Joe Biden calls for unity in State of the Union address

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President Joe Biden called for unity and tried to emphasise conciliation over conflict in his State of the Union address.

The 80-year-old almost defiantly ignored the bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats and his own low standing with the public in his speech.

He returned repeatedly to common ground, making the case that both parties can back US factories, new businesses being formed and the funding of 20,000 infrastructure projects.

It was a sign that Democrats and Republicans can at least agree to a shared set of goals, even if they have very different views of how to get there.

In the midterm election campaign, Mr Biden warned of Republican extremists.

On Tuesday night, he portrayed them as partners in governance during the first two years of his presidency.

President Joe Biden shakes hands with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy
GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy applauded some of Mr Biden’s points on Tuesday (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AP)

That sparked a raucous back and forth that seemed more in line with the reality of the actual relationship between the parties.

The president also invoked domestic and foreign concerns in references to China and Ukraine.

Beijing had brazenly floated a spy balloon across the United States, an embarrassing episode for Mr Biden that culminated last weekend with him ordering the Pentagon to shoot the craft out of the sky over the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr Biden took a moment to pay tribute to Ukraine, addressing one of his guests, Ambassador Oksana Markarova, as representing “not just her nation but the courage of her people”.

He also applauded Congress for giving Ukraine what it needed to face Russia’s brutal aggression, with the United States already having committed nearly 30 billion dollars (£25 billion) in security assistance since the start of the war.

In private, administration officials have made clear to Ukrainian officials that Congress’ patience with the cost of the war will have its limits.

RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, stands as she is recognized by President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address
Joe Biden marvelled at the grace of RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, who is shown standing at the State of the Union (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Among his guests at the event were the parents of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old black man whose beating death at the hands Memphis, Tennessee, police has reignited a national debate on policing.

Efforts to reduce police excesses have been sharply restricted by resistance in Congress and there is little prospect of federal action.

Still, Mr Biden expressed awe at the grace of Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, who following his death has talked of her son’s “beautiful soul” and hopeful certainty that “something good will come from this”.

Mr Biden uttered the phrase “finish the job” at least a dozen times during his address.

It sounded like the makings of a slogan he might employ for a re-election campaign.

But it is highly unlikely he will be able to finish the job on many of the things he referenced, like an assault weapons ban, universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds and forcing companies to stop doing stock buybacks.

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