United States President Joe Biden is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address at the start of his third year in office.
The annual speech — delivered to members of the U.S. House and Senate and broadcast nationwide — will offer Biden an opportunity to reflect on his administration’s accomplishments and goals, as well as give his assessment of the state of the country and the way forward. A political party not in the White House—in this case, the Republicans—traditionally offers a “rebuttal” after a speech.
Biden is expected to strike a positive tone during an address at 9:00 p.m. (02:00 GMT Wednesday) in the chamber of the House of Representatives, outlining his administration’s efforts to rebuild the economy and create jobs after the COVID-19 lull, Washington’s role in leading Western aid Ukraine after the Russian invasion and his supervision of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of things — what’s going on, what I’m looking forward to working on,” Biden said Monday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “This is a president who is incredibly optimistic.”
The recent diplomatic spat sparked by a Chinese balloon hovering over the US – before being shot down by a US fighter jet – is also expected to be mentioned. The Biden administration claimed the device was a so-called “spy balloon,” while China said it was an unrecoverable weather balloon.
The speech also comes as Biden faces a US Justice Department investigation into classified documents found at his private residence.
Biden spent the weekend at the presidential resort of Camp David, working with top advisers and speechwriters to finalize the speech, and Jean-Pierre said adjustments would take place “right up to the last minute.”
The event has the potential to give Biden his biggest television audience of the year, after an estimated 38.2 million people watched the speech on US television in 2022, according to data provider Nielsen.
Setting the stage for 2024
Tuesday’s address will also set the stage for Democrats’ bid to retain the White House as the 2024 presidential election approaches.
Biden has not yet announced whether he will run for a second term, although reports have suggested he may do so shortly after the State of the Union address.
If he does announce his candidacy, Tuesday’s speech could prove crucial in rousing a disaffected base. Two recent polls — one by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the other by the Washington Post and ABC News — found that a majority of Democrats currently do not want the 80-year-old to run again. This is despite a better-than-expected Democratic showing in last year’s midterm elections.
Biden is also expected to address the heightened political polarization in the country, which has persisted since he took office, despite his stated goal of lowering the temperature. His State of the Union will be the first since Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives last year.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former press secretary of former President Donald Trump and current governor of Arkansas, is scheduled to give the Republican response to Biden’s speech.
“I am excited for the nation to hear from Governor Sanders on Tuesday and to witness a stark contrast to this exhausted and failed administration,” Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement announcing Sanders’ election last week.
The choice is widely seen as a reflection of the Republican Party’s willingness to give a platform to someone seen as close to Trump, even as concerns have grown within the party about the former president’s candidacy in the upcoming election.
Trump announced last year that he would run for the Republican nomination in the upcoming vote, but he is likely to face a large number of opponents, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Sanders, for her part, has kept the former president at a distance since he left the White House.
Who will be present?
State of the Union addresses fulfill a requirement of the US Constitution which calls on the President to “from time to time report to the Congress the state of the Union, and recommend to them for their consideration such measures as he shall think necessary and expedient.”
While that requirement can technically be met in several ways, modern presidents increasingly embrace the prime-time event as an opportunity to focus attention on their administrations. It has become the norm for presidents, regardless of the surrounding circumstances, to declare that “the union is strong.”
Another tradition has been for presidents and top congressional officials to bring a host of guests, who often reflect political priorities. Each member of the Congress may also bring one guest.
This year’s guests of Biden and First Lady Jill Biden include Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova, Irish musician and humanitarian Bono, and Brandon Tsay, an American hailed as a hero by authorities for disarming a gunman who killed 11 people during a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, California.
The Bidens also called the parents of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old unarmed black man who died shortly after being beaten by five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, in January.
Other prominent guests invited by Democrats include family members of the victims of the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Parkland, Florida, as well as Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, whose 2014 police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, helped give birth to the Black Lives Matter movement. Rep. Cori Bush invited Brown Sr. to the State of the Union.
Among the Republican lawmakers’ guests is former Afghanistan ambassador Roya Rahmani, who was invited by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul as the party ramps up investigations into the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal.
Rep. Elise Stefanik called Sheriff Jeffrey Smith of Fort Plain, New York, which she announced while criticizing Biden’s law enforcement policies, an area where Republicans have made a political point of contention.
One person who will not be present on Tuesday will be the so-called “designated survivor.” That individual, just one select member of Biden’s cabinet, will be housed in a secure location and will be tasked with taking over in the event of a disaster that would threaten the president and his other successors in the Capitol.
This year’s “designated survivor” has not yet been announced.