What to expect in Biden’s State of the Union speech Thursday night

In this photo, the U.S. House of Representatives chamber is seen Dec. 8, 2008 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is set to deliver his State of the Union address Thursday night, with a grueling reelection campaign already fully underway and speaking to a chamber full of Republicans poised to seize on what they see as his shortcomings.

Biden, seeking to unify Democrats, is expected to focus on issues core to his base, including the abrupt shift in abortion laws during the last two years resulting from a landmark Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion. The effects include recent barriers to access to in vitro fertilization in Alabama.

Biden’s remarks to members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, members of the Cabinet, Joint Chiefs of Staff, guests, the media and more gathered in the U.S. House are slated to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Biden will dedicate significant time to talking about efforts he’s made to bridge the political divide by supporting the bipartisan laws Congress approved during his first term in office, including the infrastructure and semiconductor manufacturing laws.

Border security and immigration policy are sure to come up as well, with Biden expected to rebuke Republicans for demanding Democrats broker a compromise bill, only to block that legislation from moving forward in the Senate.

The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Israel are likely to be central in both the speech and the guest list, especially with the $95 billion emergency aid bill the Senate passed last month stalled in the House.

Guest list

Democrats and Republicans will try to convey what they see as the most pressing issues facing the country through the guests they bring to the State of the Union. Guests sit in the galleries above the chamber.

Many Democrats have invited people whose lives have been changed by GOP states’ abortion restrictions or access to IVF, while Republicans’ guests highlight  the Israel-Hamas war, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and border security.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine plans to bring Elizabeth Carr, the first person born in the United States through in vitro fertilization, in Norfolk, Virginia in 1981.

Kaine said in a statement that the “Carr family’s journey with IVF is a point of pride for Virginia and has given hope to generations of families struggling with infertility.”

“In the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling, it’s more important than ever that we commit to protecting access to IVF services nationwide,” Kaine said. “We must work to safeguard IVF so the Elizabeth Carrs of the world can continue to be born.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Wednesday night signed a bill aimed at restarting in vitro fertilization services in the state, minutes after the Alabama Legislature gave final approval to the legislation. IVF programs in Alabama have been paused since a Feb. 16 Alabama Supreme Court decision that declared frozen embryos children.

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, plans to bring more than 20 guests, including a hostage taken by Hamas during its attack on Israel in October and the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Russia for a year.

“I am honored to host freed Hamas hostage Mia Schem to the State of the Union. Mia spent more than 50 days in captivity after being kidnapped on October 7th,” Johnson wrote on social media.

Johnson will also host Orna and Daniel Neutra, the mother and son of Omer Neutra, an American in the Israeli Defense Forces who was abducted by Hamas during its October attack.

In a separate social media post, Johnson pressed the Biden administration to do more to free Gershkovich from Russian prison. Johnson, so far, has refused to bring the Senate-passed bill that includes billions in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine up for a vote in the House.

“The U.S. must always stand for freedom of the press, especially in places where it is under assault,” Johnson said. “The Admin must bring Evan home.”

Johnson’s other guests include Darin Hoover, father of Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Darin “Taylor” Hoover, who was killed during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan; Alicia Lopez, mother of Marine Corps Corporal Hunter Lopez, who was killed during the Afghanistan withdrawal; Stefanie Turner, whose son Tucker Roe died of fentanyl poisoning; and the leader of Johnson’s church, Pastor John Fream.

Johnson said in a statement announcing his guests that Biden’s “failed policies have opened our borders, jeopardized our safety, reduced our standard of living, and weakened our standing on the world stage.”

“I am honored to host these special guests and spotlight their personal stories,” Johnson said. “While America’s state of the union is sadly in decline, these individuals remind us of America’s greatness, even in the face of such challenging circumstances.”

Housing costs, prescription drugs, health care

Senior Biden administration officials speaking on background Wednesday night said the president will put forward a series of proposals in his speech to address housing, such as ways to expand supply, help renters and assist first-time homeowners.

“We really see lowering housing costs and boosting the supply of housing as a key unfinished component of the president’s economic agenda,” the senior administration official said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during Wednesday’s press briefing the president will talk about his plans to continue pushing for lower costs for prescription drugs, “protecting our democratic institutions,” and protecting reproductive health care.

“The president will outline an agenda on continuing to build on the progress we have made in the last three years,” she said.

Jean-Pierre said the president will also talk about how his administration will continue to build on its work to address the opioid crisis, mental health, curbs on consumer “junk fees” and protection of legislation signed into law like the Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS Act.

The president will tout his economic accomplishments and policies, as well as make the case for Republicans to restore the expanded child tax credit, top economic Biden officials said Tuesday. He’ll also highlight how his administration has forgiven about $138 billion in student loan debt for nearly 4 million Americans and rolled out a new student loan repayment plan.

Biden will address the need to amend the U.S. tax code, specifically to make sure that large corporations and the wealthiest of Americans are paying taxes.

Republicans’ most vocal response to Biden’s address to the joint session of Congress will come from Alabama Republican Sen. Katie Britt, who was just elected to the upper chamber in 2022.

Texas Republican Rep. Monica De La Cruz will deliver her party’s Spanish-language rebuttal.

Guests from Iowa, Washington state

Iowa GOP Rep. Zach Nunn, is bringing the parents of Sebastian Kidd, a teenager who died in 2021 after taking a counterfeit pill laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl, his parents said.

“The reality is we now have three years where choices were made in this White House that threaten the lives of families across America,” Nunn said during a Wednesday GOP press conference.

Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is seeking to highlight the vastly different abortion laws that states have implemented since the abortion decision in 2022 by bringing Kayla Smith, an Idaho woman who was forced to leave her home state to end her pregnancy due to medical concerns.

Smith is one of the plaintiffs in the Adkins v. Idaho lawsuit that is challenging that state’s abortion restrictions for medically complicated pregnancies.

“When I was 18 weeks pregnant with my second child, the anatomy scan revealed our son Brooks had several fatal fetal anomalies,” Smith said in a statement. “With Roe overturned and Idaho’s trigger law going into effect just days before finding out about our son’s condition, we were forced to seek help outside of Idaho.”

Smith and her husband have since moved to Washington state and “welcomed another little girl into our family.”

“We felt strongly about raising our girls in a state where they would have bodily autonomy,” Smith said.

Murray said she invited Smith to the State of the Union because she “knows better than anyone the cruelty of Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda, and the chaos and anguish Republicans are creating for families in states where abortion is banned—because she’s lived it.”

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst will host Hagit Chen, whose 19-year-old son Itay Chen was taken hostage by Hamas during its October attack on Israel.

“As I bring our hostage families’ concerns to the highest level during this State of the Union, I will continue to hold the entire Biden administration’s feet to the fire to release our citizens immediately and stop Hamas from torturing our families.,” Ernst said. “There must be no more delay in bringing our hostages home.”

Guests from Montana, Ohio

Montana Sen. Jon Tester, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in November, will highlight work he’s done as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, including a law known as the PACT Act that provided benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Tester’s guest will be Fred Hamilton of Columbia Falls, Montana, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Air Force, said in a written statement that he has experienced “a long, hard fight to access the care and benefits I was promised when I signed up to serve my country.”

That legislation, Hamilton said, finally allowed him to get access to VA benefits, though he said there’s more work for Congress to do.

“I’m still fighting for additional benefits because my service records were lost by the federal government, and I want to thank Senator Tester for listening to Montana veterans like me and taking this issue seriously by championing a new bill that will help me and other veterans whose records were lost by the government so this never happens again,” Hamilton said.

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is facing a challenging reelection campaign ahead of November, invited Wood County, Ohio, Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn. The two traveled to the southwest border together last November.

“Sherrod Brown has been instrumental in advancing legislation that helps sheriffs fight fentanyl and keeps terrorists out of our country, and on a personal note, he has strongly backed support for Ukraine in its fight against Putin’s aggression,” Wasylyshyn said in a statement released by Brown’s office.

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