What to Watch: New political vibes this State of the Union

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Look for new faces and fresh political dynamics as President Joe Biden delivers this year's State of the Union address, coupled with attention to some old problems brought back into painful focus by recent events.

The president on Tuesday night will stand before a joint session of Congress for the first time since voters in the midterm elections handed control of the House to Republicans. Biden, like presidents past, will make the case that the nation is strong and that better days lie ahead. But he finds himself in choppy waters as he passes the halfway mark of his term.

After a series of legislative victories during the first two years of Biden's term, Republicans are looking to undo some of his early wins. Recent mass shootings and a police killing in Memphis, Tennessee, have brought renewed focus to the issues of gun violence and excessive police force. And on the foreign policy front, Biden faces the formidable task of keeping a Western alliance — and the American electorate — united behind Ukraine in its effort to repel Russia's ongoing invasion. He's also dealing with fallout from the U.S. downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon that floated across the U.S. last week. On top of all that, a special counsel is investigating how classified information from Biden’s days as vice president and senator ended up at his Delaware home and former office.

Some things to watch for on Tuesday night:


The speech is set for 9 p.m. EST and will be broadcast by the major networks and cable news TV channels. The AP will livestream the speech at APNews.com. The White House plans to stream it on its website, and make it available on its YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages. Live coverage will also be provided by C-SPAN, C-SPAN Radio and C-SPAN.org. NPR is streaming the speech on its website, npr.org, and on its app, in addition to offering live coverage to its member radio stations.


It will be new GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wielding the gavel and seated behind Biden on the dais this time rather than Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Watch the body language between the two — and how Republican legislators treat Biden overall after some sharp GOP outbursts from the audience last year.

The Democratic president last week said McCarthy made ”absolutely off the wall” commitments to win the speakership. Biden’s rhetorical jabs might not be so sharp in the formal address, but look for him to more subtly argue that there’s an enormous chasm between how he and Republicans approach the economy, health care and Social Security.

McCarthy, for his part, told reporters he “won't tear up the speech” as Pelosi dramatically did after President Donald Trump delivered his final State of the Union address in 2020.


The parents of Tyre Nichols, who was severely beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, are expected to be in the audience for Biden's address. So is Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the gunman who shot and killed 11 people last month in Monterey Park, California, along with others who jumped in during recent mass shootings.

Watch how Biden, in their presence, speaks to the recent rash of mass shootings and the beating death of Nichols, after his past efforts to address gun violence and police excesses have been sharply restricted by resistance in Congress.


There will be plenty of new faces in the crowd as Biden addresses the nation. The nation has a new Supreme Court justice since last year’s address in Ketanji Brown Jackson, and in recent years justices have tended to attend addresses by the president who nominated them. There are new legislators from both parties, as well. Among those getting outsized attention: Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who has been in the spotlight for embellishments and lies about his education, work experience and other aspects of his personal and professional life.


Clothes, pins and other accessories often do double-duty as a way to channel political statements at the State of the Union address, and some will be on display.

Democrats in the House and Senate will be wearing pins in the shape of tiny crayons to signal support for child care funding as Biden had proposed at the start of his administration. It's an issue championed by Sen Patty Murray, D-Wash., who organized the “Crayons for Kids” crayon pins.

The blue-and-yellow pins and ribbons in support of Ukraine that were prominent last year, at the start of the Russian invasion, will be worn again by some as the war enters its second deadly year.

And a special 1870 button that commemorates the first known police killing of a freed Black American man, Henry Truman, was designed by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. She is sharing them with colleagues with a notecard that says “153 years later, nothing has changed.”


Look for Biden to talk about his decision to have the military shoot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on Saturday, but how tough will he be on China?

His comments on the balloon will be part of a broader section on countering China’s more assertive economic and military actions around the world.


Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. is committed to helping Ukraine “as long as it takes” to beat back Russia. The United States has already committed nearly $30 billion in security assistance since the start of the war.

Polls show Americans r emain broadly in favor of providing support to Ukraine as it tries to fend off Russia. Administration officials, however, have made clear to Ukraine that Congress' patience with the cost of war is not endless.

Look for Biden to spotlight that Ukraine has been able to stay in the fight with a more formidable Russian military because of U.S. and allies' generosity. He'll also try to spell out why Americans must remain committed to a war that has ramifications far beyond Europe.


Will Biden bring it up? Not likely.

After criticizing Trump for holding on to classified documents after his presidency, Biden now finds himself in the middle of a special counsel inquiry into classified documents that were found in his home and former office space.

The White House makes the case it's important to distinguish between Biden voluntarily turning over documents and the behavior of Trump, who refused to hand over hundreds of documents, prompting the FBI to raid his home.

Biden is likely to steer clear of the controversy in his address, as past presidents have tended to avoid mention of whatever's got them into difficulty.


Biden is expected to announce he's running for reelection sometime this spring, but there's growing sentiment among voters that he should stick to one term. Will Biden address the reelection question head on? Probably not. But his speech could well be framed as an argument for an additional four years of a Biden White House. And millions of viewers will be evaluating not just Biden's words but his delivery as they weigh whether that's a good idea.


Arkansas' new governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, will deliver the Republican response to Biden's address.

Sanders has staked out ground in the early days of her term on hot cultural issues in schools by issuing executive orders targeting the teaching of critical race theory in Arkansas schools and expressing support for legislation banning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade.

Don't expect her to hold back on the national stage in making the case that Democrats are out of touch with mainstream American values.


Ahead of the address, Democrats are providing a fulsome prebuttal in support of Biden— reminding Americans of his accomplishments so far, and as House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries put it, “there is more work that needs to be done.”

Jeffries said Biden’s speech will show the “clear contrast” between Democrats who “get stuff done” and the “chaotic” Republicans.

The Democrats breeze through the policy achievements of the past two years, passing into law the infrastructure and climate change bills, lowering insulin costs and ensuring COVID relief, among other initiatives.

“This year you will see us rolling out these things that matter to people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.


Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the State of the Union address at: https://apnews.com/hub/state-of-the-union-address