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Sizing up the State of the Union

Comparing the president’s address to the situation on the ground

President Joe Biden delivering the State of the Union address Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky

Sizing up the State of the Union

On the eve of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, a Washington Post–ABC News Poll found that 62 percent of Americans thought the president had accomplished “little or nothing” in his first two years in office. Many of them cited economic concerns and a higher cost of living as problems the administration had not solved. According to another poll by The Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, just 37 percent of Democrats want Biden as their presidential candidate in 2024.

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Biden attempted to polish up his image, exhorting his fellow Democrats in Congress to “finish the job.” Here is a rundown of some of the biggest policy challenges the administration faces and how the president’s assessment compares to the situation on the ground.


The speech: A large portion of Biden’s address focused on success in the economy. Near the beginning of his speech, he touted the creation of “12 million new jobs; more jobs created in two years than any president has created in four.” He also pointed to other factors such as a 50-year, 3.4 percent unemployment low and easing inflationary pressures in the last few months. These developments, Biden said, would empower low-income Americans.

The situation: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of the daily goods Americans buy—measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)— dropped toward the end of 2022. The mountain region had the biggest CPI increase year over year of 7.4 percent. New England had the lowest at 5.5 percent. Both the rates improved at the end of the year, by dropping by 2 percentage points since October. According to the Commerce Institute, small job applications have reached 10.4 million since 2021, making up the vast majority of jobs added since the COVID-19 pandemic. By contrast, larger technology companies such as Microsoft, Salesforce, IBM, Meta, and Twitter have had to make recent cuts to their workforces.


The speech: Biden hinted at but did not directly mention the Chinese surveillance balloon shot down in U.S. airspace over the weekend. He quickly pivoted to a commitment to “competition, not conflict” with China. “But make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” the president declared, referring to a dramatic takedown in the skies and chilling effect on foreign relations.

The situation: China insists that the surveillance balloon was gathering meteorological research and had accidentally blown off course. Military officials have said that even if it was a harmless device, it displayed worrisome “audacity” from the foreign nation. The Pentagon said Beijing rejected a phone call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on the day the balloon was shot down. Immediately following the State of the Union address, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told Fox News he questioned Biden’s response to the incident. “President Biden’s actions have been very weak toward China,” he said. “How was it that China was allowed to fly this tool of espionage across the continental United States, including the state of Missouri, and that his administration did nothing about it?”


The speech: With seven current and former Supreme Court justices sitting directly in front of him, the president urged Congress to restore what the nation’s highest court removed in June: a federal right to abortion, which Biden called “every woman’s constitutional right to choose.” He also briefly criticized some states for passing pro-life laws that protect the unborn. And he promised to veto any national abortion ban, should Congress propose one. First Lady Jill Biden invited to the speech Amanda Zurawski, a Texas woman who suffered life-threatening pregnancy complications. Abortion advocates have blamed Zurawski’s condition on the state’s pro-life law.

The situation: The American Association of Pro-Life OBGYNs says poor medical care, not pro-life laws, put Zurawski and others at risk. “There are no laws in any state that prevent timely and compassionate care for a miscarriage—which is the exact care Ms. Zurawski was in need of,” the organization tweeted Tuesday. “Unfortunately, there are many abortion activists eager to exploit difficult situations like these and the people involved, in order to preserve the ability to kill preborn humans at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason.”


The speech: Spending less than 1 minute and 30 seconds on the subject, the president briefly highlighted recent immigration law enforcement activity. He also praised a humanitarian parole program implemented in Venezuela that serves as the prototype for other countries with high numbers of immigrants crossing the U.S. southern border. “We now have a record number of people working to secure the border, arresting 8,000 human smugglers, seizing over 23,000 pounds of fentanyl in just the last several months,” Biden said.

The situation: The number of migrants coming to the southern border without prior permission remains staggeringly high. In November 2022, the Southern Border Patrol reached 206,239 encounters. That’s a drop from May’s peak of 224,370—but still a drastic increase over April 2020 where that number was just 16,182. Biden called on Congress to pass legislation better equipping law enforcement at the border and to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants without documentation.


This year, newly sworn-in Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered the Republican response to the address. She drew a sharp contrast between Republicans and Democrats, saying that Biden only cares about government control, whereas she is looking for a government that serves. She highlighted her youth—at age 40, she is the nation’s youngest governor—compared to Biden’s status as the oldest serving president at age 80. Sanders labeled the Biden administration as one that “doubles down on the crazy.” She said if Biden will not “defend our border and our skies” then he is unfit to serve. She applauded House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was watching from his office in the U.S. Capitol, and said it is time for a new generation of Republican leadership.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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