President Joe Biden Credit: Official White House Photo by Hannah Foslien)

“Let’s finish the job” was a line repeated again and again Tuesday evening during President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address. He applied the line to all the ongoing legislation and promises made since he took office, including finishing the job of rebuilding the backbone of America, the infrastructure, the economy, expanding Medicare, and ending corporate loopholes that allow the wealthy to pay less income tax.

Biden said, “Let me be crystal clear: I said at the very beginning, under my plans, as long as I’m president, nobody earning less than $400,000 will pay an additional penny in taxes. Nobody. Not one penny. But let’s finish the job. There’s more to do.”

Nowhere in the speech did those words strike a more current concern than when he referenced the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis by five African American police officers. As he cited the need to finish the job on police reform, the television cameras focused on Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney RowVaughn Wells, who were among the invited guests.

“Joining us tonight are the parents of Tyre Nichols…who had to bury Tyre last week,” Biden began. “As many of you personally know, there’s no words to describe the heartache or grief of losing a child. But imagine, imagine if you lost that child at the hands of the law. Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter came home from walking down the street, playing in the park, or just driving a car. Most of us here have never had to have the talk…that brown and Black parents have had to have with their children. Beau, Hunter, Ashley—my children—I never had to have the talk with them.

“I never had to tell them if a police officer pulls you over, turn your interior lights on right away,” the president continued. “Don’t reach for your license. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Imagine having to worry like that every single time your kid got in a car. Here’s what Tyre’s mother shared with me when I spoke to her, when I asked her how she finds the courage to carry on and speak out. The faith in God, she said. Her son was, quote, ‘a beautiful soul, and something good will come of this.’ Imagine how much courage and character that takes. It’s up to us, to all of us.”

From this tragedy, it was an easy segue to his remarks about finishing the job on police reform. “With the support…of the families of victims, civil rights groups, and law enforcement, I signed an executive order for all federal officers banning chokeholds, restricting no-knock warrants, and other key elements of the George Floyd Act. Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre’s mom true: Something good must come from this. We can’t turn away. Let’s do what we know in our hearts that we need to do. Let’s come together to finish the job on police reform.”

In effect, the president has a full agenda of jobs to finish. To this end, he repeatedly called on assistance from the Republicans, emphasizing how often the two parties have worked together. But when he touched on the times in which members of the GOP have intimated reducing Social Security and Medicare, there were hoots from hecklers.

“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans,” Biden said. “All of you at home should know what those plans are. Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.” 

Among the vociferous responses, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was perhaps the loudest, shouting to Biden that he was a “liar.” Speaker Kevin McCarthy appeared to nod in agreement.

As expected, Biden commented about cancer, COVID, climate, and China. Rather than assailing China and the recent downing of a spy balloon, he talked about the quest for mutual accord and a commitment to work with China. “But make no mistake about it: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” he stressed.

A few curious things occurred in the chamber: Was Sen. Bernie Sanders wearing the only mask and Paul Pelosi with the only hat?

These were of less concern than noting Biden’s improvements on the economy, particularly with unemployment at 3.4 percent; a raise for teachers; and the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act).

Even so, as he repeated more than a dozen times, “Let’s finish the job.”

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