Biden puts democracy at the heart of his State of the Union address

Published March 7, 2024 at 4:58 PM EST
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber at the Capital building on March 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Shawn Thew/Pool
/
Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber at the Capital building on March 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.

President Biden laid out the case for his campaign for reelection this year, focusing principally on democracy and abortion rights. In response, Republican Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama focused on immigration and painted a dark picture of the country, aligned with former President Donald Trump’s message.

Here’s what you need to know:

Thanks for joining us

Posted March 8, 2024 at 12:03 AM EST

Now that Biden has headed back to the White House and the GOP response has ended, we're winding this down tonight.

Here's a full transcript of Biden's remarks — or watch his address:

Good night!

GOP Spanish-language rebuttal stays on the border

Posted March 7, 2024 at 11:49 PM EST
Texas GOP Rep. Mónica De La Cruz gives a Spanish-language rebuttal to Biden's speech.
Screenshot by NPR
Texas GOP Rep. Mónica De La Cruz gives a Spanish-language rebuttal to Biden's speech.

Border policy and the death of Laken Riley stayed top talking points in Texas GOP Rep. Mónica De La Cruz's Spanish-language rebuttal to Biden's speech.

"On the border, we see the disaster that Biden has caused," she said, adding that she is concerned about drugs and crime influenced by border crossings.

De La Cruz also focused on inflation and economic issues, and added a bit of foreign policy in the mix, noting that China and Russia "are helping the socialist governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua."

She closed with the same final question as fellow GOP rebutter Sen. Katie Britt: "Are you better off now than you were three years ago?"

Sen. Katie Britt focuses on immigration and IVF in rebuttal

Posted March 7, 2024 at 11:46 PM EST
Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala. delivered the GOP response to Biden's speech.
Screenshot by NPR
Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala. delivered the GOP response to Biden's speech.

The U.S.-Mexico border continued to be a top talking point into the rebuttal speech given by Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala.

Britt echoed GOP arguments that Biden created a "border crisis." Laken Riley's death was mentioned once again as an example of a crime committed by someone who has crossed the border.

Britt also voiced support for IVF, a service that has been in legal limbo in her state, stating: "And we want families to grow. It's why we strongly support continued nationwide access to in vitro fertilization. We want to help loving moms and dads bring precious life into this world."

Her speech also focused on threats from China, inflation and the closing question: "Are you better off now than you were three years ago?" The same question was also posed at the end of the Spanish-language rebuttal.

Britt calls out Biden for hypocrisy on TikTok

Posted March 7, 2024 at 11:27 PM EST

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., who delivered the GOP response to Biden's speech, called out Biden on TikTok, the popular social media app owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

The White House said this week they're backing a bill in Congress that would allow the president to ban TikTok unless it severs ties with ByteDance, citing national security concerns over the company's use of data.

The president has already signed a law that bans the app on government devices. But that hasn't stopped Biden from joining the platform for his campaign. Last month "BidenHQ" joined TikTok, in an attempt to reach younger voters.

"He bans TikTok for government employees, but creates an account for his own campaign," Britt said. "You can't make this stuff up."

Earlier in her remarks, Britt said Chinese Communist Party was "spreading propaganda" through TikTok. "The CCP knows that if it conquers the minds of our next generation, it conquers America."

Biden embraces age, talks of future, criticizes right's 'ancient ideas'

Posted March 7, 2024 at 11:12 PM EST
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2024.
J. Scott Applewhite
/
AP
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Joe Biden is old.

Yes. There has been tons of discussion around the 81-year-old president's age. He's the oldest president in the history of the office. Polls show it's one of his biggest vulnerabilities, even lots of Democrats worry about his facility and ability to be president. But Biden tried to move the conversation beyond his age to his ideas, comparing them to the "ancient" ones promulgated by Trump and the right.

He reintroduced himself, saying he had been often criticized for being "too young" when he was elected senator at 29. Biden described hate, anger, and retribution as the oldest ideas and you "can't lead America with ancient ideas." He said the country hasn't always lived up to the ideal that all people are created equal, but said, "I won't walk away from it now. I'm optimistic." And Biden talked about his vision for the future.

Biden's goal tonight was to convince people he's up to the job, and he likely did that for most who are open to voting for him.

Biden heads to Philadelphia Friday, Atlanta Saturday

Posted March 7, 2024 at 11:08 PM EST
US President Joe Biden departs after delivering his State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
Shawn Thew/POOL
/
AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden departs after delivering his State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.

Biden hits the road to take his State of the Union message straight to swing state voters starting on Friday.

He'll first head to Philadelphia. On Saturday, the president and first lady Jill Biden will attend a rally in Atlanta, a state where turnout from several communities of color will be critical if Biden is to win the state again.

It's traditional for presidents to travel the country after giving the State of the Union address. And he won't be the only one on the road; Vice President Harris is going to Arizona and Nevada, and cabinet officials will be fanning out around the country.

Context

Biden's SOTU section on abortion never said the word "abortion"

Posted March 7, 2024 at 11:07 PM EST
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 07, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee
/
Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 07, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Biden's address tonight contained a fiery section on abortion rights, but the president did not use the actual word "abortion."

Reproductive rights advocates have criticized Biden on this note for years, saying he doesn't use the word often enough. One group, We Testify, created a website devoted to this criticism.

In fact, Biden's remarks as written did include the word, saying, "Because Texas law banned abortion, Kate and her husband had to leave the state to get the care she needed" — referring to a Texas woman who received an emergency abortion.

But in delivering his speech, Biden replaced the word "abortion," instead saying "Because Texas law banned her ability to act."

Biden lays blame on Trump — but doesn't mention him by name

Posted March 7, 2024 at 11:07 PM EST

Throughout his speech, Biden did not call out former President Donald Trump by name but he did call out his "predecessor" various times. That included claims that Trump:

Biden, off script, talks about crimes by 'illegals'

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:56 PM EST
Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican from Georgia, center, and US President Joe Biden, right, in the House Chamber ahead of a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Julia Nikhinson
/
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican from Georgia, center, and US President Joe Biden, right, in the House Chamber ahead of a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

When Biden was heckled by frequent antagonist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., about his border policies, his ad-libbed response generated criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

Taylor Greene shouted out the name of Laken Riley, a Georgia student who was killed last month. Trump has blamed Biden for her death. An undocumented Venezuelan immigrant has been arrested for the crime.

Earlier in the day the House passed the Laken Riley Act, which would require the detention of migrants who commit burglary or theft. Green had handed a pin with her name to Biden as he walked into the chamber.

Responding to Taylor Greene, Biden referred to Riley as "Lincoln," and said she had been "killed by an illegal." He added, "But how many thousands of people are being killed by illegals?"

The use of the "illegal" to refer to undocumented migrants quickly received online backlash from progressives, while conservatives criticized the fumble of Laken'sname.

Vice President Harris gets a few shout-outs from Biden

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:45 PM EST
US Vice President Kamala Harris smiles as US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
Mandel Ngan
/
AFP via Getty Images
US Vice President Kamala Harris smiles as US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.

This speech is a high-profile moment for any vice president. Tonight, Biden his vice president a few times during his address, noting Harris' work on fighting for reproductive rights and on gun violence prevention.

Harris has been the lead figure in the White House taking on protecting abortion rights after Roe v. Wade was overturned. "I thank Vice President Harris for being an incredible leader, defending reproductive freedom and so much more," Biden said.

He also mentioned her work on gun safety. Last year, when Biden established the first ever Office of Gun Violence Prevention, he tapped Harris to lead it.

Biden also mentioned Harris as he talked about the arc of history that he's seen during his many years in politics, noting he had served as vice president to the nation's first Black president — and now serves alongside the first woman to serve as vice president.

What Trump said about Iowa shooting

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:43 PM EST

President Biden, at one point, pointed out that former President Trump had said after a mass shooting in Iowa that people had to "get over it."

House Speaker Mike Johnson shook his head behind Biden as he said it, but here's what Trump saidback in January at a campaign rally:

“I want to send our support and our deepest sympathies to the victims and families touched by the terrible school shooting yesterday in Perry, Iowa. It’s just horrible, so surprising to see it here. But have to get over it, we have to move forward."
Former President Donald Trump

Up next: Sen. Katie Britt, who will deliver the Republican response

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:42 PM EST

We're waiting for Alabama Sen. Katie Britt to give the Republican response to Biden's address.

According to excerpts released earlier tonight, Britt is expected to slam the president on border and high costs and will also go after Biden on his withdrawal from Afghanistan and his Iran policy. Stick with us here on this live blog — and our in-studio video stream of NPR's special coverage — in the meantime.

Biden empathizes with people in Gaza, and says Israel must do more to allow aid in

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:39 PM EST
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber at the Capital building on March 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Shawn Thew/Pool
/
Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber at the Capital building on March 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Biden was more descriptive than he has been in talking about the civilian death toll in Gaza, where more than 30,000 people have been killed as Israel responds to the October 7th Hamas attack.

"This war has taken a greater toll on innocent civilians than all previous wars in Gaza combined," Biden said. "Thousands and thousands are innocent women and children. Girls and boys also orphaned. Nearly 2 million more Palestinians under bombardment or displaced. Homes destroyed, neighborhoods in rubble, cities in ruin. Families without food, water, medicine."

Biden has been criticized for not doing more to speak out against Israel. Tonight, he said Israel has to do more to let more aid into Gaza. "Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip," Biden said.

Read more about Biden's announcement of a port to get more aid into Gaza.

Trump's argumentative State of the Union responses

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:34 PM EST

On Truth Social tonight, Donald Trump's running commentary on Biden's address ranged from the personal ("His hair is much better in the front than on the back!") to the defensive ("Putin only invaded Ukraine, because he has no respect for Biden. Would have never happened under the Trump Administration, and for four years it didn’t happen!"). He also advised Biden not to shake hands as he leaves ("DON’T SHAKE PEOPLE’S HANDS GOING OUT – HE KEEPS COUGHING INTO HIS RIGHT HAND!").

The Truth Social site experienced a spike in outages during the speech but regained function as the night went on.

Guess who's back? Santos 2024

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:34 PM EST

Former GOP Rep. George Santos announced on the social media platform X that he is looking to run in 2024 for a new congressional seat. This time he has his eyes set on New York's 1st District.

The seat is currently held by GOP Rep. Nick LaLota, who won the seat in 2022. Santos was expelled last year by the House.

Biden struggles some toward back of speech, but overall a solid performance so far

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:30 PM EST
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
Alex Brandon/POOL
/
AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.

President Biden had a forceful beginning of his speech. Later on, he seemed to struggle some with a choppy back and forth with Republicans on immigration. His voice grew hoarse at times. He mentioned going to Moscow for lower prescription drugs, though he caught himself.

For those who don't like Biden, they'll point to Biden's worst moments as him not being up to the job. But for Democrats, who wanted to see vigor, overall they have to be thrilled with the speech so far — and most, they hope, will remember the forceful beginning of the speech.

The question is whether he is doing enough to convince hesitant independents that they should vote for him again. He showed, at least for one night, he's got some fight left in him.

Biden says no one should go to jail for cannabis

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:25 PM EST
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2024.
J. Scott Applewhite
/
AP
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Biden said no one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana, an issue that disproporionately impacts Black Americans.

Most Americans believe marijuana should be legal for medicinal and recreational use.

He said he's been directing his administration to review the federal classification of marijuana. Biden has already pardoned people who had been charged with simple possession of marijuana.

Last year, Biden also issued a statement encouraging governors to take action on marijuana laws in their own states.

"Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either," Biden said in December.

Analysis

Biden left immigration further down in his speech for a reason

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:21 PM EST

Half an hour into President Biden's address, he'd left immigration out. He led off with democracy, abortion rights, the economy, infrastructure, even mentioned unions, Obamacare, Social Security and more.

It's understandable that Biden would leave immigration to further down, because it's a real vulnerability. The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found just 29% approved of the job Biden was doing handling immigration, and Republicans had a 12-point advantage when respondents were asked which party they thought would do a better job on the issue.

When he got to it, he criticized Republicans for voting against a bill that Republicans negotiated. He knew that this portion would fire up Republicans. It's the animating issue for the GOP. Since the 2011 State of the Union when a South Carolina congressman yelled out, "You lie," it has drawn heckles from Republicans. When Biden mentioned portions of the bill, there were those who yelled out, accusing Biden of lying.

"You're saying no," Biden said to Republicans, "look at the facts. I know you know how to read."

His team expected this back and forth. Biden's response overall was choppy. He has to hope more people will remember the top of his speech.

Read Biden's speech

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:14 PM EST

Biden proposes tax credit to offset high mortgage rates

Posted March 7, 2024 at 10:01 PM EST

"I know the cost of housing is so important to you," Biden said, noting that mortgage rates will come down.

But the president said he didn't want to wait, so he's proposing that Congress pass legislation for an annual tax credit to offset high mortgage rates for first-time homebuyers, and for those who are ready to graduate from their starter home.

The White House, which released the proposed plan earlier today, pitched it as a way of easing the “lock-in effect."

The plan also calls for building and renovating more than 2 million homes.

Biden so far clearing a very low bar on performance

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:57 PM EST
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
Saul Loeb
/
AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Biden has come out of the gate with a very forceful address. He's hammered home key issues everyone will hear a lot about over the next eight months — preserving democracy, Jan. 6, abortion rights and infrastructure.

He jabbed former President Donald Trump, merely referring to him as "my predecessor," noting that he's the "reason Roe was overturned, and he bragged about it." He poked the Supreme Court, quoting it on the power of women at the ballot box — "You're about to find out just how right you were about that."

On infrastructure, he got in a dig at Republicans cheering money for their districts they didn't vote for, saying, "If any of you don't want that money in your district, just let me know."

He's hit on a checklist of issues and voter groups he needs for reelection. Center-right Republican strategist Sarah Longwell, no Trump fan, made this point about the tyranny of low expectations: "Republicans might regret setting the bar at dementia."

Capping insulin costs is a big priority for Biden

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:53 PM EST

Biden talked about capping the cost of prescription drugs — a line that often gets enthusiastic applause during his events at the White House and on the road.

"Instead of paying $400 a month for insulin, seniors with diabetes only have to pay $35 a month," Biden said. "And now I want to cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it."

Biden pointed out that costs for drugs in other countries are far less expensive than they are in the U.S.

Context

One problem for Biden with semiconductor jobs: not enough workers to fill them

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:49 PM EST

Biden has spent a lot of time talking about jobs at semiconductor plants thanks to the CHIPS Act as he makes his reelection pitch. But there's a major hurdle to turning expansion plans into reality — currently, there are not enough workers to fill those jobs.

Read more in this story from NPR's Asma Khalid here.

Truth Social experiences outages during Trump State of the Union response

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:47 PM EST

Amid Trump's live responses to the State of the Union on Truth Social, the site stopped loading for users. The site Down Detector, which tracks outages on popular sites, showed a spike in Truth Social outages starting shortly after the State of the Union began, at 9 p.m. ET.

Biden shouts out Swedish Prime Minister

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:41 PM EST
Prime Minister of Sweden Ulf Kristersson (C) is introduced in first lady Jill Biden’s guest box during U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images
Prime Minister of Sweden Ulf Kristersson (C) is introduced in first lady Jill Biden’s guest box during U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Biden shouted out Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, as Sweden officially joined NATO today — a move prompted by Russia's war in Ukraine.

The president started off his remarks talking about the need for the United States to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and send more aid to Ukraine. Aid has been blocked by some Republicans in Congress for months.

“If anyone thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine I assure you he will not," Biden said.

“Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine," Biden said. “That is all Ukraine is asking."

Biden puts democracy at heart of State of the Union — and his presidential campaign

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:39 PM EST
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
Shawn Thew/POOL
/
AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.

President Biden is putting democracy and freedom at the center of his State of the Union address, and it's a signal that this will be the overarching theme of his candidacy for reelection. Without naming him, Biden went after former President Trump, saying he is "bowing down" to Russia's Vladimir Putin. He called it "outrageous, dangerous and unacceptable."

"We will not bow down," Biden said. "I will not bow down. In a literal sense, history is watching."

He then called out forcefully those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, saying they were "not patriots" and noted that the lies about the 2020 election "posed the gravest threat to democracy since the Civil War, but they failed" and "America stood."

He then again called out Trump and House Republicans, saying, "My predecessor — and some of you here — want to bury the truth about Jan. 6. ... We have to bury the lies."

Preserving democracy has risen to the top of many issue polls, and Biden's team believes it, along with abortion rights, are the crystallizing topics that will bring his base back together. Biden's task starts today.

Progressive Democrats sport keffiyehs in support of Palestinians

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:30 PM EST
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) attends President Joe Biden's State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 07, 2024 in Washington, DC. This is Biden’s last State of the Union address before the general election this coming November. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
/
Getty Images North America
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) attends President Joe Biden's State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 07, 2024 in Washington, DC. This is Biden’s last State of the Union address before the general election this coming November. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) are wearing keffiyehs in the chamber tonight as a show of support for Palestinians.

Tlaib, the first Palestinian American to serve in Congress, and Bush are two members of Congress pushing for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. They have been critical of President Biden's support for Israel, and Tlaib was one of more than 100,000 Michiganders to vote "uncommitted" in the state's primary last month.

To many Palestinians, the keffiyeh, a traditional Arab scarf, has become a symbol of their struggle for freedom. For some non-Palestinians, wearing one has become a show of solidarity. Read more from NPR's Linah Mohammed.

Education Secretary Cardona is the designated survivor

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:18 PM EST
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks on the 59th commemoration of the Bloody Sunday Selma bridge crossing on March 3, 2024 in Selma, Alabama.
Elijah Nouvelage
/
Getty Images
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks on the 59th commemoration of the Bloody Sunday Selma bridge crossing on March 3, 2024 in Selma, Alabama.

The designated survivor for tonight’s State of the Union is Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a White House official told reporters.

It is tradition for one member of the cabinet to not attend the evening's event in case of a catastrophe that would result in the death of the President, Vice President and others in the presidential succession line who would also be gathered in the House chamber.

The rules state that the designated survivor must be a natural-born U.S. citizen, at least 35 years old, and he or she must have been a resident of the U.S. for the past 14 years.

President Biden has arrived in the House chamber

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:17 PM EST

Biden has entered the chamber to deliver his 2024 State of the Union address, shaking hands on his way in.

SCOTUS in the House

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:12 PM EST
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts (L), along with Associate Justices (L-R) Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson (back) stand in the House of Representatives ahead of US President Joe Biden's third State of the Union address.
Shawn Thew- Pool
/
AFP via Getty Images
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts (L), along with Associate Justices (L-R) Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson (back) stand in the House of Representatives ahead of US President Joe Biden's third State of the Union address.

Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are in the House chamber, including:

  • Chief Justice John Roberts
  • Justice Sonya Sotomayor
  • Justice Elena Kagan
  • Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson
  • Justice Neil Gorsuch
  • Justice Brett Kavanaugh
  • Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy

So far not present are Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett.

An important State of the Union for Biden and politics

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:11 PM EST
US President Joe Biden gestures as he departs the White House for the US Capitol to deliver the State of the Union address.
Roberto Schmidt
/
AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden gestures as he departs the White House for the US Capitol to deliver the State of the Union address.

Democrats are biting their nails. Biden is delivering a State of the Union address in a year he's seeking reelection when his approval ratings are underwater, polls have shown him struggling against former President Trump and he's been lagging with key portions of his base — young voters and Black and Latino voters.

A lot of the angst with younger voters, a crucial part of the coalition Biden needs to help him win, is because of the war in Gaza. He's facing protests tonight in Washington over the war, which is highly unusual. These State of the Union addresses are often for the base — and Biden needs to reassure people who want him to win, start to win back people who should vote for him who are skeptical and show he's up to the task in the hot spotlight given all the questions around his age.

Trump starts his State of the Union response early

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:04 PM EST

Former President Donald Trump posted a State of the Union "prebuttal" to Truth Social Thursday afternoon, consisting of a video in which he assails President Biden on immigration, inflation and climate policy. The message includes multiple lies.

Trump has said he will be doing "rapid response" during the State of the Union on Truth Social. His posts attacking Biden regarding his speech started hours before the State of the Union. We will be following Trump's posts tonight, recapping any notable responses here.

Britt will describe Biden as 'dithering' in her SOTU response

Posted March 7, 2024 at 9:01 PM EST

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., will also go after Biden on his withdrawal from Afghanistan and his Iran policy, according to excerpts released ahead of time by House Speaker Mike Johnson.

"We’ve become a nation in retreat. And the enemies of freedom see an opportunity," Britt will say.

She also will call Biden "a dithering and diminished leader" — a description that echoes Special Counsel Robert Hur's depiction of Biden as a "sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man."

“America deserves leaders who recognize that secure borders, stable prices, safe streets, and a strong defense are the cornerstones of a great nation," Britt will say.

What to wear?

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:57 PM EST

Lawmakers are preparing to deck themselves out in outfits, buttons and pins that best represent causes important to them.

Members of the Democratic Women's Caucus will be wearing white outfits and “Fighting for Reproductive Freedom” pins in the chamber tonight.

“Our message is clear: women must be able to access the health care they need to control their own lives and futures," said Chair Lois Frankel in a statement. "That means women, not politicians, should be in charge of whether, when, and how to start or grow their families. That includes access to birth control, access to abortion, and access to IVF."

A cohort of progressive members of Congress will be wearing pins with the word "ceasefire," in reference to the Israel and Hamas war.

Other members are wearing blue in solidarity with Israeli hostages.

Meanwhile, some House Republicans may be spotted with red "Stop the Biden Border Crisis" and "Laken Riley" buttons. Riley, a student in Georgia, was killed by who immigration officials say was an undocumented immigrant. Earlier in the day the House passed the Laken Riley Act, which would require the detention of any migrant who commits burglary or theft.

Former Rep. George Santos, who was expelled from his seat last year, came wearing a crystal-collared shirt and silver shoes.

Correction (March 8, 2024): An earlier version of this blog post misspelled Lois Frankel's first name as Louis.

Harris and Johnson are in the chamber

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:53 PM EST
US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) stands next to US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson before the start of US President Joe Biden's State of the Union address.
Saul Loeb
/
AFP via Getty Images
US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) stands next to US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson before the start of US President Joe Biden's State of the Union address.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has called the special joint session of Congress to order.

Johnson and Vice President Kamala Harris are announcing the names of the members of Congress on the presidential escort committee.

A farmworker advocate will be one California rep's guest

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:52 PM EST

United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero will be the guest of Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Romero, an immigrant from Mexico, is the first Latina and first immigrant woman to become president of a national union in the United States.

"Her presence at the State of the Union will serve as a powerful testament to the strength and diversity of our nation — and a reminder of our ongoing commitment to fighting for the dignity and respect of every worker," Schiff said in a statement.

Biden is leaving the White House for the U.S. Capitol

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:49 PM EST

The president is on his way to deliver his address — heading down to the other end of Pennsylvania Ave. ahead of his 9 p.m. speech. He'll enter the House chamber after other lawmakers, guests, members of his cabinet and the Supreme Court justices have been seated.

Fat Joe on the guest list

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:46 PM EST

Rapper Fat Joe, aka Joseph Antonio Cartagena, will be the guest for Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán, D-Calif.

Barragán highlighted his work on health care. "Fat Joe’s bipartisan work to highlight the need for price transparency at hospitals, from insurers, and other parts of our health care system is a vital way to ensure that American families aren’t blindsided by huge bills every time after they visit the hospital," Barragán said in a statement.

Fat Joe has worked with the nonprofit Power to the Patients as a spokesperson and has spent time in D.C. talking about the issue.

Other Johnson guests aim to address foreign and immigration policy

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:44 PM EST

One of speaker Mike Johnson's guests will be 21-year-old freed Hamas hostage Mia Schem.

"Mia spent more than 50 days in captivity after being kidnapped on October 7th," Johnson said. "I am proud to stand with Mia and join her in demanding the release of all hostages held captive by Hamas."

He is also bringing to the gallery Tammy Nobles and Stefanie Turner. He is using both parents as examples for his hardline stance on border policy. Both women have lost their children, which has led to their advocacy work. Nobles' daughter was killed by an undocumented immigrant who was a member of the MS-13 gang, and Turner's son died from fentanyl poisoning.

Nobles was previously in D.C. last year to testify before a House panel during a hearing on the Biden administration's immigration and border policies. Turner formed the group Texas Against Fentanyl.

'Bless his heart': Britt will slam Biden on border and high costs

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:39 PM EST
Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) listens during a news conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol Building on September 27, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker
/
Getty Images
Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) listens during a news conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol Building on September 27, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Biden isn't the only one bringing up age tonight.

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., who is delivering the GOP response tonight, is the youngest female senator ever elected. And she's taking aim at Biden by saying future generations will have fewer opportunities. She plans to say Americans are struggling to plan for their future.

"The American people are scraping by while the President proudly proclaims Bidenomics is working! Bless his heart. We know better," Britt will say.

She also will go after Biden on securing the border, which polling shows is a weak issue for Biden — though he's started going on the offense to blame congressional Republicans for bailing on a bipartisan agreement on the issue.

“We know that President Biden didn’t just create this border crisis. He invited it with 94 executive actions in his first 100 days," Britt will say. "President Biden’s border crisis is a disgrace. It’s despicable. And it’s almost entirely preventable.”

The curse of the State of the Union response

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:37 PM EST

The person who gives the response to the State of the Union has often fell on hard times politically — not always, but it has happened often enough that it's referred to as the State of the Union "curse."

“The biggest problem with giving the State of the Union response is stark contrast,” the late PBS NewsHour contributor Mark Shields told Politico in 2014. “You’re following a ceremonial event—joint chiefs, supremes, ambassadors, plus, since the Gipper [Ronald Reagan], everyday heroes in the balcony. And you, the responder, are sitting in an empty room staring into a camera [and] teleprompter.”

Here's a look at some who fell under the SOTU voodoo this century:

2019: Stacey Abrams lost her bid for governor in 2022.
2018: Rep. Joseph Kennedy's glossy lips gained attention but the shine wore off later that year, losing a Senate primary.
2014: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers rose to House leadership but never went higher, announcing this year she is not running for reelection.
2013: Sen. Marco Rubio went viral quenching his thirst during his response and then his bid for the presidency in 2016 wound up all wet.
2011: Paul Ryan went on to be on the losing presidential ticket as VP in 2012, climbed to House speaker but then resigned from the post and is now out of politics.
2010: Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was a rising star but then was indicted and is out of politics
2009: Bobby Jindal was a rising star, but his awkward response hurt his chances for president in 2012.
2008: Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius became Health and Human Services secretary overseeing the botched rollout of healthcare.gov. She's out of politics.
2004: Former Sen. Tom Daschle lost his Senate seat that year and, in 2009, was forced to withdraw his nomination for HHS secretary because of tax return errors.
2002: Dick Gephardt was House minority leader but after Democrats lost seats that year, he resigned from the leadership post.

It hasn't always been bad. Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders gave the response in 2023 and is still governor.

On the day Sweden joins NATO, their prime minister attends SOTU

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:33 PM EST
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken receives the NATO ratification documents from Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a ceremony at the US State Department, as Sweden formally joins the North Atlantic alliance, in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
/
AFP via Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken receives the NATO ratification documents from Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a ceremony at the US State Department, as Sweden formally joins the North Atlantic alliance, in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will be a guest of the president tonight.

Sweden officially joined NATO today, something Biden pushed hard for in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Finland, also a recent add to the alliance, officially joined last year.

In his remarks, Biden is expected to call on Congress to pass aid for Ukraine, which has been held up for months.

Just In

How Biden plans to address his age — and Trump

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:25 PM EST

Biden plans to deflect concerns about his age — and to draw a distinction from former President Donald Trump (without directly naming him) on issues of democracy and and freedom.

“My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy,” Biden will say, according to prepared remarks released by the White House. “A future based on the core values that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity, equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbor.

“Now some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That’s not me.”

Why George Santos is at the State of the Union

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:14 PM EST
Ousted Republican Rep. George Santos (C) of New York talks with U.S. Reps. Al Green (D-TX) (L) and Joe Negus (D-CO) ahead of the annual State of the Union address by President Joe Biden.
Shawn Thew-Pool
/
Getty Images
Ousted Republican Rep. George Santos (C) of New York talks with U.S. Reps. Al Green (D-TX) (L) and Joe Negus (D-CO) ahead of the annual State of the Union address by President Joe Biden.

Last year, when George Santos was still a congressman, he nabbed a coveted on-camera position near the center aisle for the State of the Union speech. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, gave him an earful, and afterward told reporters "he shouldn't be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn't be there."

In December, accused by prosecutors of a number of financial misdeeds, he became the sixth House member ever to be expelled from Congress.

But that didn't stop him from using a perk offered to all former members — floor privileges— to appear for tonight's speech.

➡️Read more about the politics of shame here.

What are junk fees?

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:10 PM EST

The Biden administration has coined the term "junk fees" to talk about unnecessary or excessive fees tacked onto a purchase — like resort fees, concert ticket fees and car rental fees. It also applies to fees that banks impose, such as overdraft fees.

He talked about it in his State of the Union last year, and the issue picked up steam after fans expressed frustration at Ticketmaster for how they handled the sale of tickets to Taylor Swift's Eras tour.

As part of an effort to try and lower costs for Americans, Biden has directed agencies to go after companies that aren't being transparent or are overcharging people. For example, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recently announced a new rule that would cap late credit card payment fees at $8, down from the average of $32. (That move is now facing a lawsuit, which would likely delay or prevent the change)

Polling shows getting rid of junk fees is extremely popular across both parties, and Biden has otherwise struggled to win over voters on his handling of the economy, which remains a top issue in the 2024 election.

Just In

Biden often complains there's no editors anymore. Here's his jab at the media tonight

Posted March 7, 2024 at 7:55 PM EST

Biden often expresses frustrations with reporters about what he perceives as their negative coverage of his administration. "There's no editors anymore," he complained to donors in New York last month.

Tonight he'll accuse the media of failing to cover the positive economic results during his time in office. "It doesn’t make the news, but in thousands of cities and towns the American people are writing the greatest comeback story never told," Biden is set to say, according to excerpts released by the White House.

Will Biden roll out a new sick burn this year?

Posted March 7, 2024 at 7:45 PM EST

Last year, Biden ad-libbed a line in his speech that got people… wondering.

"As my football coach used to say, 'Lots of luck in your senior year,'" Biden said.

We talked to linguists and even an old high school pal of Biden’s to help translate.

➡️Find out what it means here.

Some Democrats are hoping Biden will go off script again

Posted March 7, 2024 at 7:32 PM EST

Last year Biden energized Democrats by getting into a back-and-forth with Republicans about protecting Social Security. Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright represents Scranton, Pa., — where Biden grew up — and hopes he'll go off script again.

"He needs to get his Irish up the way he did last year," Cartwright told NPR. He pushed back at the president's handlers who want to keep him on message and said they shouldn't be worried about any gaffes. "The gaffes are already baked into his numbers, and they have been for decades."

Cartwright is one of many congressional Democrats in competitive races this fall whose political fates could be tied to Biden's this November. That's why they want him to use his State of the Union address, when millions will be tuning in, to showcase the economic progress he's made in his first term, and explain how he'll build on it with four more years in the White House.

➡️ Read more: Vulnerable Democrats want Biden's address to focus on border and the economy

Parents of detained WSJ reporter in the audience

Posted March 7, 2024 at 7:15 PM EST

Ella Milman & Mikhail Gershkovich will be guests of Speaker Mike Johnson. They are the parents of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter and U.S. citizen detained by Russia's Federal Security Service nearly a year ago while on a reporting trip.

He is held on an allegation of espionage that he, the Journal and the U.S. government have denied. Calls for his release have been bipartisan.

"The US must always stand for freedom of the press, especially in places where it is under assault," Johnson said in a post on X. "The Admin must bring Evan home."

Context

Americans are concerned about housing costs. Biden is proposing new help for that

Posted March 7, 2024 at 7:04 PM EST

Many Americans are concerned about the high cost of housing. Tonight, Biden will call on Congress to pass legislation to give first-time homebuyers a $10,000 tax credit, according to a plan laid out by the White House.

He's also proposing a $10,000 tax credit to nudge middle-class Americans who currently own starter homes towards selling them and moving to a home that fits them better. It's pitched as a way of easing the “lock-in effect” that has taken hold amid rising housing costs and high interest rates.

The plan also calls for building and renovating more than 2 million homes.

Biden will ask voters to give him a Congress to restore abortion rights

Posted March 7, 2024 at 6:54 PM EST

Biden has long been saying that abortion rights in Roe v. Wade should be restored — but without Congress, there's not much he can do about it.

On the road, Biden has said he will veto any national bans on abortion Congress tries to pass. But he also wants voters to elect more Democrats to the Senate — and flip the House blue — in order for legislation to pass.

"Clearly those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America," Biden will say, according to excerpts released by the White House. "But they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and won in 2022, 2023, and they will find out again in 2024."

"If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose I promise you: I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again," Biden will say.

Context

One White House guest: Kate Cox, who was denied an abortion in Texas

Posted March 7, 2024 at 6:42 PM EST
(L-R) Maria Shriver, former first lady of California, Kate Cox, abortion rights advocate, and Latorya Beasley, in vitro fertilization (IVF) recipient and reproductive health care advocate, sit in first lady Jill Biden’s guest box during U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
Alex Wong
/
Getty Images
(L-R) Maria Shriver, former first lady of California, Kate Cox, abortion rights advocate, and Latorya Beasley, in vitro fertilization (IVF) recipient and reproductive health care advocate, sit in first lady Jill Biden’s guest box during U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Biden and Democrats invited a series of guests tonight to show how new abortion restrictions are affecting people's lives.

Kate Cox, 31, is a Texas mother of two who was denied an emergency abortion by the state Supreme Court in December. Cox was nearly 20 weeks into her pregnancy when doctors diagnosed the fetus with Trisomy 18 or Edwards Syndrome, a condition with extremely low chances of survival.

Cox also faced other complications, including cramping and a high risk of developing gestational hypertension and diabetes. By November, when Cox first petitioned a lower court for an exception to Texas' extremely restrictive abortion bans, she had been in the emergency room four times, according to court filings.

The state's high court found that Cox's lawyers and doctor had not proven she was eligible for an abortion under the state's narrow exception allowances. Following that decision, Cox left the state to get the procedure in New Mexico.

Read more about the guests who will be there tonight.

Biden preps with the stars

Posted March 7, 2024 at 6:32 PM EST

President Biden got some 'advice' on his big speech today from a group of past presidents.

Actors Morgan Freeman, Tony Goldwyn, Geena Davis, Michael Douglas and Bill Pullman have played the role of president in movies and TV shows and shared some wisdom in a light-hearted social media post.

"Just keep telling us how you're working for us and building hope," Freeman said.

"Tell them you exist for them," Goldwyn said, adding that Biden should unwind with some ice cream afterward.

"There's no crying in politics," Davis added.

A Texas Republican will give a Spanish-language rebuttal

Posted March 7, 2024 at 6:18 PM EST
Rep. Monica De La Cruz (R-TX) listens during a press conference on funding for the southern border alongside Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-NY) at the U.S. Capitol Building on September 29, 2023 in Washington, D.C.
Anna Moneymaker
/
Getty Images
Rep. Monica De La Cruz (R-TX) listens during a press conference on funding for the southern border alongside Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-NY) at the U.S. Capitol Building on September 29, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Monica De La Cruz, R-Texas, was designated by Republican leaders to give the Spanish-language rebuttal tonight. It will air on Telemundo and Univision and YouTube.

De La Cruz took office in 2023, flipping the south Texas seat. In a statement, House Speaker Mike Johnson lauded De La Cruz for being the first Hispanic woman and Republican to represent the district.

"Congresswoman De La Cruz’s journey to Congress is nothing short of inspirational and encapsulates the very essence of what it means to live the American dream," he said.

Here are some of the guests who will attend tonight's speech

Posted March 7, 2024 at 5:57 PM EST
Left: Bettie Mae Fikes of "The Freedom Singers” in Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz on September 29, 2019 in Cadiz, Spain. Right: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson listens during the NATO ratification ceremony with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US State Department, as Sweden formally joins the North Atlantic alliance, in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2024.
Juan Carlos Toro del Rio and Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
/
Getty Images
Left: Bettie Mae Fikes of "The Freedom Singers” in Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz on September 29, 2019 in Cadiz, Spain. Right: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson listens during the NATO ratification ceremony with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US State Department, as Sweden formally joins the North Atlantic alliance, in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2024.

A gospel singer and civil rights activist known as "the Voice of Selma," the prime minister of Sweden and a middle school teacher whose student loan debt was forgiven — these are some of the people who will be special guests at tonight's State of the Union address.

It's part of the annual tradition for the White House to invite guests who bring to life the themes of the presidential speech. Political opponents of the president also bring guests to help criticize the administration's policies.

Among the guests the White House invited:

  • Bettie Mae Fikes, a singer and civil rights leader who marched on Bloody Sunday, in Selma, Ala., nearly six decades ago.
  • Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden, whose country has just officially joined NATO.
  • Keenan Jones, a middle school teacher in Plymouth, Minn., whose student loan debt was forgiven.
  • Jazmin Cazares, who became an advocate for tougher gun laws after her sister Jackie was killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

➡️Read more about the guests who will be there tonight.

Context

Biden plans to announce a new port to deliver Gaza aid

Posted March 7, 2024 at 5:37 PM EST

Biden is expected to announce tonight that the U.S. military will lead an emergency mission to build a new pier on the Mediterranean coast of Gaza so that large ships can deliver food, water, medicine and temporary shelters there.

As NPR's Greg Myre reports, the temporary pier will not require U.S. troops to land in Gaza, though the details of how this will work are not yet clear. United Nations workers and other aid groups will distribute the aid, officials told reporters. Biden is under pressure to do more to help civilians in Gaza given the scale of the crisis.

Who's giving the Republican response after the State of the Union?

Posted March 7, 2024 at 4:59 PM EST
Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) walks to a luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 27, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker
/
Getty Images
Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) walks to a luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 27, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Following Biden's address, Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama will deliver the GOP response. Trump endorsed Britt when she ran in 2022 after rescinding his endorsement of one of her primary opponents who had made comments about moving past the 2020 election. She's the first woman elected to the Senate from Alabama, and the only current Republican mom of school-aged kids serving in the chamber.

In announcing the news Britt had been selected to give the response, House Speaker Mike Johnson said Britt "is fighting to preserve the American Dream for the next generation. She is a champion for strong families, a secure border, national defense and a vibrant economy with stable prices and opportunities for all. The American people will tune in as the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the Senate turns the page on the oldest president in history."

Here's how to watch tonight's speech — and find NPR's special live coverage

Posted March 7, 2024 at 4:58 PM EST
The US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Stefani Reynolds
/
Bloomberg via Getty Images
The US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

We'll embed a livestream of Biden's remarks on this blog as we approach 9 p.m. ET. The stream will also include in-studio coverage with NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, White House Correspondent Asma Khalid, National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson and Congressional Correspondent Claudia Grisales.

NPR's live special coverage begins at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT. You can find it on your local NPR member station or the NPR app.

What to expect tonight, per Biden's chief of staff

Posted March 7, 2024 at 4:58 PM EST
White House Chief of Staff Jeffrey Zients, pictured with President Biden in February 2023.
Kevin Dietsch
/
Getty Images North America
White House Chief of Staff Jeffrey Zients, pictured with President Biden in February 2023.

There are a few things we can expect from tonight's State of the Union: An audience packed with reactive lawmakers and notable guests, a lengthy speech and a lot of scrutiny, from those in the room and watching at home.

The address is an opportunity for presidents to tout their recent accomplishments and future agenda. The stakes are especially high for Biden this year, since it's his last such speech before the presidential election — which, in the wake of Super Tuesday, is looking all but certain to be a rematch with former President Donald Trump.

White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients told NPR's Morning Edition that Biden will discuss his administration's handling of top issues like the economy, immigration and the Israel-Hamas war, as well as his goals for a potential second term.

"Lowering costs, continuing to make people's lives better by investing in childcare, eldercare, paid family and medical leave, continued progress on student debt," Zients said, listing a few. "But I think importantly, the president is also going to call for restoring Roe v. Wade and giving women freedom over their healthcare. And he'll talk about protecting, not taking away, freedoms in other areas, as well as voting rights."

But Zients also acknowledged that restoring Roe is one of many objectives that the president can't accomplish without Congress, where Republican instability and infighting has held up key parts of Biden's agenda, including delivering aid to Ukraine and managing the southern border.


Some recommended reading ahead of the 9 p.m. speech: