President BidenJoe BidenBiden State of the Union: A plea for unity in unusual times Watch: Key moments from Biden’s first State of the Union address Five takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union address MORE’s pivot to the center at his State of the Union address on Tuesday was welcome news for centrist Democrats worried the party’s leftward tilt was hurting its appeal with voters.
Democrats close to the administration said Biden looked like he was on comfortable ground rallying Republicans and Democrats alike to Ukraine’s defense at the beginning of his address, and they said they hoped it would lead to a turnaround for a White House that has been lurching.
Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, said the pivot was also vital to the hopes of easing losses in the fall midterms.
“There is a potential red wave coming in November,” he said. “Every progressive in the House is safe. They’re on high ground. The beachfront territory is all moderates. And if progressives don’t think that Biden is fighting for them enough, then I just think they’ve lost touch with reality.”
A Democratic strategist used an expletive to describe Biden.
“He was f—— true to himself,” said the strategist, who had yearned for a return of the old Biden who appealed to independents and had relationships across the aisle. “I was happy to see the return of that guy because the cater-to-everyone Joe Biden wasn’t working.”
In his speech, Biden appealed for national and international unity in the face of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. He called on Congress to reform the U.S. immigration system and secure the southern border. And he firmly rejected the “defund the police” narrative — a moment that got Republicans to leap out of their seats — while calling for more support for law enforcement.
Biden even announced a new unity agenda that would involve both parties working together to address issues like opioid addiction and online privacy for children, to which he’ll devote time with a trip to Fort Worth, Texas, next week.
“There were obviously pieces in the speech that were meant to appeal to Democrats and progressives, but much of this speech really tried to blur partisan lines,” Kessler said.
The appeal to the center didn’t sit well with every progressive.
“At a time when people of color still feel terrorized by police, it was disappointing that the president did not push hard enough for law enforcement accountability,” Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday.
Rep. Cori BushCori BushGreen groups press for progressive upset in Texas House race Democrats call on Biden to address ‘disparate and often inhumane treatment’ of Black migrants Sunday shows: No breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine tensions MORE (D-Mo.) also criticized Biden.
“With all due respect, Mr. President. You didn’t mention saving Black lives once in this speech. All our country has done is given more funding to police. The result? 2021 set a record for fatal police shootings. Defund the police. Invest in our communities,” Bush wrote in a tweet.
Biden did seek to push pieces of his domestic economic agenda as a way to ease the burden of rising costs. But the laundry list of climate, child care and health care proposals, which have been championed by progressives, was not the address’s main focus.
Biden continued his centrist pitch on a trip to Wisconsin on Wednesday that highlighted the bipartisan infrastructure law and advocated for making more goods in America and lowering everyday costs to address inflationary pressures. Those are all traditional middle-class issues that could have appeal across party lines.
Biden has faced accusations from Republicans of embracing left-wing policies after campaigning as a moderate.
Responding to that criticism during an event with the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, White House chief of staff Ron KlainRon KlainReynolds to focus on inflation, schools in response to Biden LIVE COVERAGE: Biden delivers State of the Union The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Putin’s stability questioned MORE said the White House “if anything” had trimmed its agenda back.
“We’ve put together proposals to meet the moment, not out of some effort to do something bigger than we should,” he said.
Pivoting to the center could help Biden and Democrats up for reelection capture independents who have soured on Biden in recent months.
But Mondale Robinson, founder of the Black Male Voter Project, said that Biden’s address was evidence of him putting bipartisanship over issues that matter to Black Americans, who make up a substantial portion of the Democratic base and among whom the president has seen support dampen in recent months.
Robinson criticized Biden for not taking the opportunity to call out Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPhotos: President Biden’s first State of the Union Reynolds response hammers Biden for ‘weakness on world stage’ Manchin pours water on Biden’s attempt to revive Build Back Better MORE (W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaTlaib offers stinging critique of centrist Democrats following Biden address Women’s groups press Congress on abortion rights, domestic violence ahead of SOTU Tlaib to deliver progressive response to Biden State of the Union address MORE (Ariz.) for objecting to changing the legislative filibuster or rebuke Republicans for standing in the way of voting rights legislation.
“This idea of bipartisanship does not exist, at least not in a way that benefits Black people in this country,” Robinson said.
Polls suggest that the address was generally well-received by a large swath of the American public that watched.
A CBS News survey of U.S. adults who watched the speech found that 78 percent said they approved of the address, including majorities of Democrats and independents. According to the poll, 49 percent of speech watchers were Democrats, 28 percent independents and 21 percent Republicans.
Democratic strategist Mike Morey, who served as an aide to Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerFive viral moments from Biden’s State of the Union Schumer goes viral for start-and-stop ovation at State of the Union Democrats press top pharmaceutical representative on price increases MORE (D-N.Y.), said Biden was consistent with what he’s said before. The difference, he said, was that the State of the Union “gave him the perfect opportunity to say it clearly and directly to the American people, without the noise.”
“The president needs to do more of this,” Morey said. “He’s good at it and it works. He must continue to transcend the loudest voices, which simply don’t represent where Democrats and most Americans are.”
Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, who served as a senior aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHow Republicans came to revel hating Joe Biden The woman behind the State Dept. bureau rushing security aid to Ukraine On The Money — How Breyer bailing blocks Build Back Better MORE (D-Nev.), offered a similarly good review.
“As leader of the party, President Biden just set the record straight on where the vast majority of Democrats stand, and if the very vocal minority want to challenge him on his statement, it has the added benefit of demonstrating to independents that he’s his own man.”
Brett Samuels contributed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism