Republicans ready partisan response to Biden's calls for unity
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Republicans rejected Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden's call for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, and instead accused him of stoking culture wars in a nation they described as deeply divided.
A day after Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called on Biden to work together toward compromise on the debt and spending, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders stood ready to deliver a partisan broadside during the party's official rebuttal to Biden's speech.
"In the radical left's America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race," said Sanders, who was White House press secretary under former President Donald Trump.
"The Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day," she said.
In his first State of the Union address to a Congress that includes a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Biden was set to pledge to work with Republicans, as during the last Congress when both chambers were controlled by Democrats.
Biden's congressional audience included Republican lawmakers who question his 2020 election victory over Trump and have begun moving forward with investigations of his family and administration.
"The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere ... We've been sent here to finish the job!" Biden was due to say.
Biden and McCarthy, who as speaker will sit behind him during the address, remain at loggerheads in their approaches to the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, which must be addressed in coming months to avoid a first-ever default.
Republicans hope to exact spending cuts from Biden in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. But the president showed no sign of budging from his opposition to negotiations.
McCarthy has vowed to remain resolute in demanding spending cuts from Biden. But with a razor-thin House majority and a fractured party conference, he had difficulty being elected speaker last month and could struggle to unite his members.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Sunday found that just 43% of Republicans approve of McCarthy's job performance. That's a far lower rate of support from within his own party than Biden, who had the approval of 76% of Democrats.
The speech, which was expected draw millions of viewers, appeared to foreshadow a second presidential campaign he is likely to launch in coming weeks - a possibility that did not escape Trump, who has already launched his own 2024 White House bid.
In a two-minute pre-recorded video, Trump presented what he called "the real State of the Union" as that of an inflation-wracked nation overrun by drug-traffickers, killers, rapists, violent criminals and "millions and millions of illegal aliens."
The former president, facing several investigations from federal and state prosecutors, also described himself as "a victim" of Biden's Justice Department. (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Lincoln Feast.)