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Five things Biden is likely to say and not say in the State of the Union

President Biden speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, February 2, 2023.

President Biden speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, February 2, 2023.

President Biden on Tuesday will deliver the State of the Union address to a divided Congress, which will bring him face-to-face for the first time with the new GOP House majority.

The address always represents a chance for the president to speak to a large national audience.

This one comes as lawmakers and the president face a summer showdown for raising the nation’s debt ceiling that will have huge implications for next year’s presidential race.

Here’s five things the president likely will say – and five things he probably won’t say – during the address.


The debt limit

​​Biden will likely reiterate his calls for Congress to raise the debt limit without conditions, arguing that it is a congressional responsibility to send him a clean bill.

Biden met Wednesday with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for their first face-to-face summit.

McCarthy left the meeting signaling optimism about the chances of reaching a deal, though neither side made any commitments.

Biden is almost certain to repeat his calls for a clean debt-ceiling hike in his speech, while warning against cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The address represents an opportunity for Biden, before a large national audience, to set the stage for the debate to come on his own terms.

Police reform

In his 2022 State of the Union address, Biden emphasized his opposition to the idea of defunding the police.

On Tuesday, in the wake of the beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police, Biden is likely to take a different tone.

He may still call for the need to fund the police, but he is also likely to make a loud call for police reform – particularly after a meeting last week with the Congressional Black Caucus.

Given the string of mass shootings at the beginning of the year, also watch for Biden to again call on Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons.


Russia’s war on Ukraine will be a big part of Biden’s address, especially with Republicans sounding different notes on the fight.

The president is likely to again frame U.S. support for Ukraine as part of a broader fight against authoritarianism.

The Biden administration last month approved the transfer of tanks to Ukraine, and an additional package of assistance is expected to be announced around the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, which will come just days after the State of the Union address.

Some foreign policy experts are looking for Biden to use the speech to lay out a possible roadmap to ending the conflict in Ukraine, though the White House has said that should be determined by Ukrainian leaders.

The economy

Biden got exactly what he was hoping for on Friday: a surprise jobs report that showed the economy added 517,000 jobs in the month of January.

It was the perfect report for a president who wants to talk about a strong economy in the State of the Union address, which is likely to be followed by a signal from Biden in the weeks ahead that he fully intends to run for reelection in 2024.

Biden teased what he will say on the economy in Friday remarks about jobs numbers that also showed the nation’s unemployment rate falling to 3.4 percent. He signaled his argument will be that he inherited inflation from the pandemic, and that his policies have the nation on the right track.

“Do I take any blame for inflation? No,” he said Friday. “Because it was already there when I got here, man. … Jobs were hemorrhaging, inflation was rising, we weren’t manufacturing a damn thing here, we were in real economic difficultly, that’s why I don’t.”


A bipartisan immigration deal has been elusive for years, but Biden is likely to call on lawmakers to give it another shot on Tuesday.

The president has faced stiff criticism over the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border from both Republicans and Democrats since he took office. The White House has said only action by Congress will solve the problem, a point he’s expected to reiterate on Tuesday.


Classified documents scandal

If Biden brings up the classified documents controversy that has been an unwelcome storyline at the beginning of the year, it will be a surprise.

Classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president have been found at his Delaware home and former office in Washington, D.C.

A special counsel is now investigating the matter, along with a separate special counsel investigating documents found in the possession of former President Trump.

The Republicans in Biden’s audience on Tuesday are promising investigations.

Hunter Biden investigations

House Republicans have in recent days ramped up their focus on investigations into Biden, including one that will focus on the finances and conduct of the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

While Biden may urge Congress to focus on issues that matter to the American public, he is expected to steer clear of weighing in specifically on the investigation into his son.

The day after the State of the Union, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee will hold a hearing featuring three former Twitter employees testifying about the platform’s decision to limit the spread of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

Trump and other GOP leaders

Biden and other White House officials have made it a point not to mention his predecessor by name if they can help it, and Tuesday’s speech is likely to be another example of that.

Biden is unlikely to discuss former President Trump, despite him being the only declared candidate in the 2024 field, though he may drop a comparison to the state of the economy or pandemic when he took office.

The president is also unlikely to make any mention of prominent GOP figures sitting in the audience on Tuesday, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.).

Biden will almost certainly acknowledge McCarthy, even if only briefly. McCarthy will be seated behind Biden and the president acknowledged the Speaker during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Trump-DOJ investigation

While Biden likely will avoid any mention of the review of his handling of classified documents, he will similarly avoid talk about the DOJ probes of his predecessor.

Trump is under scrutiny for a litany of issues, including his conduct around the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and his handling of classified materials after federal agents found dozens of highly sensitive documents at his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida last year.

Biden has made it a habit to avoid weighing in on Justice Department matters, and while it may be easy to score political points by pointing out the leading figure in the GOP is under legal scrutiny, he is not expected to bring it up during Tuesday’s address.

Omar, Swalwell and Schiff’s committee removals

McCarthy and House Republicans chalked up a victory last week with the successful removal of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

He has also unilaterally blocked Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) from serving on the House Intelligence Committee.

While these moves have been criticized as “political revenge” after Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) were removed from their committees last Congress, Biden is likely not going to mention any of it, instead keeping his focus on policy.

McCarthy will be sitting behind Biden, next to Vice President Harris, for the first time during a State of the Union address.

Instead of bashing his attacks on some Democrats, Biden is more likely to say he wants to get along with the Speaker, consistent with his remarks about having respect for one another in last week’s prayer breakfast.

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This story was originally published February 5, 2023 6:00 AM.

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