead given the independent candidate’s populist appeal.

Kennedy is the scion of perhaps the most famous 20th-century Democratic family. His uncles include former President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, and Ted Kennedy, the longtime senator from Massachusetts who died in 2009. His father was Robert F. Kennedy, the onetime U.S. attorney general and later a New York senator who was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

“RFK Jr.,” as Kennedy is often called, has always been something of a political gadfly, albeit a prominent one. An attorney, he is known mostly for his virulent opposition to vaccines (all vaccines, not just of the COVID-19 variety) and ardent environmentalism. After initially entering the 2024 sweepstakes as a candidate for the Democratic nomination, Kennedy abandoned that campaign in favor of an independent bid after it became clear Biden was untouchable. The catch?

Running as essentially a third-party candidate means he has to do the painstaking, legally complicated, and costly work of getting his name on November ballots. It’s unclear whether Kennedy will beat state deadlines for doing so. And it’s similarly unclear that federal prohibitions against super PAC coordination with campaigns allow American Values 2024 to do the work for him. 

American Values 2024 did not respond to a request for comment. The Kennedy campaign acknowledged our request but did not provide a comment at press time.

Notable and Quotable

“He should have said ‘undocumented,’ but that’s not a big thing, okay?”

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, referring to President Biden’s apparently ad-libbed remark during the State of the Union about an “illegal” immigrant who killed a Georgia student last month, March 7, 2024
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