'Democracy is at risk': Joe Biden warns of 'unprecedented moment in US history' as he hits out at Donald Trump

8 March 2024, 03:41 | Updated: 8 March 2024, 13:49

Joe Biden delivering his state of the union address
Joe Biden delivering his state of the union address. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Joe Biden warned that "democracy is at risk" and said that the US was undergoing an "unprecedented moment" in its history, as he delivered his State of the Union address on Thursday.

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"Freedom and democracy are under attack, both at home and overseas, at the very same time" the US president told Congress.

In a wide-ranging speech lasting roughly an hour, Mr Biden hit out at Donald Trump, his likely opponent in November's presidential election, criticising him for his foreign policy positions, his role in the January 6 Capitol attacks and the state of the country after Covid, among other issues.

The State of the Union is an annual speech given by the president to Congress, in which they set out their agenda for the year.

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President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Picture: Alamy

Mr Biden was under huge scrutiny as he delivered the speech, as political attention turns to the election. At times his address felt like a campaign speech, although at others he appeared to lose his train of thought.

The president said he was "feeling good" as he left the White House shortly before 9pm local time (2am UK time), and joked with supporters.

Mr Biden arrived in the chamber at about 9.15pm local time, and took several minutes greeting people and taking selfies. Some cheered him with the chant of "four more years!"

He began his speech with the joke: "If I were smart, I'd go home now," to widespread cheers and laughter.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Picture: Alamy

Beginning his fourth State of the Union address, the president urged Congress to vote through a Ukraine aid bill, telling them: "History is watching." He added: "We will not walk away. We will not bow down."

He said that Donald Trump's isolationist rhetoric about NATO and towards Russia was "outrageous, dangerous and... unacceptable."

The president reiterated the US position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, underlining his support for Israel's right to defend itself while protecting civilian lives. He stressed again the US' support for a two-state solution, a concept Israel has rejected.

Mr Biden said that the US military would set up a temporary port on the Gaza coast to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid. The announcement had been trailed in advance.

American troops will not be required to be on the ground in Gaza, with troops delivering the aid from offshore he said.

The temporary port will allow more shipments of food to be delivered to the beleaguered territory, as well as vital medicine and other essential items.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Picture: Alamy

Mr Biden also hit out at Mr Trump and some Republicans for the January 6 storming of Congress in 2021, while noting that "America stood strong, and democracy prevailed."

He added that Mr Trump and some members of Congress were trying to overturn the 2020 election. "Here's the simple truth: you can't love your country only when you win," Mr Biden said.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden. Picture: Getty

Mr Biden later vowed that if he were re-elected he would work to restore abortion rights nationwide, provided he has the co-operation of Congress.

Reproductive freedom is set to be a major issue in the presidential election, and helped the Democrats perform well in the 2022 midterms, after rights were eroded in several Republican-led states.

Mr Biden criticised Mr Trump and Republicans for their position on the issue, saying that people "bragging about overturning Roe v Wade have no clue" about the political and electoral power of women.

The president also said that Mr Trump had not done enough to protect Americans from Covid, but that since 2020, the US was undergoing "the biggest comeback never told".

He sought to project an image of a strong, prosperous America, saying: "It's because of you America is coming back. The state of our union is strong and getting stronger."

Mr Biden said that many more jobs had been created under his presidency, listed a range of infrastructure improvements that had been made across the country, and pointed to several instances of manufacturing jobs returning to the US.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden. Picture: Alamy

Mr Biden, who was the first president to stand on a picket line last September, also hailed labour unions during his speech.

He said: "Wall Street didn't build America - they're not bad guys, but they didn't build it. The middle class built the country, and unions built the middle class."

Mr Biden also said he would cut the amount that Americans pay for prescription drugs, efforts that have been underway since last year. He said he would cap prescription costs at $2,000 (about £1,560) each year for everyone.

Among other measures, the president pledged to raise taxes on corporations and billionaires, announced a pay rise for state school teachers, and more help for Americans to buy homes.

He also vowed to "stand up for seniors", by protecting welfare programmes like Social Security and Medicare.

"If anyone here tries to cut Social Security or Medicare, I will stop you," he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris claps before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union
Vice President Kamala Harris claps before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union. Picture: Alamy

Mr Biden said that he wanted to bring in a new border control bill to help control the flow of migrants coming over from Mexico. This was met with boos from some Republicans, as he attempted to distance himself from the more aggressive anti-immigration rhetoric of Mr Trump. "We can fight about fixing the border, or we can fix it," he said.

In a moment of some political drama, he picked up a badge seemingly given to him by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican, who had earlier tried to talk to him about Laken Riley, a young woman recently killed by an undocumented immigrant. Mr Biden said that he sympathised with Ms Riley's parents, having lost two children himself.

Mr Biden sought to take a conciliatory tone at the end of his speech, saying that he believed in the American people, and that he wanted to work "for all Americans".

"So let's build a future together, let's remember who we are - we're the United States of America," he said, to widespread cheers.

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