What to expect from Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday


A Chinese surveillance balloon, the federal debt ceiling and Tuesday’s State of the Union address are the topics for today’s Weekend Briefing with congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

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  • John Yang:

    A Chinese surveillance balloon, the federal debt ceiling, and Tuesday's State of the Union address. That's all grist for today's weekend briefing with our own congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins and White House correspondent for NPR, Tamara Keith. Welcome to you both.

    The Chinese balloon really gripped everyone in the nation and here in Washington as well. Tam, what are they saying at the White House about how this was all handled?

  • Tamara Keith, NPR White House Correspondent:

    President Biden said that he ordered it shot down on Wednesday. However, he wanted it done safely. And so the Department of Defense said that they didn't believe it would be safe, that they thought it would be a risk to people on the ground if they did it while it was overland.

    So they waited until it was just out to sea, but still within U.S. territory to shoot it down. The White House is insisting that this was the best and only way that it could have been handled. Of course, they're also getting a lot of criticism and had been all weak.

  • John Yang:

    Speaking of the criticism, Lisa, is some coming up from Capitol Hill?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A groundswell from conservatives and Republicans. They see this as an opportunity politically, but I think they also have a policy problem here that they think that the President should have acted sooner, should have directed the military to take this down more quickly. They question whether or not there really was a hazard. They say surely there was a space somewhere over the United States where it could have been safely done.

    And I think it's important to watch here that I think they're starting to define how they will go after President Biden for his expected reelection bid. Mr. McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said the Biden administration reacted at first too indecisively and then too late. They're going to cast him as someone who is weak, indecisive, and behind the times here. There aren't as many Democrats supporting his move overtly, but it's just the weekend we'll have to see. Some of them say, we're glad he got it done.

  • John Yang:

    And speaking of Congress and President Biden, the dance of the debt ceiling has begun this arcane but terribly important issue. First big test for the relationship between the President and the House Republicans.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I love that dance of the debt ceiling. We're going to have to say that for many months. It is early. There are some positives now in that both sides, the President and Speaker McCarthy are saying they're talking respectfully. We don't see that conflict politics that we get sometimes. And these guys don't really think in terms of months as anything urgent, only when it comes down to days.

    All that aside, John, the underlying problem is still there. House Republicans, those conservatives still want the kind of spending cuts and sort of fiscal boundaries. It's hard to imagine President Biden agreeing to you.

    And I spoke to one Chip Roy just a couple of days ago, and he said maybe we do a smaller deal for a smaller debt ceiling increase. That's also something I don't see the President going along with. So we have a real problem still.

  • John Yang:

    Keeping on the topic of the President and Congress, the president travels to Capitol Hill Tuesday, his first State of the Union before divided Congress, and the first as we go into an election cycle where he says he's running for reelection.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. And his chief of staff also said he looks forward to working on his reelection campaign. So all of the signals are there. This is the biggest audience, in all likelihood, that President Biden will have all year. This is the one that speech that everyone will carry. And so this is a messaging test for President Biden and his likely presidential campaign.

    We've been seeing him out on the road in recent weeks touting legislation that was passed by Congress and the results that he's delivering for the American people, it's the way that they would describe it. And we can expect to hear messaging along those lines in the State of the Union talking about inflation coming down, job growth continuing to be strong.

    Also, there's always a foreign policy element in a State of the Union address. We can expect him to talk about defending Ukraine at a time when Republicans in Congress are showing some discomfort with the amount of spending that's going to Ukraine.

    Also talking about competition with China. I don't know if the balloon will come up, but now it seems like a pretty ripe opportunity for that. And he's also going to do this thing that he does, which is make a pitch for bipartisan cooperation to say, like, look, we did those things last year. Maybe we could do some things this year. Of course, the environment is far different.

  • John Yang:

    And Lisa talking about this election cycle coming up. Americans for Prosperity, a very influential group in terms of money and in terms of influencing votes in Congress because members worry about getting that money. They say they're not going to support Donald Trump in the 2024 election. What does this do to the Republican field?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    These are the conservative or libertarian Koch brothers. Now, it's interesting to note that they actually didn't endorse Donald Trump the last time either. However, this time they've gone out of their way to do a sort of the endorsement, an anti-endorsement, saying it needs to be somebody else writing very strong words, saying very frankly, Republicans are choosing bad candidates who espouse things that run counter to American values.

    Amazing from a conservative political organization that is all targeted at Trump and their losses from this last election cycle. All that said, I think this could have effects, maybe down ballot, but they didn't really have an influence with Trump voters before. I don't think they have that influence now. It may help embolden some other candidates to get into the field, know that they'll have some more money, but I don't know if it changes the base and how they see this primary.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, I mean, this is Republican elites versus the Republican rank and file. And former President Trump raises a lot of small dollar money from people who don't care what the Koch brothers have to say.

  • John Yang:

    Tamara Keith, Lisa Desjardins. Thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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What to expect from Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday first appeared on the PBS NewsHour website.

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