Civil war? Biden's 'unity agenda' speech can't mask the divided state of his own party

A News Analysis: In his first State of the Union, the president was dissed from both sides of his Democratic Party as moderate Manchin sat with GOP and progressives aired counter programming.

Published: March 1, 2022 11:41pm

Updated: March 2, 2022 12:18am

Long on comforting (albeit mumbled) platitudes and short on details, Joe Biden tried to assure weary, frightened Americans during his first State of the Union that he can execute a "unity agenda." But as they listened and observed, most voters were confronted with the reality Tuesday night that America's 46th president isn't even able to even unify his own party. 

Everywhere there were optics of dissension, division and dissatisfaction inside the Democratic Party.

Moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia stunningly sat with Republican senators during the joint address, just hours after calling out Biden's "hypocritical" action of allowing Russian oil to be imported to the United States while curtailing American energy production at home.

Adding injury to insult, two progressives — firebrand Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Black Caucus member Colin Allred (D-Texas) — felt compelled to air counterprogramming to their own president's prime time speech.

Their post-address appeals to progressives doubled what Republicans felt necessary to muster — they only offered a soft-spoken Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for rebuttal.

It was such a rebuke that Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) compared the  Democrats' counteraddresses "to keying your own car and slashing your own tires."

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) also joined in crashing Biden's party, wearing a red dress with the number 18,000 on it, directly calling out her own president for inaction on one of her racial justice priorities.

"18,000. That's how many people whose clemency petition are sitting in a backlog waiting for @POTUS," she tweeted.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," added Bush, one of the Democrats' most ardent supporters of defunding the police. "President Biden, we're urging you: start granting clemency now."

A few hours later, Biden returned fire on Bush and other defunding advocates in his own party.

"The answer is not to defund the police. It is to fund police," Biden said to bipartisan applause. "Fund them with resources and training."

The division in Biden's party goes far deeper, evidenced the weekend before the speech when retired Democrat Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard — just two years removed from running against Biden in the presidential primaries — showed up at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., as the keynote speaker at the annual Ronald Reagan dinner.

It wasn't just a gesture. Gabbard unloaded on Biden, big government Democrats, liberal media and Big Tech for what she said was an unprecedented assault on free speech, free assembly, and free religion.

"Basically, what they're telling us is you are an enemy of the state if you dare to oppose or even question the president, his administration on his policies, shut up, step back, fall in line, or we're coming to you,'" she warned. 

The undeniable frictions and factions roiling the Democratic Party were long predicted: Many wondered back in 2020 how a 40-year moderate like Biden could hold together a party now energized by its far-left faction, where firebrands like AOC, the Squad and Joy Reid now hold sway.

The performance of the last week, however, has veterans of past Congresses seeing the Democrats headed toward — or already engaged in — a political civil war.

"They're already in the civil war, John, there's no question," former Republican presidential candidate and Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann told the Just the News television show Tuesday night.

The Democrats' far-left wing of the party "doesn't think Joe Biden is liberal enough," she said. "So this is where the party is out there on a kamikaze mission. This is a huge mistake that they're making."

Beset by a 37% approval rating, a Russian war on Ukraine, spiraling inflation and soaring crime, Biden's options to navigate the friction are limited heading into the 2022 election that will determine control of Congress. There are no political coattails at 37% and no Trump-as-boogeyman playbook this election.

That's likely why a stunning 31 House Democrat incumbents have decided to pack it in and eschew running for reelection. And it's also why those Americans who tuned in Tuesday night will need more than platitudes and optics to begin believing in a "unity agenda."

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