In Republican response to State of the Union, Huckabee Sanders vows to block president's agenda

WASHINGTON – While President Joe Biden called for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address, Republicans made clear they will try to thwart him on any number of contentious issues – from the Biden debt ceiling plan to his reelection prospects in 2024.

"Biden and the Democrats have failed you ... and it's time for a change," said Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the formal Republican response to Biden's prime-time speech. Hailing a "new generation of Republican leadership," Sanders promoted the new House GOP majority and said that "we will hold the Biden administration accountable."

GOP congressional leaders and presidential prospects – including former President Donald Trump – pledged to fight Biden over State of the Union topics such as the debt ceiling, China, inflation, border security, business regulations and other disputes that figure to play a large role in the 2024 presidential election.

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Several GOP members, including hard-right conservatives who hold the balance of power within the House Republican caucus, repeatedly heckled Biden.

In his address, Biden told "my Republican friends" that Americans sent them to Washington to work on the nation's problems, and he hinted that voters would be unhappy with Republican obstruction.

"Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere," Biden said.

He repeatedly urged Republicans to help him "finish the job" of rebuilding the nation, a mantra that some analysts called a nod to a possible reelection campaign next year.

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The debt ceiling

Republicans said voters awarded them control of the U.S. Congress so they could stop runaway federal spending.

Responding to Biden's speech, Republicans said they still plan to use the debt ceiling to leverage spending cuts from the Biden administration, a looming legislative battle with major consequences for the global economy.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy introduces President Joe Biden during the State of the Union address from the House chamber of the United States Capitol in Washington.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy introduces President Joe Biden during the State of the Union address from the House chamber of the United States Capitol in Washington.

New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who for the first time sat behind the president as he delivered his State of the Union address, has more than once said Republicans will not raise the debt ceiling without significant "spending reform."

"Republicans offer a vision for a future built on freedom, not fear-mongering," McCarthy tweeted after Biden's address.

In calling for a "clean" debt ceiling increase, Biden said a refusal would prevent the government from paying its bills and lead to a default that could wreck the global economy.

Biden said Congress is obligated to increase the debt ceiling without conditions, even though "some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage – I get it – unless I agree to their economic plans."

Some Republican ideas would benefit the wealthy and threaten Social Security and Medicare, Biden said, drawing boos, hisses and shouts of "liar" from Republican lawmakers.

As the debt ceiling showdown approaches, Republican political strength is limited. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats hold the Senate and and the White House and are unlikely to sign off on Republican counterproposals for budget cuts. In his speech, Biden vowed to veto any Republican plan that could reach his White House desk.

House Republicans also seek to undercut Biden with a series of investigations of his administration, including probes of immigration policy, law enforcement priorities, and his son Hunter Biden's business dealings and whether the president benefited from them.

The China balloon and foreign policy

Republicans who want to unseat Biden in the 2024 election – and win control of the Senate – also assailed the president's State of the Union speech over national security, using an issue that popped last week with the Chinese surveillance balloon.

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GOP lawmakers said allowing a surveillance balloon to drift over a large chunk of U.S. territory reflected weakness in Biden's approach to China and other global adversaries.

"The state of our union is apparently under Chinese surveillance from our own skies," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. In a written statement, McConnell also criticized Biden for "weak" approaches to border security, the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Biden said the U.S. would confront China whenever necessary, as it did Saturday when it shot down the surveillance balloon. Saying he has modernized the military, Biden told Congress that "we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world."

Looking ahead to 2024

The emerging politics of 2024 shadowed both Biden's State of the Union and the Republican reaction to it.

Trump and the Republicans who may run against him for the Republican nomination – including Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence – took the opportunity of the State of the Union address to criticize the incumbent.

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In a two-minute video posted on social media, Trump attacked Biden over immigration, crime, inflation and support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

"The good news is we are going to reverse every single single crisis, calamity and disaster," Trump said.

Haley, the former South Carolina governor who plans to announce her presidential candidacy next week, tweeted out a stream of attacks on Biden's program. One said: "Biden's State of the Union in 6 words: Tax. Spend. Tax. Spend. Tax. Spend."

Pence, the former vice president who is considering a presidential campaign of his own, tweeted after Biden's speech that "it is time for new Republican leadership to get our Nation back to the strength and prosperity we had under the Trump-Pence Administration."

In his speech, Biden took his share of shots at the Republicans and even joked at the prospect of a political impasse.

In congratulating McCarthy on his new position, Biden said: "Speaker, I don't want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GOP response to State of the Union: A vow to block Biden's agenda