I watched the speech — and the reaction to it — and jotted down some of the best and the worst of the night.
* Inviting the Ukrainian ambassador to the US: Ever since Ronald Reagan first invited honored guests to the State of the Union, it’s been an opportunity for presidents to strike memorable moments in a speech that often feels like a laundry list of policy priorities. Biden’s decision to have the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States as a special guest of first lady Jill Biden made for an early high point in his speech as the chamber — Democrats and Republicans — rose to their feet to cheer. “We the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people,” Biden said.
* A history-making backdrop: For the first time ever, two women — Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — sat behind the president of the United States during a State of the Union address. It was a remarkable visual. And it was history.
* A return to normal: As the camera panned the House chamber before Biden spoke, I couldn’t see a single person wearing a mask. When the President walked in, maskless, he immediately began shaking hands. It felt like every State of the Union before the world heard the words “Covid-19.” Biden said at one point: “We are moving forward safely back to normal routines.” At another: “Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, Covid-19 need no longer control our lives.” The words had more meaning because the chamber in which Biden said them looked a lot like normal.
* Pushing the reset button on Covid-19: One of the worst developments of the last two years is that a virus has become political football. Biden made a plea to change that reality. “Let’s stop looking at Covid-19 as a partisan dividing line and see it for what it is: A God-awful disease,” he said. “We can’t change how divided we’ve been. But we can change how we move forward — on Covid-19 and other issues we must face together.”
* Not giving up on bipartisanship: Biden sprinkled his speech with lines like “thanks to my Republican friends” and repeatedly acknowledged that there were real differences of opinion on major issues. He said: “It is important for us to show the nation that we can come together and do big things.” Biden then proposed a series of proposals — addressing the opioid crisis, taking care of veterans — that he believed could be done on a bipartisan basis.
* The work-from-home crowd: Biden made clear in the speech that he believed it was time for people to begin going back to work regularly, following two years of Covid-19 related changes to the workplace. “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office.”
* “The Iranian people:” As Biden wrapped up the section of the speech dedicated to the Russia invasion, he sought to praise the Ukrainian people. Except that he said “Iranian people.” I know what he meant but, well, it took a little something away from the moment.