It's time to break the news.The Messenger's slogan

Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union: 4 winners, 4 losers and an honorable mention

It was a bad night for billionaires, a better one for climate change.

President Joe Biden gave a speech to a raucous House chamber on Tuesday night, weaving between his signature calls for bipartisanship while warning Republicans he’s ready for a fight, if necessary.

The president pointed to bipartisan wins, like the major infrastructure and climate change legislation he signed last year. And he warned Republicans that he wouldn’t accept unpopular cuts to entitlement programs as part of debt ceiling negotiations, setting off one of the loudest rounds of boos of the night.

State of the Union addresses are always wide ranging, by their nature. Biden’s speech was no different. But some issues got more attention than others and were framed as bigger priorities. Here’s a rundown of which won, which lost and which got a bonus honorable mention.

Winner: A new politics of climate change

The presence — or, for the most part, absence — of the words “climate change” in State of the Union speeches has been a point of contention for at least a decade and a half now. Biden mentioned the climate at least three times and hammered home the absurdity of it remaining a partisan issue:

“The climate crisis doesn’t care if you’re in a red or blue state,” he said. “It is an existential threat.”

“The Inflation Reduction Act is also the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis,” Biden said. “Lowering utility bills, creating American jobs and leading the world to a clean energy future.”

Implementation of the bill is now ongoing, and its long-term effects remain to be seen, but executive leadership willing to call climate change the crisis that it is changes the game.

Winner: Manufacturing

Biden, like all American politicians, loves to talk about manufacturing and infrastructure, and much of the early portion of his State of the Union address was devoted to detailing his administration’s often bipartisan record on infrastructure spending and economic development.

“Semiconductors, the small computer chips the size of your fingertip that power everything from cellphones to automobiles, and so much more. These chips were invented right here in America,” Biden said, lamenting that America’s market share of the semiconductor industry had fallen to 10 percent. To address this, “that’s why we came together to pass the bipartisan Chips and Science Act. We’re making sure the supply chain for America begins in America,” Biden said.

He also called out specific infrastructure projects, including a bridge over the Ohio river connecting Ohio and Kentucky as well as a massive Intel facility being built outside Columbus, which will create, Biden said, “jobs where people don’t have to leave home in search of opportunity.”

He couldn’t help but needle Republicans in the chamber, the vast majority of whom voted against both the infrastructure and semiconductor bills, noting that even if they opposed them, they still wanted projects to come to their districts.

“We’ll fund your projects. And I’ll see you at the groundbreaking,” Biden said.

Winner: Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion “a murderous assault, evoking images of the death and destruction Europe suffered in World War II” — a comparison that must have resonated in the Russian capital as well, given how often Putin invokes World War II as a way to rally his people.

“Putin’s invasion has been a test for the ages,” Biden said. “A test for America. A test for the world. Would we stand for the most basic of principles? Would we stand for sovereignty? Would we stand for the right of people to live free from tyranny?”

The president could stand in the House chamber Tuesday and say credibly that the answers to all those questions was yes. Since Biden delivered his last State of the Union address — as it happened, just one week after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — more than $100 billion in military and humanitarian aid has been sent to Ukraine.

On Tuesday night, there were cheers for all of this. Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova was among the president’s guests of honor.

“We’re going to stand with you as long as it takes,” Biden told her — but he was making that pledge to Zelenskyy and all Ukrainians.

So as one counts winners and losers from the 2023 State of the Union, it’s hard to imagine a bigger winner than the president of Ukraine.

Winner: China hawks

Not long ago, although China-bashing was a staple of the American presidential campaign trail, it was usually tempered once the winner came into office. Republicans in particular have traditionally wanted to maintain trade and commercial ties with China, but it was a Democrat — Bill Clinton — who pushed for China’s accession to the World Trade Organization just a little more than two decades ago. And Republican and Democratic presidents alike have tried to engage the Chinese and cooperate wherever possible, if nothing else to keep channels for dialogue clear and open, and to avoid confrontation.

For all these reasons, hard-line China hawks used to be a fringe in U.S. politics. Not anymore.

“Make no mistake,” the president said. “As we made clear last week, if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”

If it seemed an over-the-top characterization of defense against a large, unmanned balloon, it was in keeping with an atmosphere in which China-bashing is the norm. And it has become a winning message.

“Winning the competition with China should unite all of us,” Biden said — and then — in perhaps his starkest language against Beijing, Biden took aim at his Chinese counterpart. “Name me a leader who’d change positions with Xi Jinping,” Biden said. It was an oddly personal attack, and for what it’s worth, one that was not in the prepared remarks.

It’s perhaps the easiest way to get an applause line in Washington these days, whether you’re campaigning for office or giving a State of the Union address: take a shot at Beijing. Score one for the China hawks.

Loser: Billionaires

Biden pitched his “minimum tax” for billionaires, whereby those with $1 billion in net worth would have to pay a 20 percent income tax that would apply not just to income that most taxpayers would report to the Internal Revenue Service, but also the appreciation of assets that hasn’t yet been realized in the form of a capital gain.

Loser: Abortion rights advocates

This was the first State of the Union address after the Supreme Court ended the national right to abortion. It was arguably the issue that made the 2022 midterms defy historical trends in favor of the party in the White House, with minimal losses in the House and an expanded Democratic majority. But it got a whopping three (short) paragraphs in Biden’s speech.

Biden could have made this the State of the Union defined by the most disruptive Supreme Court decision in abortion rights in decades. Instead, it was a side note.

Loser: The oil and gas industry

“You may have noticed that Big Oil just reported record profits. Last year, they made $200 billion in the midst of a global energy crisis. I think it’s outrageous.”

This may seem like a significant broadside at one of the most powerful industries in the world, but Biden’s response to that issue was still somewhat measured. He went on to say that the industry invested “too little” of its windfall in increased production and instead enriched its own shareholders. In response, the president is proposing a quadrupling of a tax on corporate stock buybacks, which would hit some of the huge hauls the industry announced in recent months.

Loser: House Republicans

Biden’s biggest political liability, according to polling among even members of his own party, is his age. For Republicans hoping to take back the White House in 2024, they’d ideally like a performance from Biden looking weak. But Biden looked his strongest when he went into direct combat with Republicans on one of their least popular policy ideas.

Biden energized his supporters in the crowd by criticizing Republican proposals on Medicare and Social Security. And it got him the fight he seemed to want with the right.

“If anyone tries to cut Social Security, I will stop them. And if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I will stop them. I will not allow them to be taken away,” Biden said, to jeers and head-shaking from Republicans, including McCarthy, who disputed his characterization of their plans.

Biden smiled, he laughed, he encouraged viewers at home to call up the White House and get more information on Republican plans. He reveled in it.

Biden knows that most voters don’t want to see benefits like Medicare or Social Security dry up, including many Republican voters. So while hard-line conservatives in Congress may want to upend the programs, in practice, many of their colleagues on the right do not.

As Biden heads into two years of attacks by the Republican-controlled House, he signaled Tuesday night he’s spoiling for a fight.

Honorable Mention: Saturated color

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) set Twitter on fire by wearing an avant-garde, lemon yellow dress. But she wasn’t alone in wearing a bold tone. Pops of jelly bean pink, orange, blue, purple and green jackets, suits and dresses punctuated what is usually a sea of navy blue. In the post-pandemic era, bright color is on trend. And the women in Congress appear to be embracing it, highlighting, literally, their historic numbers inside an institution long dominated by men and their navy blue.

Start your day with the biggest stories and exclusive reporting from The Messenger Morning, our weekday newsletter.
By signing up, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use.
Sign Up.