Among Wyoming Political Leaders, Biden’s Bipartisan Appeals Fall Flat

At the State of the Union, the Wyoming congressional delegation honed in on the president’s perceived failures

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Feb 08, 2023

President Joe Biden sought to highlight bipartisanship during his State of the Union address Tuesday, though Republicans appeared intent on highlighting his administration's perceived failures. (Pool photo by Jacquelyn Martin)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday addressed a divided U.S. Congress for the first time since taking office, delivering a State of the Union address which sought to highlight bipartisanship in a time of increased political polarization.

The president began by congratulating House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), seated alongside Vice President Kamala Harris behind him. “I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you,” Biden said to McCarthy amid laughs from lawmakers in the House chamber.

In a statement responding to Biden’s remarks, Sen. John Barrasso said the president is “causing crisis after crisis,” and urged him to “work with us to help Americans recover from the nightmare he caused.” (Photo via YouTube / Sen. John Barrasso) 

Biden pointed to record-low unemployment numbers and a post-COVID economic rebound as evidence for the successes of his administration, stressing the need for Democrats and Republicans to unify.

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this new Congress,” Biden said. “The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.”

But for Wyoming’s all-Republican congressional delegation, Biden’s bipartisan appeals mostly fell on deaf ears. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, along with Rep. Harriet Hageman, instead sought to highlight what they perceived to be Biden’s failures, among them high inflation, record apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border and a “war on American energy.”

“It’s bold to take credit for the jobs that are simply a post COVID bounce back. Millions of jobs are still open and small business owners and families across Wyoming are still struggling,” Lummis tweeted midway through Biden’s remarks.

“Wyoming families have had enough of President Biden’s blame game,” said Barrasso in a post-speech video. “Tonight, we heard this president brag and boast about a record that is failing the hardworking men and women of our state. This president is causing crisis after crisis.”

As the speech continued, Biden pivoted towards more traditional Democratic talking points: calling on Congress to ban assault weapons, extend price caps on pharmaceuticals like insulin and protect Medicare and Social Security — entitlements some Republicans had threatened to cut as a means of lowering spending.

Republicans, in turn, responded with increased volume, heckling Biden throughout his speech. Several members, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.), openly decried the president as a “liar!” Seeking to capitalize on the moment, Biden said he’d interpret their reaction as a pledge not to cut such social spending programs.

Tapped to deliver the Republican Rebuttal to Biden’s remarks, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders — once the White House Press Secretary under former President Donald Trump — took aim at what she described as the president’s “woke fantasies”: “I’m the first woman to lead my state, and he’s the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” Huckabee-Sanders said.

But despite her insinuations, Biden’s speech mostly avoided culture war issues. A central focus was on his so-called “Unity Agenda,” matters the White House believe transcend political ideology. Biden pledged to increase investments in cancer research, improve health and career outcomes for military veterans, combat the growing mental health crisis and further crack down on the illicit drug trade.

Such issues “affect all Americans in red states and blue states,” White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said in a call with reporters previewing Biden’s remarks earlier Tuesday. “The American people are counting on their elected officials, no matter their party, to come together and do big things.”

Republican leaders, however, seem less interested in working with Biden on new initiatives than they do rolling back his previous ones. Just hours before Biden’s speech, for example, House lawmakers voted — almost entirely along party lines — to advance a proposal to rescind the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for foreign travelers entering the U.S.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., reacts as President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“Under Joe Biden’s leadership, the state of our Union is anything but strong,” Hageman said immediately following Biden’s speech. “No matter what the topic, America is worse off now than it was the day before his 2021 inauguration.”

Budget showdown looms, as GOP targets border politics

Biden’s most forceful comments came as he addressed the need for the U.S. to pay its bills, stating explicitly that “no president added more to the national debt in any four years than my predecessor.”

He claimed some Republicans want to “take the economy hostage” unless he goes along with their intended cuts. “I won’t let that happen,” Biden promised.

The ongoing standoff over the debt ceiling has shown no signs of progress as the nation moves closer to a fiscal cliff. Top officials say the country will default if an agreement isn’t reached by this summer.

On border matters, Biden sought to put the onus on Congress for progress: “America’s border problems won’t be fixed until Congress acts,” he said. Yet Lummis, Barrasso and Hageman each sought to lay the blame for increased border crossings at Biden’s feet.

“Our porous border continues to go unchecked,” Lummis said in a statement.

“Had [Biden] simply continued the border policies in place under Donald Trump, none of this would be happening,” Hageman contended.

Biden touts strength of democracy as he’s set to embark on 2024 campaign

Also central to Biden’s speech was a focus on preserving American democracy, something he said that two years ago “faced its greatest threat since the Civil War.”

“Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken,” Biden added.

It’s a message Biden has honed as he appears poised to announce a 2024 reelection campaign in the coming weeks. Immediately following his congressional address, Biden heads on a cross-country trip touting his administration’s accomplishments in Wisconsin and Florida.

But voters don’t appear eager for him to run again. Nor are they keen on a rematch against his former rival Donald Trump. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found 58% of Democrats preferring a different candidate to top the ticket, with 49% of Republicans similarly preferring someone other than Trump as the Republican nominee. Even Sanders in her speech acknowledged it’s “time for a new generation of Republican leadership.” 

Still, one repeated refrain in Biden’s remarks was the need to “finish the job” — a tacit argument that he should be given the opportunity to see his policies to the finish line.

“So many things that we did are only now coming to fruition,” Biden said, echoing a frequent refrain from White House aides when asked about Biden’s poor poll numbers.

Whether Americans are willing to give him that chance remains to be seen.

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