By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republicans rejected Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden’s call for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, and instead accused him of stoking culture wars in a nation they described as deeply divided.
A day after Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called on Biden to work together toward compromise on the debt and spending, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered a partisan broadside during the party’s official rebuttal to Biden’s speech.
“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire. But you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race,” said Sanders, who was White House press secretary under former President Donald Trump.
“The Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day,” she said.
In his first State of the Union address to a Congress that includes a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Biden touched on some hallmarks of America’s culture wars – assault weapons, abortion and transgender youth. But those issues represented only a small fraction of what was largely an economic speech.
Biden did pledge to work with Republicans, as during the last Congress when both chambers were controlled by Democrats.
The president’s congressional audience included Republican lawmakers who question his 2020 election victory over Trump and have begun moving forward with investigations of his family and administration.
“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 Congress as well,”
Biden and McCarthy, who as speaker sat behind the president during the address, remain at loggerheads in their approaches to the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, which must be addressed in coming months to avoid a first-ever default.
“Mr. Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you,” Biden told McCarthy at the outset of his remarks.
Republicans hope to exact spending cuts from Biden in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
But Biden, who said he wants to reduce the federal deficit by taxing the wealthy, made it clear that he would not be pushed into accepting Republican spending cuts. He drew boos and shouts of “liar” by asserting that some Republicans would like to “sunset” Social Security and Medicare.
McCarthy has vowed to remain resolute in demanding spending cuts from Biden. But with a razor-thin House majority and a fractured party conference, he had difficulty being elected speaker last month and could struggle to unite his members.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Sunday found just 43% of Republicans approve of McCarthy’s job performance. That’s a far lower rate of support from within his own party than Biden, who had the approval of 76% of Democrats.
The speech appeared to foreshadow a second presidential campaign Biden is likely to launch in coming weeks – a possibility that did not escape Trump, who has already launched his own 2024 White House bid.
In a two-minute pre-recorded video, Trump presented what he called “the real State of the Union” as that of an inflation-wracked nation overrun by drug-traffickers, killers, rapists, violent criminals and “millions and millions of illegal aliens.”
The former president, facing several investigations from federal and state prosecutors, also described himself as “a victim” of Biden’s Justice Department.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Gram Slattery; Editing by Scott Malone and Lincoln Feast.)