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State of the Union 2023 viewing guide

Biden will deliver his second State of the Union address, but first to an opposition House ready to investigate his family
Biden State of the Union
Posted at 9:35 AM, Feb 02, 2023

When to watch

The State of the Union will air Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT. This will be President Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address. He also delivered an address to a joint session of Congress in 2021 shortly after becoming president. His previous two addresses to Congress lasted just over an hour.

What is the State of the Union?

The president is obligated to occasionally update Congress on the functions of the executive branch. The State of the Union can be delivered both in writing or orally. For most of the 19th century, the State of the Union was delivered by presidents in writing. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson controversially opted to deliver the State of the Union orally in person in House Chambers.

The last time a president submitted the State of the Union in writing was President Jimmy Carter in 1981, just days before leaving office.

Most Americans remain sour on the State of the Union

Although presidents generally include a line about the State of the Union being “strong,” most Americans might object.

According to Gallup pollingreleased this week, 76% say they’re dissatisfied with how things are going in the U.S. Nearly half the U.S. says they’re very dissatisfied.

Those figures are an improvement from when Biden first took office in 2021. Then, 88% said they were dissatisfied. Last year, that number was down to 82%.

Republican response

On Thursday, Republicans announced that new Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders would give the GOP's response. She previously served as President Donald Trump's press secretary.

Although Sanders will deliver a formal response to the presidential address, it has become customary in recent years for lawmakers to release their own reaction videos via social media.

The invitation list

Each member of the House of Representatives is allowed to invite a guest to sit in House chambers during the State of the Union. The president can also make his own set of invitations to guests.

Among the known invitees include Tyre Nichols’ parents. They were extended an invitation from Rep. Steven Horsford, the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after multiple Memphis Police officers beat him following a traffic stop. Video of the confrontation was released last week and prompted protests throughout the U.S.

First time facing opposition House

After two years of Democrats holding both congressional chambers, Republicans will now be in the majority in the House. That means instead of Nancy Pelosi joining Vice President Kamala Harris behind Biden, it will be Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

While the two leaders don’t see eye-to-eye often on many political issues, Biden and McCarthy appeared to have a cordial meeting in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

“I've just walked out having an hour conversation with this president that I tell you in perspective was a good conversation. No agreements, no promises except we will continue this conversation,” McCarthy said.

One major topic of conversation is the U.S. reaching its debt ceiling. McCarthy has stated he would like to cut spending to raise the debt ceiling. Biden said those negotiations should be done separately.

Opposition House means investigations

With McCarthy now speaker, that means Biden is going before the very body that will be investigating many aspects of not just his administration but his family.

One day after Biden’s State of the Union address, House Republicans will lead a committee hearing on the president’s son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

“We are committed to following the Biden family and associates’ money trail—consisting of many complex, international transactions worth millions of dollars—and providing answers to the American people,” said a summary of the hearing by the House Oversight Committee.

The hearing could diminish Biden’s ability to pitch his State of the Union message. Generally, presidents travel the day after to highlight aspects of the speech. The Biden administration has not yet announced travel plans for the president.

Economy expected to be a theme

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden is expected to discuss his economic plan during Tuesday’s address. While data indicate a strong job market and an improving stock market, inflation has been stubbornly high for the last year.

“You’ll hear from him talk about optimism, talk about possibilities, which is something that you've heard the President speak to, and how optimistic he is for the future of this country,” she said. “He'll talk about, you know, his economic policy and how it's delivered these last two years. And he'll lay out what his -- what he believes his legislation plan is going to be for the American people.”

Support for Ukraine likely to remain a priority

Biden’s last State of the Union came just days after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine. The events meant that much of Biden’s address was focused on U.S. providing support for Ukraine.

A year later, Biden has continued to pledge support, and if he wants to keep Ukraine as a priority, he’ll need to be more vocal about it. Many Republican lawmakers have suggested the U.S. should reduce or cut aid.

This week, Pew released polling finding support for Ukraine aid has significantly reduced. The poll finds that 26% of those asked believe the U.S. is sending too much aid to Ukraine, compared to 20% who say the aid is not enough. In March 2022, just 7% of respondents said the U.S. was providing too much support compared to 42% who said there was not enough support from the U.S.

Will applause lines be overshadowed?

State of the Unions are noted for their long applause lines and how one side of the aisle will stand while the other sits. Last year, however, was notable for what did not get applause.

Rep. Lauren Boebert yelled, “You put them in, 13 of them,” when Biden addressed U.S. troops dying due to toxic burn pits. Biden included his son Beau among those who died from the toxic smoke.

Boebert was referring to 13 troops killed in Afghanistan in 2021 as the U.S. pulled troops after two decades. The moment was met with groans from others in the audience.

As with every State of the Union speech, watching what gets applause and what does not often indicates the mindset of the members of Congress in attendance.