In his first speech in the Oval Office, President Biden declared triumph after a bipartisan agreement to raise the debt ceiling was approved by both houses of Congress, averting a default and financial disaster.
The president thanked Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) for working with him on the agreement, which the two men finalized only days before the Treasury was expected to run out of money to pay the country’s obligations. The Obama also lauded Republican and Democratic negotiators in the 13-minute speech.
Even while Biden acknowledged his political rivals, he didn’t hesitate to contrast them with them. He criticized the Republicans’ proposed cuts to Medicaid, clean energy projects, and Internal Revenue Service budget, recalling their earlier calls to slash Social Security and Medicare.
“Republicans may not like it,” he said, “but I am going to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share. … I am going to be coming back, and with your help, I’m gonna win.”
The speech Biden gave on Friday in front of the Resolute Desk marked a change in his approach. Democrats had feared that the president’s excessive silence throughout the protracted negotiations had given McCarthy the opportunity to dominate media coverage.
He had the opportunity to address the American people in person at the Oval Office address, not in the midst of a crisis but rather to, as he told the nation, “report on a crisis averted.”
“No one got everything they wanted, but the American people got what they needed,” Biden said. “We averted an economic crisis — an economic collapse.”
The debt ceiling agreement will be signed into law on Saturday, according to Biden.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved by both chambers of Congress and includes budget limitations, certain adjustments to energy regulations, and reforms to social programs.
Progressive Democrats who opposed the agreement highlighted issues with what they called the debt ceiling’s “hostage taking,” the deal’s easing of energy permitting, and changes to social programs like SNAP, better known as food stamps.
The plan was also opposed by members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, who claimed that it did not go far enough in reducing government expenditure.
The president needs to triumph. His approval ratings have been stuck in the low 40s and have dropped as the debt ceiling talks heated up and the threat of a disastrous default increased. On Thursday, after speaking to the graduates at the United States Air Force Academy, he stumbled and fell on stage. Later, a White House staff member tweeted that the 80-year-old president was “fine.”
Voters might not be closely following the drama surrounding the debt ceiling.
“Right now, people are probably moving on to planning summer vacations and being concerned about issues closer to home …,” Rose Kapolczynski, a West Coast-based political consultant, told The Times. “The debt limit is very important for America and the economy. But it’s pretty obscure.”
However, voters frequently state that they expect their leaders to make concessions, particularly the Democrats and independents that Biden needs to win re-election.
A February PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found that 70% of Americans thought it was more crucial to compromise in order to find answers than it was to maintain one’s principles in the face of impasse. Democrats and independents reported supporting compromise at the highest rates, 83% and 69%, respectively.
“Most voters want leaders from both parties to work together,” Kapolczynski said. “They also want leaders to stand up for what they believe in. Sometimes those two things are in conflict. But in this case, Biden felt he got a deal that did both.”
The president emphasized this idea Friday night by mentioning unity and bipartisanship at the start and finish of his speech.
“I know bipartisanship is hard and unity is hard, but we can never stop trying,” he said. “To join forces as Americans is to stop shouting, lower the temperature, and work together to pursue progress.”
However, potential Republican opponents of Biden have criticized the debt ceiling agreement.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the pact will send the nation “careening toward bankruptcy.” Former President Trump has stated that he would have permitted a default before agreeing to what Republicans accomplished. The agreement, according to the former vice president Mike Pence, “uses Washington smoke and mirror games to make small reforms.”
In times of national crisis and sorrow, presidents have traditionally utilized the Oval Office to convey messages that are of the utmost significance.
Soon after the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush gave a speech to the nation from his office. Famously, President George H.W. Bush made his first speech in the Oval Office to warn against drug usage while carrying a bag of what he called “crack cocaine.” In June 2010, following a trip to the location of a significant oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama delivered his first speech from the Oval Office.
The last Oval Office address before to Biden’s was on January 13, 2021, when Trump appealed for peace ahead of Biden’s inauguration, an event he neither acknowledged nor attended, and condemned violence in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.