State of the Union live updates: Biden delivers a speech heavy on bipartisan appeals
President Biden has delivered his first State of the Union address and below, NPR journalists share news, fact checks and insights on the address.
Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib delivers a response to President Biden's speech
In a highly unusual move straying far from political protocol, Rep. Rashida Tlaib delivered a progressive response to Democrat President Biden's first State of the Union address.
"With the majority of the Build Back Better agenda stalled, Mr. President, our work is unfinished," the Michigan Democrat said, speaking on behalf of the Working Families Party. "We are ready to jump-start our work again."
Tlaib's speech detailed a progressive political vision for the future, from lowering prescription drug costs to making major investments in tackling climate change and enshrining abortion access.
She praised Biden for taking action to get "shots in arms" and "deliver[ing] emergency relief" after taking office, saying he "stopped what could have been an economic freefall."
"No one fought harder for President Biden’s agenda than progressives," she said, adding that "two forces" stood in the way of passing Build Back Better, Biden's major climate and social spending package.
"A Republican Party that serves only the rich and powerful, and just enough corporate-backed Democratic obstructionists to help them succeed," she listed.
Although Tlaib didn't call out any lawmakers by name, it was clear her harshest words were directed at moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who torpedoed the spending package in December over concerns about its price tag and possible impacts on inflation.
Tlaib said although many "important parts of the President's agenda became law with the infrastructure bill," Democrats promised voters more.
"Roads and bridges are critical, but so are child care and prescription drugs," she said. "And we shouldn't have to choose."
Tlaib's speech underscores the divide between progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party as they forge ahead on Biden's agenda as the party gears up for a midterm election cycle in which it's expected to lose seats.
Typically, members of the president's party do not give distinct responses to the State of the Union and instead issue statements of support so that the focus remains on the party's leader.
But Tlaib isn't the only Democrat speaking out after the speech. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, delivered a response on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., is slated to speak at an event hosted by No Labels, a bipartisan organization that oversees numerous PACs.
Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia nodded to this break with custom, tweeting an image of "Hello, my name is Captain Oblivious."
But in a tweet ahead of Biden's address, Tlaib pushed back on coverage that her speech indicates a schism between progressives' agenda and that of the president. "Despite some sensational coverage, it’s simple: I’m giving a speech about supporting President Biden and his Build Back Better agenda for the people," she wrote.
Reynolds says when it comes to masking and schools, Republicans 'actually listened to the science'
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds devoted a sharp paragraph or two in her speech to speak directly to the many parents in the United States who were clamoring months ago for an end to mask mandates in schools. Those parents, and the Republicans who supported them, "actually listened to the science," she said.
Here Reynolds performed a deft sleight of hand — because, of course, up until last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government's arbiter of what the science actually says, supported universal masking in schools. Given the CDC's position, anyone who supported mask-free schools before the availability of vaccines or, arguably, during omicron's alarming rise, may have been listening to the science, but it's hard to argue they were following it.
But Reynolds went on to clarify what she meant by "the science."
"What happened and is still happening to our children over the past two years is unconscionable: learning loss, isolation, anxiety, depression," Reynolds said.
And she's right — that children have suffered mightily from, at first, being out of school buildings altogether and then in a kind of simulacrum of in-person school, where, for many kids, masks inhibited both academic learning and social-emotional growth. Those consequences will take years to ameliorate; on that, most scientists, parents, and teachers agree.
The central tension here, pitting the science of masking and prevention in response to a deadly pandemic against the science of consequences for children deprived of in-person, face-to-smiling-face learning, has become the shining wedge cleaving American families into two raging camps that refuse to accept that they're both right, and they're both wrong.
GOP response rips Biden’s handling of immigration, but gets a key fact wrong
In the Republican response to the State of the Union speech, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds slammed the Biden administration’s border policies -- but not all of her statements were true.
In particular, Reynolds mistakenly said that neither President Biden nor Vice President Kamala Harris had visited the U.S.-Mexico border since taking office. In fact, Harris did travel to El Paso, Texas, in June of last year.
The Biden administration put Harris in charge of the thorny issue of migration from Central America, just as the number of migrant apprehensions at the Southern border was rising to an all-time high.
“The Biden Administration has refused to secure our border,” Reynolds said in her speech Tuesday night. “I, along with Republican governors from several state, have sent resources to the border. And we’ve actually gone to the border—something that our President and Vice President have yet to do since taking office.”
Indeed, GOP governors and lawmakers have made frequent trips to the border to highlight what they call a “crisis” -- although the reality at the border is more complicated than they sometimes let on.
Still, it’s clear that the White House is wary of Republican attacks on the issue. In Tuesday’s speech, Biden largely avoided talking about immigration. And when he did, he emphasized the administration’s efforts to secure the border. That’s a big shift from his remarks to Congress a year ago, when he focused more on addressing the root causes of migration.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds lays out the Republican roadmap for 2022
In the official Republican response to the State of the Union, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds painted President Biden as a modern-day Jimmy Carter, the one-term Democratic president who struggled with inflation, high energy costs and foreign policy setbacks.
If you want to get a sense of how Republicans intend to hammer both the president and his party in this midterm election year, look no further than Reynolds' remarks. She described Biden as "weak" on the world stage, essentially blaming him for Russia's decision to invade Ukraine, and panned him for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which had marked a turning point in Biden's approval ratings.
“We’re now one year into his presidency, and instead of moving America forward, it feels like President Biden and his party have sent us back in time — to the late '70s and early '80s," Reynolds said. “When runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map."
Then it was on to inflation, an issue Americans tell pollsters they care about a lot, and one where the president has few levers he can actually pull to fix it. It's something that resonates with people every time they check out at the grocery store or fill up the tank, and Republicans have made clear they intend to make this an albatross for Democrats seeking to hang on to their narrow majorities in the House and Senate.
Another area where Republicans think they might be able to win over suburban voters who voted for Biden in 2020 is with parental frustration and anger. It was a key part of the winning coalition Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin built last year. He focused both on school closures and mask mandates as well as diversity education.
“They’re tired of people pretending the way to end racism is by categorizing everybody by their race," Reynolds said in her remarks. "They’re tired of politicians who tell parents they should sit down, be silent, and let government control their kids’ education and future."
Reynolds described the anger over school closures as the start of a "pro-parent, pro-family revolution that Republicans are leading."
She criticized mask mandates and COVID-related closures, though those are largely a thing of the past in much of the country, even in states where Democrats are in power.
Violent crime in cities and concerns about border security also featured prominently in the speech and will, by all accounts, be part of Republican midterm messaging. Those are themes Republicans come back to election after election. "They’ve refused to protect you," Reynolds said at one point.
Elections are typically all about energizing base voters, especially midterms, and if the red meat in Reynolds speech is any indication, these are themes you'll be hearing from GOP candidates up and down the ballot.
Reynolds pins high gasoline prices on Biden, but energy prices are soaring worldwide
In her rebuttal to the State of the Union speech, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds blamed the White House and Democrats in Congress for soaring gasoline prices.
"They were told that their anti-energy policies would send gas prices to new heights. but they plowed ahead anyway, raising the price at the pump gas by 50%," she said.
It's true that gasoline prices are up by around 50% since President Biden took office — and in fact, they've risen even more than that compared with their early pandemic lows. But that increase was overwhelmingly driven by global forces, not by any U.S. policy. The pandemic sent prices plummeting as demand for fuel disappeared, and then demand resumed faster than production. The war in Ukraine is causing prices to spike further.
Biden wants the American people to believe he canhold gasoline prices down, and Reynolds wants to argue that he's responsible for pushing them up. But they both overstate the role the White House plays in energy prices.
Reynolds also accused the White House of restricting domestic oil production. It's true that Biden supports policies that would reduce the catastrophic effects of climate change, including a long-term shift from oil to renewable energy, but his administration is not actually blocking U.S. producers from drilling. The U.S. remains the world's No. 1 producer of oil and gas.
U.S. production has been lower than expected largely due to pressure from investors, who are demanding that oil companies deliver returns rather than increase their output.
After a failed voting push, Biden still calls for election reform
Late in his speech, President Biden highlighted the slew of restrictive voting measures passed last year in state legislatures across the country.
“In state after state, new laws have been passed, not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert entire elections,” Biden said.
For that reason, in January, Democrats made a full-court press toward federal voting legislation that would have mandated minimum voting standards across the country. But Republicans have always resisted federal voting legislation, and Democrats couldn’t get consensus in the Senate on changing the filibuster to allow such legislation to pass with a simple majority.
In his speech Tuesday, Biden called for the passage of the voting rights bills associated with that failed push this year. But he notably didn’t mention what experts see as the most realistic legislative option still on the table this year: updating the Electoral Count Act, which governs the certification process.
The law has been derided as poorly written and vague for decades, and its lack of clarity led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of President Donald Trump falsely believed Vice President Mike Pence had more power over the certification of Electoral College votes submitted by the states than he actually did.
A bipartisan group of senators has been meeting for the past few weeks to discuss potential revisions to the law.
Boebert heckles Biden about deaths in Afghanistan as he mentions son who died of cancer
Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert heckled President Biden during his State of the Union speech as he was describing the death of his son Beau Biden, an Iraq war veteran who died of brain cancer.
Biden outlined the severe medical symptoms that U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan endured from breathing in toxic fumes from "burn pits," saying many of the troops developed "a cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin."
“You put them in. Thirteen of them," Boebert then yelled, referring to the terrorist attack at a gate outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan last summer that killed 13 U.S. service members.
The outburst drew immediate and loud boos inside the chamber. Biden appeared to look in the direction of Boebert, but continued with his remarks, saying that one of those killed by cancer "was my son, Maj. Beau Biden." He acknowledged he didn't know if exposure led to Beau's cancer, but added he was committed to investigating any links.
Biden then introduced Danielle Robinson, the widow of Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, a combat medic who was stationed "just yards from burn pits the size of football fields" and died later, and announced expanded Department of Veterans Affairs coverage for nine respiratory cancers.
Boebert defended her actions in a tweet, saying she "couldn't stay silent."
When Biden said flag draped coffins I couldn't stay silent. I told him directly he did it. He put 13 in there.— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) March 2, 2022
Our heroic servicemen and women deserve so much better.
Boebert, a member of the far-right wing of the House Republicans, drew bipartisan criticism earlier this year after she made Islamophobic comments about Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim.
The president's handling of the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan last summer drew bipartisan criticism, with lawmakers especially incensed that the administration did not have a plan to evacuate embassy staff and Afghan allies. The attack that killed the 13 service members came days before the planned full withdrawal from the country that had been taken over by the Taliban.
The Colorado Republican's outburst during the high-profile State of the Union was similar to an incident in 2009 when South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled "you lie!" at President Barack Obama about his health care plan. Wilson apologized afterwards, but then fundraised off of the controversy.
Vaccination: Success story or disappointment?
President Biden has made vaccination the centerpiece of the nation's battle against the pandemic. That strategy received high marks from public health experts early on because the aggressive vaccination campaign quickly vaccinated tens of millions of people.
But that effort was stalled by a confluence of factors, including widespread misinformation and the political polarization around the vaccines. The administration eventually turned to vaccine mandates, but Republican politicians pushed back and the measures were partially derailed by legal challenges.
As a result, the U.S. remains far behind other wealthy nations in vaccinating and boosting people, which helps explain why the pandemic has claimed about 950,000 lives in the U.S. Only about 78,000 people are now getting their first doses every day, and only 69% of those eligible have been fully vaccinated.
The booster campaign has similarly stalled. Only about half of those eligible for boosters have gotten one. The booster rate is even lower among the elderly, who remain the most vulnerable. Boosters are especially crucial because of the omicron variant, which can better evade the vaccine's protection, and waning immunity.
Critics blame the lackluster booster numbers in part on the administration's confused and halting rollout. The vaccination campaign has been especially disappointing for children. Only about a quarter of children aged 5 to 11 years have received two doses of the vaccine.
Here's what that fancy thing is in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Curious as to what is the silver-looking artifact sitting in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during President Biden's State of the Union address?
It's a coin-silver inkstand, and it's considered to be the oldest surviving artifact of the House of Representatives — dating back 1810-1820, according to the chamber's archives. Traditionally, before the speaker calls each session of the House to order, the silver inkstand is placed on the raised platform.
Created by J. Leonard, a Washington silversmith and watchmaker, historians say that it has been a part of the House since 1819 — but that its origins are mysterious.
The House says the inkstand contains three replacement crystal inkwells and is "adorned on both sides by swags and eagles." Each foot of the tray has a snake winding around it, representing both unity and wisdom.
Pelosi sat next to Vice President Harris on the rostrum during Biden's address. While Pelosi has sat behind the president as Speaker of the House during a State of the Union address, tonight marks the first time two women were seated on the platform behind the president during the speech.
Some context on Biden's promise to cut insulin costs (again)
During his speech, President Biden drew attention to the high cost of prescription drugs — as he has done several times during his first year in office, taking aim at the cost of insulin.
In introducing 13-year-old Joshua Davis, who, like 1 in 10 Americans, has diabetes, Biden said that insulin costs $10 a vial to make, but drug companies charge up to 30 times more.
“For Joshua, and for the 200,000 other young people with Type 1 diabetes, let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month so everyone can afford it,” he said.
Davis met the president last month, when Biden spoke about his administration’s efforts to lower health care costs at Germanna Community College in Virginia.
The Affordable Insulin Now Actwas introduced in the Senate two weeks ago, but it would cap how much money people with insurance pay for insulin out of pocket, rather than capping the full price of insulin. High prices could continue, passed onto consumers instead as higher insurance premiums. The cap would also not apply to people who are uninsured.
Biden offers a reality check on his agenda in his State of the Union
President Biden outlined a broad agenda on Tuesday, but don't call it "Build Back Better."
That sweeping package that became a catchall for Democratic legislative priorities ranging from climate change to education and beyond was not mentioned by Biden. That legislation, passed by the House, was stymied in the Senate by West Virginia Democrat, Joe Manchin, who said it was too costly and would raise inflation.
Tonight, Biden instead talked about individual provisions like helping parents with child care, support for renewable energy, and bringing down prescription drug prices.
It seemed like a tacit recognition that some of the more ambitious plans from Biden and Democrats last year may not make it into law. Even now, in piecemeal form, the likelihood of getting all these items through Congress with Democrats holding the narrowest of majorities is slim.
There was also only a passing mention of voting rights legislation and no big push on policing reform, two policies supported by the Democratic base that have been stuck in the Senate with little hope for passage.
Biden seemed to acknowledge the need for more than just party-line votes by highlighting areas where he thinks Democrats and Republicans can find common ground, including the fighting the opioid epidemic and bolstering mental health care.
"It's important for us to come together and show the nation that we can come together and do big things," Biden said.
Biden says he supports police -- and police accountability
President Biden's phrase "let's not abandon our streets" is a clear signal of how much the ground has shifted for Democrats on the question of policing. After two years of surging violent crime, the 2020 rallying cry of "defund the police" is now seen as politically toxic -- at least by the administration.
But Biden wants to thread the needle here, as he did on the campaign trail, supporting police while at the same time calling for continued reform. He highlights the fact that the Justice Department banned chokeholds and restricted no-knock warrants, though that only affects federal officers, a small subset of law enforcement. When it comes to local and state law enforcement agencies, the federal government's powers are limited.
The Democratic-majority House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March 2021, but negotiations with Republicans in the Senate stalled last fall. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 has expired, and though renewing it appears to have bipartisan support, Congress has yet to do so.
The president mentioned ghost guns -- untraceable firearms assembled from untracked parts, often ordered online. More of them are being used for criminal acts, but the reality is that the vast majority of guns used in crimes are not ghost guns -- they're purchased legally or stolen from people who purchased them legally.
Recent research indicates the "time to crime" for legally purchased guns got shorter during the coronavirus pandemic. That means it's taking less time, on average, for a new, legally-purchased gun to be used in an illegal act. In a country that broke records for gun sales during the pandemic, "ghost guns" are a marginal factor, at best.
Conspicuous by its absence in this speech was any mention of race and criminal justice. Last year in his address to Congress, Biden specifically discussed the need to "root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system." But the closest he came to that in this State of the Union was a call to "restore trust."
Biden says his child care plan is essential to helping women recover from the pandemic
A recent survey released by the Pew Research Center found that about half of working parents of younger children reported having continued trouble finding child care, and many said they would struggle to obtain backup care if their existing provider became unavailable because of the coronavirus. Mothers reported more challenges managing child care during the pandemic than fathers did.
President Biden pledged once again to work to address a pressing concern for many working parents — the cost of child care. As he noted, the pandemic has put a spotlight on the nation’s already-strained and expensive child care system, prompting many people — especially mothers — to drop out of the workforce altogether to care for children.
Biden’s plan would cap child care expenditures for many families at no more than 7% of parents’ income and would fill in the gaps with federal subsidies. Advocates argue that an overhaul of the system is essentialto helping women, particularly women of color, have equal access to economic opportunities.
On COVID-19, Biden says it's time to move 'forward, safely'
The country is in a strange pandemic moment. New cases and hospitalizations are trending downward in most of the country, but there are still an average of 1,700 deaths every day. Meanwhile, rules and restrictions — like mask and vaccination requirements — are being lifted in states and counties and school districts.
"Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, COVID-19 no longer need control our lives," President Biden said, mentioning vaccines, tests, treatments, and the public's resilience.
He referred to new public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70% of the U.S. population lives in an area considered to be low or medium risk, and people there are advised they can go indoors without masks. But an even more contagious version of the omicron variant is now spreading across the U.S.
"It's very confusing," Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago recently told NPR. "You wake up in the morning and you wonder: 'Maybe we are over it and no one told me.' Or maybe: 'It's terrible and I should not do my shopping in person.' "
Public health experts don’t all agree on what’s happening in this moment — whether the trend lines are promising enough to justify the changes to rules and restrictions or whether it would be prudent to hang on a little longer. Some have also criticized federal health officials for moving too quickly to roll back quarantine and isolation timelines and mask rules at the expense of young children who aren't eligible for vaccination and people who are immunocompromised.
Biden seemed to speak to those critics when he said, "We’re leaving no one behind or ignoring anyone’s needs as we move forward."
He also left the door open to bringing back restrictions if a new challenge emerges from a new variant. "Over the past year, we’ve gotten much better at detecting new variants," Biden said. "I cannot promise a new variant won’t come. But I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does."
Biden calls for preserving abortion rights, without saying 'abortion'
Despite pressurefrom reproductive rights groups to explicitly say the word "abortion," President Biden stuck to the kind of language he's most often used in the past, referring instead to a "woman's right to choose," which he described as "under attack as never before."
#DearBiden, I am proud to provide abortions and I am deeply worried about the current crisis, particularly in Texas, the South and Midwest. I will be listening to your #SOTU address to hear your plan to protect and expand abortion access and hopefully you'll #SayAbortionJoe. pic.twitter.com/cMki8mE1PI— Dr. Daniel Grossman (@DrDGrossman) March 1, 2022
The U.S. Supreme Court appears ready to overturn or significantly roll back Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, and related precedents. Already, the court has allowed to stand a Texas law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. Later this year, the court is set to rule on a 15-week abortion ban from Mississippi.
Biden framed the right to abortion as "access to health care," reflecting an approach favored by some reproductive health advocates. Language surrounding abortion rights has been a subject of discussion in recent years among some abortion rights supporters who believe the movementshould work harder to destigmatize the procedure by not shying away from the word “abortion.” Others have argued for emphasizing the role of abortion in providing comprehensive women’s health care.
'Our kids need to be in school': Biden talks schools, masking and COVID
Considering how much COVID and school safety have dominated the public discourse for the past two years, you may have been surprised by how few words President Biden devoted to the issue in his speech tonight. And he chose those words carefully.
"Our schools are open. Let’s keep it that way. Our kids need to be in school," Biden said. "And with 75% of adult Americans fully vaccinated and hospitalizations down by 77%, most Americans can remove their masks, return to work, stay in the classroom, and move forward safely."
And that's about it. The line lands at a pivotal moment in the COVID-and-schools timeline — just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its position on school masking, pivoting from universal masking to recommending masking only in communities that meet the CDC's threshold for high-risk. That change in policy appears to have triggered a thaw in masking policies in many school districts that have been reluctant to unmask, including the nation's largest school system, New York City.
Biden appeals for a big cash infusion to the semiconductor industry
President Biden waxed rhapsodic about a stretch of empty land in Ohio — a "field of dreams," he called it — where Intel is going to build a $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility.
He urged Congress to pass a law that would provide major federal investment in U.S.-based semiconductor production and other manufacturing projects. If that federal money comes through, he said, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger had personally told him the company would quintuple its Ohio investment to $100 billion. "All they're waiting for is for you to pass this bill," Biden said.
The semiconductor industry has been roiled by the pandemic and unable to keep up with demand. It takes years to launch a new facility to produce semiconductors, so the problem has lingered. But as countries race to encourage more computer chip production, some experts are growing concerned that the world may be on track for an oversupply of computer chips once all the new facilities come online.
That may not stop world leaders such as Biden from tossing money at companies to boost their chip output. These investments are not just meant to boost semiconductor production, but to relocate it. Countries — including the U.S. — are eager to secure domestic supplies of chips.
The myriad disruptions of the pandemic have raised concerns about the vulnerabilities of a supply chain that relies on seamless global cooperation. And the semiconductor market is dominated by producers in Asia, particularly Taiwan.
Biden renews call for spending on child care, universal pre-K and an extension of the Child Tax Credit
The ghosts of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda haunt this speech, and nowhere is that more true than his renewed call for Congress to help Americans pay for child care and to provide free, high-quality preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds.
Repeating a standard laid out in the stalled BBB proposal, Biden again said that middle-class and working families (those earning up to 250% of state median income) shouldn't have to pay more than 7% of their income for child care. He also said his plan could cut the cost of child care "in half for most families." The president didn't go into details in the speech but — using his BBB as a roadmap — the administration thinks its child care subsidies can expand access to some 20 million children.
Perhaps the most notable piece of Biden's family-focused agenda that's now in doubt is the short-lived expansion of the child tax credit, which came courtesy of the American Rescue Plan. For six months last year, families received cash payments of as much as $300 per child.
Experts say the payments cut monthly child poverty by roughly 30%, with surveys showing that families used the extra money to pay for food, clothing, school supplies, utilities, rent and other essentials. Unfortunately, new research shows those gains against child poverty were short-lived, with the monthly rate rebounding soon after payments stopped.
Many Republicans oppose expanding the CTC because of the price tag and concerns that the payments could drive caregivers out of the workforce, though early research shows little evidence of such an exodus.
On immigration, Biden shifts his emphasis to border security
A year ago, President Biden was touting an ambitious plan to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Tonight, the first words he said about immigration were focused on securing the Southern border.
“If we are to advance liberty and justice, we need to secure the border and fix the immigration system,” Biden said. “As you might guess, I think we can do both.”
It’s a tacit acknowledgment that much of his immigration agenda has been curtailed by the record number of migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border last year. Republicans have sought to blame the Biden administration’s policies for what they call a “crisis,” although the reality at the border is more complicated than they sometimes let on.
In his speech, Biden touted his administration’s enforcement efforts: scanners at ports of entry to detect drug smuggling; more immigration judges; and commitments from partner governments in South and Central America to secure their own borders.
Immigrant advocates had urged Biden to use the State of the Union speech to reboot his stalled agenda. And Biden did tout parts of his plan -- particularly those that poll well, including a path to legal status for essential workers, people here illegally who came to U.S. as children, and others.
“It’s not only the right thing to do — it’s the economically smart thing to do,” Biden said. “That’s why immigration reform is supported by everyone from labor unions to religious leaders to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Let’s get it done once and for all.”
But it’s unlikely that Biden said anything tonight that would bring that elusive goal closer to reality.
Biden says you can order more free at-home COVID tests next week
One of the major complaints with the free at-home COVID test program the White House launched in January was that each household could get only four rapid tests, no matter how many people were in their household.
Now, people who have already gotten their first four tests can get four more from covidtests.gov starting next week, Biden said in his speech.
The administration pledged to buy a billion tests, and more than 270 million tests have been delivered so far, according to a White House official. That works out to about 68 million households.
These tests will potentially get more useful soon, with a "test to treat initiative" also announced by Biden in his address. If you test positive for COVID at a pharmacy or community health center, you'll be able to receive antiviral pills on the spot.
Economic growth last year was the strongest since Ronald Reagan was in office
As President Biden noted tonight, the U.S. economy grew 5.7% last year. That's the fastest pace since 1984.
The U.S. economy is rebounding quickly from the pandemic recession. But the growth has been uneven, with each new wave of infections acting as a kind of speed bump on the road to recovery.
When infections spiked during the delta and omicron waves, hospitals filled up and restaurants emptied out. Persistent supply-chain problems and labor shortages have also made it hard for businesses to keep pace with strong consumer demand, which is one of the factors pushing inflation to its highest level in nearly 40 years.
Biden blasts Trump tax cuts, brings first boos of the night
Thirteen minutes into the State of the Union address, President Biden touted his administration's passage of the American Rescue Plan, while taking a jab at former President Donald Trump.
"Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefited the top 1% of Americans," the president began, as a chorus of boos emerged from various Republican lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer eagerly stood up, poised to clap amid the booing.
"The American Rescue Plan helped working people and left no one behind," Biden continued, to loud applause by Democrats.
The nearly $2 trillion bill passed in March of last year and allocated money for schools, small business, vaccine access and anti-poverty programs like the expanded child tax credit.
Of the massive coronavirus relief package, Biden said, "Few pieces of legislation have done more at a critical moment in our history to lift us out of crisis," adding that the bill "delivered immediate economic relief for tens of millions of Americans."
Biden announces 'Test to Treat' program
If you're sick with COVID-19 and you're at high risk for severe disease, there is a pill that could help prevent you from getting worse.
It’s an antiviral pill called Paxlovid, made by Pfizer and studies show it reduces the risk of getting hospitalized with COVID-19 by nearly 90%.
There is a second antiviral called molnupiravir made by Merck, but that pill is less effective — it reduces the risk of hospitalization by 30%.
Both antivirals are five-day pill courses that can be prescribed only to someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19, and the treatment must be started within five days of getting symptoms.
Biden says his “Test to Treat” initiative will allow people to get tested at a pharmacy and, if they’re positive, receive the antiviral pills on the spot at no cost. He also said Pfizer is increasing production of Paxlovid and will have 1 million pills available in March and double that amount in April. (NPR published the federal government's contract with Pfizer last month, which included some surprises.)
Allowing pharmacists to provide Paxlovid right after a person has tested positive would make these pills more accessible.
Biden calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage
President Biden’s call to boost the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is unlikely to pass in the closely divided Senate — most legislation need 60 votes to avoid a GOP filibuster. But market forces already have eclipsed the “fight for $15” in many parts of the country.
Actual wages have risen sharply in the past year as employers have had to compete for hard-to-find workers. Even in traditionally low-wage industries such as retail and hospitality, the average worker now makes significantly more than the president’s proposed minimum.
According to the Labor Department, restaurants and hotels were paying workers an average of $17.08 per hour in January — up from $14.85 a year earlier. Retail stores were paying an average of $19.24. Retail giant Target announced Tuesday that it would raise its minimum as high as $24 an hour in some markets.
What’s more, while the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, many cities and states have imposed their own, higher minimums. Twenty-one states raised their minimum wages at the beginning of this year, either through new legislation or automatic annual increases.
China gets the usual nod as an economic competitor, but not much else, in a SOTU focused elsewhere
President Biden came into office seeking to refocus U.S. foreign policy — and, to some extent, industrial policy — squarely on China. But the address on Tuesday showed just how much those plans have been blown off course, at least for now.
The foreign policy focus of his speech was, naturally, on the Ukraine crisis. Biden’s remarks on China were limited — he mentioned the country just three times and its leader, Xi Jinping, once. And what he did have to say about China pretty much echoed what he’s said in the past.
Biden talked about how his infrastructure law and the coming “infrastructure decade” will “transform America and put us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st Century that we face with the rest of the world — particularly China.”
“I’ve told Xi Jinping, it’s never been a good bet to bet against the American people,” he added.
Biden also mentioned China when making a plug for the Bipartisan Innovation Act, a plan to invest in U.S. industry and emerging technologies. “To compete for the jobs of the future, we also need to level the playing field with China and other competitors.”
The final mention of China was as Biden lamented the fact that the U.S. doesn’t invest as much as it should in research and development, while “China is” doing so.
All were points he has made before — including in last April's equivalent of a State of the Union speech before Congress.
For what it’s worth, the leadership in Beijing may be pleased. Policy analysts say some in China are hopeful that the war in Ukraine will keep the administration distracted and take some strategic pressure off Beijing.
An update on the effort to help vaccinate the world
The U.S has said it will share more than 1.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with the world. According to the State Department, the U.S. to date has delivered more than 400 million doses to 30 countries in Africa, about 25 countries in the Western Hemisphere and about 20 countries in Southern and Eastern Asia, which makes the U.S. the country that has donated the most doses to the world vaccine effort.
Globally, 64% of the world’s population has received at least one dose with just over half fully vaccinated. But that number plummets to about 10% in low-income countries, a disparity that has led to criticism that the world vaccination effort is inadequate and not responsive to low-income countries. Vaccination rates remain woefully low in Africa where, according to the World Health Organization, just 11% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
When the vaccines were first available supply was the major problem as richer countries bought up most of the available vaccine doses. The supply issue has now been mostly resolved, but the challenge now is low-income countries haven’t had the resources and the technical support to vaccinate their adult populations in large numbers.
Biden frames stymied climate agenda in terms of savings for everyday Americans
President Biden urged lawmakers to pass some of his climate action priorities, but he conspicuously did not frame cutting emissions as an urgent solution to a devastating global threat.
A major report out this week found that billions of people around the world are already suffering the impacts of climate change, but that reducing greenhouse gas emissions rapidly would save lives and reduce human suffering.
Instead of highlighting those high stakes, Biden focused on the potential savings for American citizens, laying out a plan to "cut energy costs for families an average of $500 a year by combatting climate change."
He spotlighted savings from weatherizing homes and businesses, boosting clean energy production and making electric vehicles cheaper, eliminating the need to buy gasoline.
Biden's "Build Back Better" legislative package included tax credits and other incentives for all those emission-busting actions, as well as other measures. But that package was stymied after Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia strongly opposed some of the social safety net components of the legislation.
Manchin has personal and political ties to the coal industry and is a booster of U.S. oil and gas — but he has also publicly expressed support for many of Biden's desired climate measures. He has indicated he would support them as a standalone bill, but negotiations on that front have recently seemed nonexistent.
Biden pledges more help for Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Some of the spending President Biden is set to propose tonight should sound familiar — because it's to fund priorities left languishing by the failure to advance his Build Back Better plan in Congress.
Among these familiar proposals is Biden's pitch to dramatically increase funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions.
While the Biden administration has already provided HBCUs with roughly $3.7 billion in pandemic relief and forgiven another $1.6 billion in federal loans given to 45 HBCUs to pay for important capital improvements, Biden wants to do more. And for good reason.
Roughly two-thirds of HBCU students have limited financial means, making these schools more dependent on public funding than many non-HBCUs are. What's more, HBCUs experienced a devastating loss in federal funding per student from 2003 to 2015. Biden wants to increase the amount of support Congress sends to HBCUS, TCUs and MSIs — money they can use to steady their financial footing while also doubling down on programs most likely to set students up for success in high-demand fields like nursing and computer sciences.
In his BBB plan, Biden proposed a $6 billion increase to existing grants and $4 billion for research and development programs. Vice President Harris graduated from one of the nation's best-known HBCUs, Howard University.
Biden encourages Congress to pass voting rights legislation, but opposition remains
President Biden encouraged Congress to pass a major voting rights legislative package, but the path forward so far remains out of reach for Democrats.
"I call on the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. And while you’re at it, pass the Disclose Act so Americans can know who is funding our elections," Biden said.
Earlier this year, the evenly divided Senate attempted to take up the the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but Democrats couldn't move forward on them in the face of a Republican filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer then threatened to reverse the Senate's filibuster rules, but Democrats also fell short there.
However, bipartisan talks are underway today to consider ways to strengthen the security of U.S. elections in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Democrats have said the effort is far from meeting their larger goals, but it is critical to protect presidential elections, election workers and other weaknesses exposed with the deadly siege.
Biden urges Congress to confirm his nominees for the Federal Reserve
As part of his cost-cutting agenda, President Biden urged lawmakers to confirm his nominees to the Federal Reserve board.
The Federal Reserve has primary responsibility for fighting inflation, and Biden has repeatedly said he trusts the central bank to do just that. The Fed is widely expected to begin raising interest rates this month in an effort to cool red-hot demand and keep prices from spiraling out of control.
As recently as nine months ago, most Fed policymakers thought interest rates would stay near zero this year, in order to prop up the economy and promote full employment. But as the job market has tightened and consumer prices have soared, the central bank is preparing to shift gears.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell says he and his colleagues are determined to rein in inflation. Biden has nominated Powell for a second term as leader of the central bank. The president has also nominated three new Fed governors: Lisa Cook, Philip Jefferson and Sarah Bloom Raskin. If confirmed, Cook and Jefferson would be two of only five African Americans to serve on the Fed’s board in its 108-year history. All of the nominations have been held up in the Senate Banking Committee over GOP objections to Raskin. She has drawn criticism from Republicans for saying bank regulators should pay more attention to the risks posed by climate change.
Biden wants to make college more affordable for low-income students
In his speech, President Biden called on Congress to do more for low-income college students by increasing what's known as the federal Pell Grant.
The grants are not a loan that must be repaid — nor are they merit-based. It is federal money meant to lower the cost of college — at just about any college — for any undergraduate student who meets the government's standard for "exceptional financial need."
The current Pell maximum is $6,495 a year, and Biden is proposing to increase it by $2,000, a roughly 30% increase.
The Pell Grant program is arguably the U.S. government's most effective tool at increasing low-income students' access to higher education. It helps roughly 7 million students attend college each year, especially students of color: Nearly 60% of Black students and half of Latino and American Indian students benefit from a Pell.
Higher education experts have lamented for years that the value of a Pell Grant has not kept pace with the rising costs of college, especially when you factor in living expenses. That's why, as a candidate for president, Joe Biden pledged an even larger Pell increase than the one he proposed tonight: He had committed to doubling the award's maximum value, to roughly $13,000.
Improving the nation’s nursing homes
Nursing homes have been hit hard by the pandemic. A quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. involved residents and staff of long-term-care facilities. The industry has lost a record number of jobs — more than 250,000, according to one analysis — which is affecting the care that residents receive.
The industry’s troubles didn’t start with the pandemic. A 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office found that between 2013 and 2017, more than 80% of nursing homes had insufficient infection prevention and control measures, like hand washing, mask use and isolation of infected residents. The workforce shortage, too, is a chronic problem. “We know that even before the pandemic, two years ago, there were already staff shortages,” the AARP’s Susan Reinhard told NPR recently.
On Monday, the White House announced several reforms to address these long-standing problems with the industry. Those reforms include requiring a minimum staffing requirement to ensure that residents get the care they need.
In recent weeks, Brewer’s office has received complaints that some facilities have had one certified nurse aide (CNA) caring for as many as 50 patients, despite the minimum requirement in New Jersey that there be one CNA for every eight residents for the day shift.
Biden’s reforms include improved accountability and oversight. He’s announcing $500 million — a 25% increase in funding — to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to support health and safety inspections.
The reforms also attempt to address another growing problem in the industry — private equity. Investment in nursing homes by private equity firms has grown 20-fold, from $5 million in 2000 to $100 million in 2018, according to one analysis. And recent research has shown that nursing homes owned by these firms fare worse on many fronts, including the cost and quality of care.
Biden is asking Congress to give CMS the enforcement authority to impose and enforce actions on the owners and operators of facilities even after they close, as well as the owners and operators of consistently noncompliant facilities.
“The pandemic has really required policy makers to take a hard look at what was already a failing, faltering system,” Brewer says.
Highlighting soaring cost of new cars, Biden points to improving supply chains as key to fighting inflation
Anyone who has tried to buy a car recently knows that prices have gone through the roof, as President Biden just acknowledged.
"Look at cars," he said. "Last year, there weren’t enough semiconductors to make all the cars that people wanted to buy. And guess what, prices of automobiles went up."
"Went up" is kind of an undersatement. Average transaction prices for new vehicles topped $47,000 at the start of 2022 — up some $6,000 in a single year. And because new car prices affect the used-car market, used-car prices soared by about a third.
As the president noted, the increase was primarily driven by a shortage of parts, with a particularly acute lack of semiconductors. Having fewer vehicles manufactured drove up prices through the simple principle of supply and demand.
At the same time, recognizing that they were going to sell fewer cars, automakers also intentionally chose to produce higher-cost, more profitable vehicles so they could make more money on fewer transactions. The strategy worked; multiple automakers reported record earnings last year, despite greatly reduced output.
What it would mean for health insurance to 'make those savings permanent'
President Biden referred to a huge influx of funding from the American Rescue Plan that helped make health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges more affordable than ever. Many plans are available for $10 a month.
These lower-cost plans are part of what's behind a surprising twist when it comes to health insurance during the pandemic. When it started, and people began to lose their jobs and health insurance benefits, many experts feared millions more people would become uninsured.
Instead, the opposite happened — more than 4 million people gained coverage. In 2020, some 33 million people didn't have health insurance — now it's down to 29 million people. That’s in part because of new Medicaid enrollment and because of a record 14.5 million people signing up for plans on healthcare.gov and the state Obamacare marketplaces, taking advantage of those more affordable plans.
Biden can rightly take credit for the gains. He opened a six-month special enrollment period as soon as he came into office, giving uninsured people a chance to enroll and insured people a chance to switch plans. He restored significant funding to “navigators” and advertising campaigns that the Trump administration had slashed. And he helped lower plan costs with the new American Rescue Plan subsidies.
Unless Congress extends them, the subsidies are set to expire in 2023. The growth of Medicaid is temporary, too, since states were required to keep everyone enrolled during the pandemic crisis. In the months after the public health emergency ends, states will be going through their rolls and discontinuing coverage for people who no longer qualify, which has led to fears of chaos and vulnerable people falling through the cracks during the “great unwinding.”
Job growth sets a record, sort of
President Biden likes to boast, accurately, that his first year in office was a record year for U.S. job growth. But while that’s true, it’s also somewhat misleading, thanks to a fluke of the calendar.
While U.S. employers added 6.6 million jobs in 2021, they added almost twice that many the year before, if you start counting in May — that is, following the initial shock of the pandemic, from which the job market is still recovering. The economy lost an unprecedented 22 million jobs in March and April of 2020, regained about 12 million between June and December of that year and continued to add jobs throughout 2021, though at a somewhat slower pace.
The unemployment rate soared to nearly 15% when the pandemic first struck. It had dropped to 6.4% by the time President Biden was sworn in last year, and it’s since fallen further, to 4% in the most recent government report.
As of January, the economy had yet to recover about 13% of the jobs lost to the pandemic (the Labor Department will report on February’s job gains this Friday).
Many employers say they would have added more jobs over the last year, if they had had more applicants. Millions of people dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, and about 900,000 have not yet returned. Some have retired for good. Others are waiting out the virus or busy caring for children or sick family members.
Biden says he understands the pain inflation is causing
Inflation is a top concern for many Americans, as consumer prices are climbing at the fastest pace in nearly 40 years.
According to a new NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, 38% of Americans believe President Biden should make fighting inflation his top priority — far outpacing other concerns such as the pandemic (11%) or violent crime (10%).
And Biden responded in his State of the Union address.
“So many families are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to keep up with the rising cost of food, gas, housing and so much more,” the president said, adding, “I understand.”
Consumer prices were 7.5% higher in January than a year ago, according to the Labor Department, while average wages rose just 6.9%. Inflation is eroding the average worker’s buying power, so even as paychecks get bigger, they don’t go as far as they used to.
Averages can mask considerable variation, of course. Some people in typically low-wage jobs have seen significantly larger pay increases in the last year, as employers have had to compete for scarce workers. The average wage in restaurants and hotels in January was 15% higher than a year ago — more than enough to outpace inflation.
On the other hand, low-wage workers typically spend more of their money on things like gasoline and the electric bill, where prices have risen faster than inflation overall.
The number crunchers behind the Penn Wharton Budget Model tried to account for all of those variations to see who’s coming out ahead and who’s not. They found that for most households with income below $20,000 per year, price hikes outstripped wage gains. For households with income above $100,000 per year, wage gains typically beat inflation. For households in the middle — with income between $20,000 and $100,000 — it’s a mixed bag, but most came out ahead.
The White House has been highlighting some different research from economists at UC Berkeley, who look not only at wages but also at government transfer payments, such as unemployment benefits and the expanded child tax credit (which just expired). They find that most families on the bottom half of the income ladder are better off now than they were before the pandemic, even after accounting for inflation.
Biden highlights American diplomacy and international unity
“American diplomacy matters. American resolve matters,” President Biden declared as he laid out his positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
His diplomacy has focused mainly on uniting European allies to impose unprecedented sanctions on Russia and warning the world ahead of time “what we knew Putin was planning and precisely how he would try to falsely justify his aggression.”
While the U.S. and its allies have shown more unity than Putin may have expected, Russia has ramped up its bombing campaigns and pressed its offensive in Ukraine. Russian and Ukrainian officials have held one round of ceasefire talks, but there are few other signs of diplomatic off ramps.
Among the invited guests in attendance tonight is the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova.
President Biden ditches his mask as he enters the chamber
President Biden, who has been quite diligent about wearing a mask in public, opted not to wear a mask as he entered the crowded House chamber, shaking hands and chatting with members of Congress who lined the center aisle.
This reflects new CDC guidance indicating that COVID-19 risk in Washington, D.C., is currently low and that masks are not required. The city's mayor, Muriel Bowser, also lifted the local indoor mask mandate effective Tuesday.
The majority of Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and members of Congress in the chamber also eschewed masks. So did Vice President Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stand behind Biden on the rostrum.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted this week that masks coming off just in time for the State of the Union was purely coincidental and had everything to do with COVID-19 conditions improving in the region.
But, the image of a large gathering without masks is one Democrats are no doubt happy to project as federal guidance comes into the reality many Americans have been living for months — and as Biden makes the case that the U.S. can safely move to the next phase of the pandemic.
Biden announces expanded coverage for burn pit veterans
Hundreds of thousands of veterans say they were exposed to noxious smoke while on U.S. military bases overseas from the massive burn pits used to incinerate everything from uniforms to toxic waste. Many of them have been fighting for years to get the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize their illnesses as caused by their military service — which opens up benefits and health care options.
On Tuesday, the VA announced a proposed list of rare cancers it would automatically accept as "service-connected," so anyone who served near burn pits or other toxic exposures will be accepted by the VA without going through years of red tape.
President Biden’s son Beau died of a rare brain cancer that the president has suggested might have been caused by exposure to burn pits. Advocates had expected the Biden administration to act sooner on the issue, and many are still urging the White House or Congress to do more, with a comprehensive list of burn pit illnesses. House Democrats are expected to pass such a bill soon with celebrity support from comedian Jon Stewart.
The Senate is taking a more incremental approach that proponents say has a better chance of bipartisan support. But veterans activists say that could be too little too late for sick and dying veterans.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, has a prominent burn pit advocate as his guest at the speech: Capt. Le Roy Torres, U.S. Army Reserve, co-founder of Burn Pits 360, who developed a debilitating lung condition after exposure to burn pits in Iraq.
Biden highlights strategic release of oil reserves, but they are not guaranteed to bring down gas prices
President Biden nodded to the fact that sanctions on Russia are driving up global oil prices, fueling a rise in gasoline prices.
"To all Americans, I will be honest with you, as I’ve always promised," he said. "A Russian dictator, invading a foreign country, has costs around the world."
According to AAA, the national average price for a gallon of gasoline has risen to $3.61, as of Monday, up 26 cents from a month ago. Some analysts are warning it could top $4 as summer driving season approaches.
But Biden promised to "use every tool at our disposal" to protect American consumers from those high prices, which contribute to inflation. He pointed to a coordinated release of strategic petroleum reserves — 30 million barrels from the U.S. stockpiles, plus another 30 million barrels from other oil-consuming countries — and implied the possibility of more oil releases.
"These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home," he said.
Hypothetically, boosting oil supplies would push prices down. But 60 million barrels amounts to just about 12 days' worth of Russian crude oil exports. And when the release was announced earlier Tuesday, oil prices actually rose even higher instead of dropping.
A similar release announced in December also did not significantly move prices down.
Oil prices could still drop — some analysts think a potential nuclear deal with Iran could moderate global prices, for instance — but at this point, there are few signs that releasing oil from strategic petroleum reserves alone will stop gasoline prices from rising.
Biden is seeking to deter Russia but won't put U.S. troops into Ukraine
President Biden walks the fine line here of trying to deter Russia while pledging to keep American troops out of harm's way.
While there's little support among Americans for putting U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine, some critics have still slammed Biden for broadcasting in advance that he wouldn't keep that option.
He's had to strike a delicate balance in a different conflict. Biden has sought to take credit for the very popular decision of ending the U.S. war in Afghanistan, but the chaotic evacuation of Kabul is seen as a stain on his presidency. The president is set to barely mention Afghanistan in tonight's speech.
Actress Angelica Ross delivers the 2022 LGBTQ State of the Union
Ahead of President Biden's first State of the Union address, actress and activist Angelica Ross delivered the "LGBTQ State of the Union" address and urged the president to do more when it comes to protect transgender youth in the U.S.
The remarks are given annually by a member of the queer community and reflect on issues that have impacted LGBTQ individuals over the past year.
“We are all living through a moment of unprecedented loss, financial hardship and sociopolitical discord," Ross said Tuesday during her address on Logo TV, a lifestyle and entertainment channel catering to the LGBTQ+ community.
"We know these issues disproportionately impact the most marginalized among us, so we need our leaders to be doing more to protect our LGBTQ+ community. But most particularly our Black trans sisters and siblings," she added.
Ross said it's time for the country to have an "honest and intersectional conversation" when it comes to addressing the topics impacting the LGBTQ community, calling on leaders from the Biden administration to have this discussion.
"If anyone from the Biden-Harris administration is tuning in, I'm always open to discussing any of this further," Ross said.
Ahead of President Joe Biden’s #StateOfTheUnion, @angelicaross delivers the #LGBTQ State of the Union, reflecting on the past year while imparting a message of hope for #trans and #nonbinary youth as we press forward in 2022 #LGBTQSOTU #SOTU https://t.co/fzfXjdi64Z— Logo 🏳️🌈 (@LogoTV) March 1, 2022
Later in her speech, Ross called on lawmakers to pass the Equality Act— a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include the LGBTQ community. The bill first passed the U.S. House in 2019 but has stalled in the Senate. It passed the House again on Feb. 25, 2021.
“We urge Congress to move this groundbreaking bill forward, and we implore the Biden administration: continue putting pressure on them to do so,” she said.
Ross spoke directly transgender and nonbinary youth, saying she understands the "very unique pain" they are going through.
"If it all feels overwhelming at times, you’re right; it is. But listen up, my dears, because this is important. You are remarkable. You are powerful. You are unstoppable. No amount of hateful rhetoric will ever change that," Ross said.
Activists press Biden to 'say "abortion" '
With the future of abortion rights very much in question because of a pending Supreme Courtcase that could overturn Roe v. Wade and other long-standing precedent, President Biden is under pressure from reproductive rights groups to address the issue explicitly.
Some activists have criticized Biden for rarely addressing the issue and his seeming reluctance to use word “abortion” in public speeches and written statements. In an open letter last month, a coalition of more than 100 abortion rights groups asked Biden to “make a forceful case to the American public about the administration’s efforts to protect abortion access in the face of unprecedented attacks” during his speech to Congress.
The groups have asked Biden to reiterate his support for the Women’s Health Protection Act — an effort to codify abortion rights protections in federal law. Such efforts appear doomed without significant change in Congress. Senate Republicans blocked the bill on Monday. It failed to move forward on a vote of 46-48.
Biden has a complicated history with the abortion issue. As a practicing Roman Catholic, he has been criticized by leaders of his church for supporting legal access to abortion and by some members of his party for not advocating for abortion rights more aggressively.
Biden’s speech comes six months to the day after the Texas law SB 8 took effect, which bans most abortions in that state with very limited exceptions. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, many more states are expected to quickly implement similar laws.
How will Biden characterize the state of the pandemic?
President Biden came into office promising totackle the pandemic head-on.
He pledged to restore public trust, vaccinate the country and minimize the spread of COVID-19. He set — and met — some ambitious goals for the vaccine rollout, and currently more than 80% of the eligible population in the U.S. has been vaccinated. He secured significant new pandemic funding in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. And, for the most part, "schools and businesses remained open even during the last surge with omicron, and that's not a small feat,” Dr. Luciana Borio, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told NPR.
But there have also been stumbles. The president declared the country was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus” in July 2021, only to have the delta and then omicron variants take off. After a strong start, the vaccination campaign stalled — and so did the White House’s attempt to meet vaccine hesitancy with mandates. At-home tests were nowhere to be found when the super-contagious omicron variant surged. And the administration and CDC have also faced criticism for communication blunders and missteps.
Glen Nowak, a health communication expert at the University of Georgia who worked for years at CDC, notes that Biden won’t just be conveying information, he’ll be setting the public’s expectations of how the pandemic will unfold from here.
In the president’s speech tonight, “it will be important not to overpromise, including unintentionally, such as telling people ‘we've gotten through the worst’ or ‘the end of the pandemic is in sight,’” Nowak says. “It would be better instead to highlight how far we have come in dealing with COVID, including safe and effective vaccines and advances in treatments.”
And, he says, Biden should lay out what goals the administration will be pursuing through the spring and summer and how much longer COVID-19 will be considered a pandemic.
Biden's escort team includes top Democrats, Ukraine caucus co-chair
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named a team of more than a half dozen lawmakers to escort President Biden into the House chamber for his first State of the Union speech, which included one of the founders of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, helped found the Congressional Ukraine Caucus in 1997, soon after the country established its independence, to maintain a strong U.S. alliance with the new nation. She is one of four co-chairs of the bipartisan group.
The list of seven lawmakers also includes top House Democratic leaders, such as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and a member from Biden's home state, Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.
· Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland
· Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina
· Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts
· Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York
· Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York
· Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, co-founder & co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus
· Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware
Who is the 'designated survivor' for tonight's address?
Every year, one member of the president's Cabinet does not attend the State of the Union speech in person to maintain continuity of government in case of disaster. The "designated survivor" is a macabre tradition, so much a part of the night that it was the inspiration for a TV series.
This photo posted by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland offers a clue on who it is ...
We’re on the way to the Capitol for @POTUS’ first State of the Union address. After a historic year of investments to help our nation build back better, I look forward to hearing his vision for the year ahead. I am forever grateful to be a part of the Biden-Harris administration. pic.twitter.com/yeYCxpupYO— Secretary Deb Haaland (@SecDebHaaland) March 2, 2022
Among the Cabinet members not pictured was Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
As President Biden made his way to the Capitol, the White House finally confirmed that Raimando is the lucky survivor, who would become president, in the unlikely event that everyone in the House chamber tonight were to perish.
For the first time, 2 women will sit on the dais during a State of the Union address
History will be made at the U.S. Capitol tonight.
For the first time, two women will be seated on the platform behind the president during a State of the Union address.
Vice President Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat behind President Biden during his joint address to Congress last year, but that speech was not an official State of the Union address.
They’ll be back flanking the president tonight for his first official State of the Union speech.
Biden to announce he will ban on Russian aircraft from U.S. airspace
The U.S. is ready to ban Russian flights from U.S. airspace, a source familiar with the plan tells NPR's Asma Khalid.
The move, which President Biden will announce during the State of the Union, is the latest bid to isolate and punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Europe and Canada have already imposed similar bans.
The United States and Europe have already taken a number of economic actions against Russia, including freezing Russian central bank assets held outside Russia and cutting some Russian banks off from the SWIFT payment system.
For more on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, click here.
Ukraine blue and gold unites lawmakers despite divisions on politics at home
Lawmakers from both political parties agree on one thing as they head into the House chamber for President Biden's first State of the Union address: Blue and gold are the colors of the night.
Typically, members of Congress wear red, white and blue to the annual speech, knowing they may appear in cutaway shots for the prime-time speech on television. This year, pins, scarves and blazers with Ukraine's national flag colors, not those of the United States, are center stage.
Indiana GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz, who was born in Ukraine, donned a bright blue suit with a yellow shirt at a press conference with House GOP leaders previewing their message about the president's handling of the economy and foreign policy. Many members added blue and gold ribbons to their suit jacket lapels. After House votes earlier on Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats gathered on the East Front of the Capitol to showcase their support for Ukraine.
Virginia Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger wore a blue blouse with a bright yellow necklace. Talking to PBS Newshour, she recalled a meeting in Germany soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with a woman who wore red, white and blue to show solidarity with the United States.
"And so today, when we have such a platform to demonstrate our support to the Ukrainian people, it's a little bit of my effort to sort of pay it forward and make sure that everyone who's fighting for their freedom on the ground in Ukraine knows that we're there with them," she said.
Congress is debating an aid package to send billions of dollars to Ukraine for humanitarian and defense programs. State of the Union speeches often feature Republicans or Democrats standing and clapping for their party's president's agenda, while those of the opposing party sit stone-faced. That is likely to happen tonight as President Biden presses for action on various domestic proposals. But praise for how Ukraine has held off Russia and touted its democratic ideals could be the lone issue that gets a standing ovation from virtually all members in the House chamber.
Bipartisan members of the Ukraine Caucus in both the House and Senate met with Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova this week and expressed a shared commitment to approve additional support to support the government and the military as stepped up assaults by the Russian military threaten cities across the country. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a nonbinding resolution expressing solidarity with Ukraine on Wednesday.
Ukraine-born lawmaker warns of genocide, appeals to Biden to 'step up' support
Indiana Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz, who emigrated from Ukraine to the United States, warned about the conflict in her home country with a blunt statement on Tuesday: "this is not a war, this is a genocide."
Spartz is a freshman lawmaker, but standing at a press conference with House GOP leaders wearing blue and gold — colors of her birthplace — her tearful and raw comments described the personal cost of war and the worries of those with family in Ukraine under siege. Spartz mentioned her 95-year-old grandmother, who was born in Russia and survived attacks on women and children in World War II.
President Biden, who will make Russia's invasion of Ukraine a central theme in his address to Congress on Tuesday night, needs to "step up," Spartz said, suggesting he was slow to respond and wasn't serious about sanctions.
"He must act decisively, fast, or this blood of many millions of Ukrainians will be on his hands too," she said, adding that she thought Biden's handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan was "embarrassing."
Calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a "crazy man," Spartz warned that "this is the going to be the biggest genocide the world has ever experienced."
"If we don't stop him there, he's not going to stop," she said. "He's going to go further, and then we're going to send our children to die to fight this."
The United States must lead a response quickly "because there is no one else who can lead around the world," Spartz said, while also calling on the United Nations to act.
Friends in Ukraine report "bombing day and night," and many are having issues communicating about conditions on the ground, she said. She thanked Elon Musk for helping with communications equipment but said more private companies needed to pitch in.
First lady's guests include a college student who is parenting twins
Kezia Rodriguez only met Jill Biden in January, and tonight, the mother of twin girls and a student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey is one of the first lady's honored guests. According to the White House, Rodriguez is a full-time student hoping to earn an associate's degree from Bergen and then transfer to a four-year school where she can earn a bachelor's in nursing.
Why Rodriguez? Besides the fact that any parent who is raising young children while also navigating the rigors of college full time is a hero worth celebrating? She enrolled her daughters in a tuition-free child care program at the school — a program funded by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and that, reportedly, allowed her to upshift her studies from part to full time.
Nearly 1 in 4 undergraduate students in the U.S. is a parent, and more than half are single parents. Rodriguez's inclusion seems an obvious nod to a group of vulnerable students who have been hit hard by the nation's child care crisis but also helped by the Biden administration. In addition to the infusion of ARP funding — $39 billion for child care — the federal government also offers an older program to help student parents, called Child Care Access Means Parents in School, or CCAMPIS.
Here's a great deep dive into the program from 2019 by my colleague, Elissa Nadworny, which found that, at the time, CCAMPIS was so small and the need for it so great that it only reached about 1% of the student parents who could have benefitted from it.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will hammer Biden on foreign policy and inflation in her response
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will blast President Biden for rising inflation and the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to excerpts of the Republican response to the State of the Union.
"Instead of moving America forward, it feels like President Biden and his party have sent us back in time to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. When runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map," Reynolds is set to say in her speech.
Republicans have zeroed in on high inflation and frustration with coronavirus restrictions as they make the case against Democrats ahead of midterm elections in November.
Reynolds will also highlight her decision to require that Iowa schools return to in-person instruction.
"I was attacked by the left; I was attacked by the media. But it wasn’t a hard choice. It was the right choice," Reynolds will say.
Biden will say the country is ready to move forward from COVID. Tomorrow, the White House will release a plan for that
President Biden will tell Americans in his speech tonight that "the country can move forward safely" to the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, the White House will roll out a detailed new strategy for how to do that.
A White House official describes the new plan as "a roadmap for how we sustain and build on the progress we've made over the past 13 months." The administration has been working on this plan since before the omicron wave took hold, gathering advice and ideas from a wide range of outside advisers and experts. The new plan follows the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement last week that it was relaxing its guidance for when to wear masks.
Biden is expected to walk through progress made in the fight against COVID-19 in his speech and talk about how at-home tests and antiviral pills are the now more widely available than ever. While the speech tonight will describe the broad strokes of where Biden sees the country going from here, tomorrow's announcement will be more tactical, getting into details.
Polling indicates the pandemic is no longer a top-of-mind issue for most Americans, with economic concerns ranking much higher on voters' list of priorities. Democrats express more concern about the consequences of relaxing mask requirements and other mitigation measures, while Republicans want the measures gone and are worried about the negative effects of keeping those measures in place.
Join the NPR Politics team for our State of the Union listening party on Twitter Spaces
Starting at 9 p.m. ET, NPR's Domenico Montanaro, Tamara Keith and Kelsey Snell will be hosting a Twitter Spaces listening party for the president's State of the Union address.
And after the president's remarks, the Politics team will answer your questions and get your thoughts on what was discussed!
The war and the economy are two major speech themes, according to excerpts from the White House
President Biden will make a case for his strategy of working with allies in his speech tonight, according to excerpts released by the White House. "American diplomacy matters," he plans to say in comments about how the NATO alliance has stood united against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond," Biden is set to say in his address. "And, he thought he could divide us here at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready."
In the speech, Biden will also explain to the American people why a war between Russia and Ukraine matters here at home. "Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson — when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos," Biden plans to say. "They keep moving. And, the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising."
Biden has long believed in multilateralism and the importance of the United States leading the world. It comes in contrast to his predecessor's "America first" approach. But it's not clear how much Americans are willing to sacrifice to isolate Russia, particularly when it comes to soaring gas prices.
Biden is also set to address inflation head-on — something polls show Americans believe should be his top priority.
"We have a choice. One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer," Biden is prepared to say. "I have a better plan to fight inflation. Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let’s make it in America."
Attendance required a COVID-19 test. Now, 6 legislators say they've tested positive
At least six legislators announced Tuesday that they had tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of tonight's State of the Union address.
To attend tonight's speech, guests — even those who are fully vaccinated — are required to produce a negative test.
California's Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Pete Aguilar, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, and Rep. Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania — all Democrats — announced by statements or tweets Tuesday that they had tested positive.
As I do regularly, I tested yesterday for COVID. Late last night, I received a positive test result with a breakthrough case. I’m asymptomatic and grateful to be fully vaccinated and boosted.— Senator Alex Padilla (@SenAlexPadilla) March 1, 2022
Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois said Friday that she had tested positive.
Typically, a State of the Union address is attended by 1,500 people or more. Members of Congress and other political dignitaries bring guests and family members. But last year, only 200 people attended Biden’s joint address to Congress in April, just as COVID-19 vaccines had started to become widely accessible to most American adults.
This year, all 535 members of Congress were invited to attend tonight’s speech, a decision made with the guidance of Brian P. Monahan, the Capitol's attending physician. Many Republicans have decided to skip the event. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he would not attend because he objected to the requirement that all those present would need to take a COVID-19 test.
Attendees will not be required to wear masks tonight — a change to Monahan’s guidance made in the wake of falling COVID-19 levels in the DC.. area. The White House also recently changed its mask policy, allowing fully vaccinated staff members to go maskless.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. will be a guest of first lady Jill Biden
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., will attend tonight’s State of the Union address as a guest of first lady Jill Biden, her office announced Tuesday as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued into its second week.
Markarova was appointed to the ambassadorship last year by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
On Monday night, Markarova met with members of the Senate’s Ukraine Caucus to ask for more weapons and humanitarian aid.
"It was universal in that room, from one end to the other. We want to help Ukraine in every way that we can," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the meeting. "They're valiant. They're amazing. And we're exploring all the ways that we can help them."
Other planned guests of the first lady include the CEO of Intel, a COVID-19 nurse from Ohio, a union steelworker from Pennsylvania, a 13-year-old diabetes advocate and an advocate for Native American mental health issues.
The Secret Service and D.C. police say they are prepared for protests or violence
The Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies in Washington — including D.C.’s metropolitan police force and the U.S. Capitol Police — have prepared for the possibility of protests at tonight’s speech, a reminder of the continued impact that the violent Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol has had on security.
A tall fence was put up around the Capitol over the weekend, police officers from New York and Philadelphia had arrived in town, and the chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department said officials had boosted staffing and “enhanced security posture” around the city in preparation for Tuesday night.
The Secret Service takes the lead on security for State of the Union addresses. There are no specific and credible threats against the Capitol, The Associated Press reported. The U.S. Park Police said one permit had been approved for a protest on the National Mall.
Authorities also said they had prepared for the arrival of a convoy of truckers and other drivers to protest vaccine mandates by clogging city streets, in an imitation of the protests that have roiled Ottawa and other locations in Canada.
The organizers of that protest say they will not arrive in the D.C. area until later this week. D.C. police officials said they will work with agencies in Maryland and Virginia to monitor streets and highways in the metro area.
“Citizens of our great city have a right to enjoy peace and tranquility within the community — and unobstructed freedom of movement,” said D.C. police chief Robert Contee.
The mental health crisis is one thing Biden thinks a divided Congress can address
With Democrats holding only a very slim majority in Congress, it's difficult for President Biden to get his agenda passed, especially in the months leading up to the midterm elections. So tonight he plans to focus in part on what the White House is calling a "unity agenda" — issues that may attract support from both sides of the aisle.
One of those issues is mental health — a crisis that has spiraled among children and teens. Even before the isolation and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was often hard to get help for anxiety and depression.
So Biden will ask Congress to invest $700 million into mental health programs to help expand services for people in crisis. The money will include funding for community mental health centers and more training for providers. The administration also plans to launch the 988 hotline, a simplified number for mental health emergencies, passed by Congress during the Trump administration.
Biden will tap into bipartisan concern about the impact of social media on children and ask Congress to pass new data and privacy measures to protect young people from harmful content on social media. The White House says children are especially vulnerable to messages and images they see online.
"Kids increasingly are experiencing bullying, not just in school but online," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep in a recent interview.
"They're growing up in a popular culture and a media culture that remind kids often that they aren't good-looking enough, thin enough, popular enough, rich enough — frankly, just not enough," Murthy said.
Biden will use the speech to take the temperature on his climate promises
President Biden will try to reboot momentum for one of his signature campaign promises: aggressive spending to push the United States to a cleaner energy economy and reduce its massive carbon footprint.
Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, signaled the new push Monday:
In his first State of the Union, @POTUS will urge Congress to deliver on clean energy investments that create jobs, reduce emissions, and save families $500 a year. His address tomorrow will build on a wave of climate actions we've taken to start 2022. https://t.co/7xEipg3xy1— Gina McCarthy (@ginamccarthy46) February 28, 2022
Biden has long framed clean energy policies as a way to grow, not stall, the economy. He’s expected to further lean into that message by framing clean energy incentives and spending projects as a way to save Americans money during a moment of historically high inflation.
The pitch to Congress comes at a critical time for climate policy. Democrats in Washington are increasingly anxious about passing their policy priorities by the end of the year, before Republicans have the chance to regain control of the House or Senate.
The sense of a ticking clock is even more acute for broad climate action. Scientists have repeatedly warned that the window to prevent the worst of climate change is rapidly closing. Given Republicans’ opposition to the large-scale greenhouse gas reductions needed to keep temperature increases to a minimum, it may be too late to meaningfully act the next time Democrats control the White House and Congress.
On Monday, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a case that could weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate power plant emissions through executive orders and rules.
Biden initially included his climate provisions in the broad Build Back Better legislation — now seemingly stalled for good. So now Democrats are looking at how to pass climate measures on their own. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, whose opposition killed the broader legislation, has said he sees an agreement as possible.
Biden’s new framing of energy incentives as a tool to fight inflation may help further sell Manchin on the idea, as the senator has cited rising prices as a major reason for opposing more new spending plans.
Biden won't shy away from talking about inflation, the top issue for voters
Rising prices are the top concern for voters — and a big part of the reason why the President Biden's approval ratings are under water.
So when Biden gives his State of the Union address tonight, he'll take on that issue directly. "The president will absolutely use the word 'inflation'" in his speech," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. "Of course that is a huge issue on the minds of Americans."
The White House has often tried to reframe inflation concerns by highlighting how Biden's proposals could help curb costs in the long run. “I think what you will hear the President talk about ... is how we’re going to address costs for the American people, and lower costs,” Psaki said.
Senior administration officials told reporters that Biden will lay out a four-part plan to lower prices, which includes, among other ideas, making more things in America, strengthening supply chains and reducing the costs of everyday expenses.
It's not clear the president intends to outline any new major economic initiatives. Instead, he appears to be focused on already-existing plans and policies that his administration has passed and individual chunks of his stalled Build Back Better legislation that he thinks could be resuscitated.
He'll also talk about the bright spots in the economy. The U.S. has witnessed its fastest economic growth in nearly 40 years. But that's a hard case to make when people are seeing inflation at levels not experienced in four decades. "There's an old notion that you cannot tell people how they feel and that they feel better than they do," Jack Lew, the former Treasury secretary, told me last month.
Republicans will issue a traditional rebuttal to Biden’s speech. Here's what to expect
Republicans will deliver a traditional rebuttal speech to President Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.
This year, the high-profile speaking gig has been awarded to Kim Reynolds, the Iowa governor who has made national headlines for her response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Reynolds will deliver the speech from Des Moines.
The rebuttal speech is typically reserved for those viewed as rising stars within the party, and Reynolds is no exception. As the governor of a state with an outsized impact on presidential races, Reynolds' profile was already on the rise within the Republican Party.
But as GOP priorities have shifted, Reynolds has followed the party, boosting her bona fides with the conservative base both in and out of Iowa.
Since the start of the pandemic, Reynolds has garnered praise — and criticism — for her approach to coronavirus restrictions. She was slow to impose certain prevention mandates, like indoor mask usage, and began rolling them back as early as February of last year.
This made her a champion for Republicans, some of whom argued against government mandates on philosophical lines while others in the party have embraced COVID-19 denialism and misinformation about the virus.
As Republicans moved to cast critical race theory as a tool of the academic left to vilify white people, Reynolds signed into a law a ban on teaching certain concepts about race and oppression in school.
In a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, McCarthy praised Reynolds for emphasizing personal responsibility over government mandates.
"Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds represents what it means to lead with conviction and true faith in our fellow citizens. ... She handled COVID by choosing freedom over lockdowns and personal responsibility over mandates — leading to real economic recovery from the pandemic. She kept kids in school and critical race theory out," he said.
Biden's speech comes at a challenging moment for his presidency
As President Biden is set to make his first formal State of the Union address tonight, he and the country are facing three enormous challenges: Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 40-year-high inflation and the continuing pandemic.
Yet Biden's political capital is at the lowest point of his presidency. A new poll by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist found his worst approval ratings on a host of issues — and a majority of the country saying his first year in office was a failure.
Biden badly needs a reset. And he’ll have the opportunity to do that Tuesday night.
Click here to read more about the challenges he faces on those three sticky issues – and how he might handle them in his speech.
The latest on COVID-19 and the State of the Union address
When President Biden takes the podium this evening to deliver his State of the Union address, the atmosphere of the speech will be much different from his first joint address to Congress last year.
Since that speech, the nation’s coronavirus landscape has changed considerably. Vaccines and booster shots are readily available, nearly 65% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and after months of straining the nation’s hospital capacity, the omicron variant is now receding.
As a result, the nation’s guidance on safety protocol has changed as well, including recently updated guidance from Congress' attending physician, who said masks will be optional on Tuesday night.
Last year, when Biden delivered his first address to both chambers of Congress, the event was capped at 200 attendees instead of the usual 1,600. At tonight’s event, the full congressional body has been invited to attend.
At last year’s speech, because of social distancing measures, guests of congressional leadership and the first lady were restricted from attending. This year, guests of Jill Biden will be permitted to attend the ceremonial speech in the first lady’s viewing box in the congressional gallery.
Biden is expected to hail his pandemic response as successful, and the optics of a packed, largely unmasked Congress will undoubtedly boost that claim.
Still, more than 940,000 Americans have lost their lives to the virus — a fact that looms heavily over Washington leadership.
What's the difference between a joint address and the State of the Union speech?
Today, President Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address giving his assessment of the country’s progress since he took office a little over a year ago.
It’s not, however, Biden’s first address to both houses of Congress. He delivered one last year, after his first 100 days in office, in what is traditionally called a joint session or a joint address to Congress.
So, what’s the difference between the two speeches?
The context is largely similar — the president speaks directly, in person, to both chambers of Congress to assess the direction the country is headed and outline the administration’s agenda.
The basis of the State of the Union speech is outlined in the Constitution, which reads: The president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
But because the first address to Congress is given in the first year of a president’s four-year term, the earlier speech is traditionally more of an outline of what the president hopes to accomplish — a more narrow view than future addresses, which focus both on the president’s ongoing work and their future goals.
As the Congressional Research Service puts it: “State of the Union addresses in a President’s second and third year of his term in office usually adopt a different tone. Presidents use a greater portion of their time in the address highlighting their policy achievements; approximately 10% of the sentences in mid-term addresses are credit-claiming statements.”
The CRS also notes that in a first-year speech, the average number of policy addresses is 42, versus just 32 in a midterm speech.