President Biden delivers his second State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and the nation on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. , ET.
Showcasing his accomplishments over the last year and setting forth an agenda for 2023, the president confronts two pressing issues – a Republican-controlled House of Representatives ready to block him at every turn while launching a slew of investigations into his administration and his expected re-election campaign with the first primary now less than a year away.
Caplin News spoke with three political science professors – Sara Moats and Kathryn DePalo-Gould at Florida International University and Gregory Koger at the University of Miami – for insights on topics they anticipate the president will discuss, possible legislative proposals and how Congress will respond.
It’s the top issue on voters’ minds, so expect Biden to highlight how inflation has eased, particularly the decline in gas prices over the last several months. The president, said University of Miami political science professor Gregory Koger, will put “a positive spin on how things are doing better.”
And Biden has some strong numbers in his corner: the January jobs report released last week showed over a half million new jobs had been created, driving unemployment to a 53-year-low. The leisure and hospitality sectors – key to southern Florida’s economy – led the way with 128,000 new jobs.
Biden also is likely to call on Congress to raise the debt ceiling, the maximum amount of money the country can borrow to meet its legal obligations, which the U.S. hit last month. House Republicans are demanding steep spending cuts for them to back raising the ceiling, while the president wants the borrowing limit increased on its own without other issues attached.
“He may talk about what needs to be done to shrink the deficit,” said Koger. “Whereas the House Republican majority will prefer to try to use this as a moment to change spending policies in ways that they prefer.”
Gun Violence and Police Brutality
With the nation still reeling from several recent mass shootings in California and the police attack, captured on video, on Tyre Nichols in Memphis, efforts to reduce gun violence and prevent law enforcement brutality are sure to be a focus of the president’s speech.
The State of the Union comes one month after the death of Nicols, a 29-year-old Black man viciously beaten by Memphis police officers after what they said was a traffic violation. The White House invited Nicols’ family to attend Biden’s speech.
Vice President Kamala Harris gave emotional remarks at Nichols’ funeral last week and called on Congress to take action against police violence, including passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Expect Biden to echo his vice president in support of the measure that previously passed the House when Democrats held the majority. The act would improve police training, create a federal database on complaints against law enforcement, bar the use of chokeholds and end “no-knock” warrants, among other things.
On gun restrictions, Congress is at odds over renewing the ban on assault weapons. Biden, who last year signed a bipartisan bill imposing some of the most significant gun measures in decades, has repeatedly pushed for the assault weapons ban.
“I’d say there’s probably a 25 to 40 percent chance Republicans will get on board with some of this legislation,” said Koger. “But it’s hard to say how long that would take. While he’s not speaking directly to the Senate, it’s a way to start getting them on board.”
Biden has been under fierce attack from Republicans – and some Democrats – over the situation at the U.S. southern border.
The number of encounters each month between border patrol agents and migrants attempting to enter the country has recently been at a high not seen in 20 years. There were more than 200,000 contacts reported in November 2022 along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
With scenes in the news of homeless migrants sleeping in the streets of El Paso, Biden recently visited the border area after complaints from the GOP that he was blind to the problem.
The Biden administration announced last month efforts to increase security at the border and harsher consequences for those who cross unlawfully “to limit disorderly and unsafe migration,” according to a statement from the administration. It also stepped up the expulsion of migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba who attempt to cross the border illegally, while at the same time opening the door to permit as many as 30,000 residents per month from those countries to come to America legally.
“He’s called upon Congress to address the border crisis, streamlining the asylum process, for instance,” said Florida International University political science professor Sara Moats. “This is an opportunity to reemphasize these plans on a much larger scale, to the American people.”
Added Koger, “I would expect [Biden] to, at the very least, create a path to citizenship for those who have been here since they were young and for the dreamers who have been in this country on good terms.”
Infrastructure and Climate Change
Biden spearheaded passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021 so expect him to tout this during the State of the Union to show that Democrats can work with Republicans for the benefit of the American people.
“He’ll highlight key components of that law, including replacing and repairing bridges or tunnels, and a little bit on how the aging water infrastructure is very problematic in this country,” said Moats.
Funding is flowing to projects around the country. The president recently attended events in Baltimore, Cincinnati and New York to announce the kickoff of rebuilding projects in those areas paid for with the infrastructure bill.
Biden also will likely talk about clean energy and the new tax credit incentives for owners and makers of electric vehicles that were part of the Inflation Reduction Act championed by the president and signed into law last August.
“Climate change is definitely a pressing issue,” said Moats.
The one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine comes later this month. During the war, the U.S. and its western allies have provided billions of dollars in military hardware and aid to Kyiv, including a recent announcement that America will ship 31 Abrams tanks to the battlefield.
There’s no end to the conflict in sight – and that’s left some in the House GOP uneasy.
“There are some Republicans in Congress who don’t really want to keep funding this without knowing what’s the concrete plan, what’s the end game,” said Florida International University political science professor Kathryn DePalo-Gould.
Biden can be expected to use the State of the Union address to shore up bipartisan support for aid to Ukraine and its President Volodymyr Zelensky. But Biden is prepared to go it alone if he needs to.
“He may, in his speech, sound like he’s bipartisan, like ‘let’s work together,’ but in reality, he never does,” said DePalo-Gould.