A Fiery State of the Union

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Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Hamas stepped away from ongoing ceasefire and hostage deal negotiations on Thursday after the terrorist group’s Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar, emerged from seclusion to demand that Israel commit to a permanent end to the war. A six-week pause in fighting was on the table, in addition to the exchange of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for roughly 40 hostages taken by Hamas during the October 7 attack on Israel. Hamas’ delegation left the latest round of talks in Cairo, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, yesterday, likely ending hopes for an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts around Sunday—though U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew expressed optimism that negotiations would resume. The Israeli delegation boycotted the latest round of talks after Hamas failed to produce a list of remaining living hostages.
  • President Joe Biden announced during his State of the Union address Thursday night that the U.S. would build a temporary pier on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast in an effort to boost the delivery of humanitarian aid. The “emergency mission,” which Biden said would not require U.S. boots on the ground in Gaza, would include a large-scale amphibious military operation to create a temporary port that could receive food and other vital supplies by sea.
  • Sweden formally became the 32nd member of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) on Thursday after delivering its accession documents to Washington, D.C. “We will strive for unity, solidarity, and burden-sharing, and will fully adhere to the Washington Treaty values: freedom, democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a statement yesterday. Sweden’s flag will be raised in a ceremony at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday.
  • The House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Laken Riley Act, a bipartisan bill named for the Augusta University student who was killed by an illegal immigrant last month while jogging on the University of Georgia campus. The bill—which passed 251-170 with 37 Democrats joining all present Republicans to vote in favor of the bill—would require federal immigration authorities to detain any undocumented migrant facing local burglary or theft charges. The man charged with Laken’s killing, Jose Ibarra, is an illegal immigrant from Venezuela who was arrested and released in New York City for acting in a manner to injure a child, and received a citation in Georgia for misdemeanor shoplifting. The bill’s fate in the Senate is uncertain.*

The State of the Union is Angry

President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on March 7, 2024. (Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on March 7, 2024. (Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

The tone of last night’s State of the Union address was set perhaps even before President Joe Biden delivered a word of his speech. Protesters, pushing for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza, blocked a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue leading to the Capitol Building. GOP firebrands like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado signaled early on Thursday that they would not heed Speaker Mike Johnson’s calls for decorum. And as Biden proceeded to the dais, Greene pulled on a MAGA hat—against Congressional rules—and handed him a button embossed with the name of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student killed last month in Georgia by an illegal immigrant. 

The annual speech was delivered with just 243 days until November’s presidential election, and the specter of the campaign hung over the room as the president and congressional Republicans traded barbs throughout the night. Biden referenced his predecessor—and once-again political rival—more than a dozen times over the course of the night, using the address to make his reelection pitch. In substance, Biden’s remarks were about par for the Democrat’s course; stylistically, however, the direct partisan rancor coming from both sides previewed the long and bruising election cycle that lies ahead.

Biden headed into his address with a grim political outlook. According to RealClearPolitics polling averages, his net approval rating is 17 points underwater, and 67 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. A New York Times/Siena poll released last week found that just 18 percent of voters believe the president’s policies have personally helped them—compared to 40 percent who said the same about the policies of former President Donald Trump. That halcyon view of the Trump era undercuts a core Biden campaign theme: that voters are better off now than they were four years ago. 

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