The spectacle of Biden smiling and offering a pointed riposte through multiple rounds of heckling from some House Republicans was, in many ways, an apt illustration of his presidency and a useful preview of his likely 2024 candidacy.
A majority of Americans say he hasn’t accomplished much, many Democrats aren’t thrilled at the prospect of him running for reelection and he faces clear disdain from most Republicans. But Biden powered through. Delivering what was widely viewed as a test run for his reelection announcement, Biden claimed credit for progress made during his first two years in office while stressing the job isn’t finished.
He faced sometimes-unruly Republicans, with whom he spiritedly sparred from the podium on spending cuts. The feisty display drew cheers inside the White House and offered the best preview to date of the energy Biden hopes to bring to the campaign trail soon.
No president enters his State of the Union wanting to recite a laundry list of accomplishments and proposals, but – almost inevitably – the speech often veers in that direction. Biden’s was no different, even as the president sought to tie everything together with a refrain of “finish the job” – a phrase that appeared 12 times in his prepared text.
Connecting with Americans: If there is one political conundrum Biden’s advisers are urgently working to solve, it is why so many Americans seem to believe he has accomplished so little. By all accounts, Biden has passed large, historic pieces of legislation that could have transformational effects on the US economy. But polls show large majorities aren’t feeling them.
Biden hoped in his speech to bridge that gap, to demonstrate he cares about what Americans care about and to identify the problems he’s looking to fix.
“So many of you feel like you’ve just been forgotten,” he said. “Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible. Maybe that’s you, watching at home… You wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away.”
Bipartisanship: Working across the aisle was a theme throughout Biden’s speech. He started the address by acknowledging Congressional leaders from both parties, saying he is looking forward to working with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“Mr. Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation but I look forward to working together,” Biden said as he launched into his speech.
He acknowledged that over the first years of his presidency, “we disagreed plenty.” But he appealed to his political rivals for cooperation.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this Congress as well,” he said. “I signed over 300 bipartisan laws since becoming President,” the president added.
China: The country was included in the text of Biden’s speech well before a suspected spy balloon slipped into American airspace. But the incursion, which has generated a diplomatic backlash from China and drawn second-guessing from Republicans, lent new urgency to Biden’s message about competing with Beijing.
Biden and his aides believe steps to counter China are one of the rare areas where he could find bipartisan support. He saw some success on that front with the passage of a law boosting US semiconductor production last year.
Spars with Republicans: For the first 45 minutes of Biden’s address, that appeared to be the play for both sides. But when Biden began castigating Republicans for plans that would slash Social Security and Medicare, the decorum dropped. His accusations seemed to provoke Republicans, who lobbed accusations of “liar” from their seats in the chamber.
As lawmakers like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene interrupted Biden, McCarthy was silent – but his glare into the crowd spoke for itself. Later he found himself shushing his conference multiple times at outbursts interrupting the president.
Republicans look to "new generation": The GOP’s choice to deliver their response to Biden’s speech, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is – at 40 years old – the nation’s youngest governor. Half the president’s age, her selection was a clear choice to contrast a different generation of leaders.
While she cited her tenure as White House press secretary to Donald Trump, she did not rely heavily on her association with the former president. Instead, she appeared to call for a changing of the guard – an appeal for generational change that could apply as much to Democrats and Biden as it could to Republicans and Trump. “It’s time for a new generation to lead. This is our moment. This is our opportunity,” she said.
Watch CNN White House reporter Maegan Vazquez break down the speech on TikTok.
12:26 a.m. ET, February 8, 2023
Topic tracker: Health care and the economy were the focus of Biden's speech
From CNN's Kaanita Iyer, Matt Stiles and Christopher Hickey
CNN tracked approximately how many minutes President Joe Biden spent talking about different topics during his second State of the Union address.
Here is a breakdown of the time Biden spent on each:
2:59 a.m. ET, February 8, 2023
In pictures: Biden’s State of the Union address
From CNN Digital's Photo Team
President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address hit on themes of bipartisanship and economic reform. It was widely viewed as a test run for his reelection announcement.
See photos from the speech:
12:20 a.m. ET, February 8, 2023
Fact check: Sanders' claim that Trump left Biden a "world that was stable and at peace"
From CNN’s Marshall Cohen
Arkansas' GOP Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that after former President Donald Trump left office, President Joe Biden inherited a “world that was stable and at peace.”
Facts First: It’s obviously ridiculous to claim that there was world peace when Trump’s tenure ended, and calling the world “stable” is a subjective claim.
When Trump left the White House in 2021, there were still plenty of wars ongoing around the world — albeit not as many as under previous presidents, and very few of those conflicts directly involved American armed forces.
For instance, Trump did not end the war in Afghanistan, which was still ongoing when Biden took office. There were thousands of US troops in the country when Biden was sworn in, before he withdrew them all in 2021.
The long-running Yemeni civil war was still happening when Trump left office. (Under Trump and Obama, the US supported Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in the war through arms sales. Biden ended that policy in 2021.)
The Syrian civil war was also ongoing, though at a more isolated level than in past years. And a war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region was in full swing. The drug war in Mexico was still leading to deaths and disappearances.
Additionally, the war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region was still unresolved. The war began in 2014, but had settled into a “frozen conflict,” with Russian proxies occupying a large chunk of the eastern Donbas region, and Ukrainian troops dug into trenches. It escalated into a full-blown war when Russia invaded in February 2022, after Biden had already taken office.
12:44 a.m. ET, February 8, 2023
Fact check: Sanders' claim that the Biden administration has made calls to "defund the police"
“After years of Democratic attacks on law enforcement, and calls to defund the police, violent criminals room free,” she said.
Facts First: While some Democrats have joined calls for a radical shift in police policy, including a reduction in police budgets, Biden and top congressional Democrats have not supported and even rejected calls to "defund the police."
It's worth noting that the slogan "defund the police" means different things to different activists — from the dissolution of police forces to partial reductions in funding.
That being said, Biden in particular has explicitly stated his opposition to abolishing or defunding the police several times.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden told CBS, "No, I don't support defunding the police." Rather, he said, "I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community."
Attacking Biden and Democrats on police funding is not a new tactic from Republicans. Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, several ads from Republican candidates attempted to create the inaccurate impression that the Democratic candidates they were targeting supported defunding the police. Some of the Republican ads simply made things up. Other ads falsely described bills the Democratic candidates have supported. Still other ads tried guilt by association, noting that the candidates have supporters who have called to defund the police but not mentioning that the candidates themselves rejected defunding the police.
12:24 a.m. ET, February 8, 2023
Democrats and Republicans sound off on the heckling that unfolded during Biden's address
Democrat Rep. Mark Takano told CNN’s Manu Raju that the outbursts were “disgraceful.”
“It’s the decline in decorum. I’ve been in this Congress for 10 years, and that was uncalled for, the level of disrespect,” he added, noting it was a “new low.”
“This cannot be normalized. It’s troubling," he added.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she was “not surprised” by the heckling “after what we saw in the speaker’s race,” but praised President Biden for his handling of the situation. “Joe Biden owned that room. No matter what they did, he responded with a twinkle in his eye,” she said. “He used humor when appropriate, he pushed back, he showed strength. And so it didn’t matter what they yelled at him, he won that night in a big way.”
Republican Rep. Mark Alford told CNN’s Manu Raju, “I’m not into calling names. I grew up with three brothers and I always knew that when you’re calling names, you’re losing the argument.”
“I prefer personally to debate someone on intelligent thought and try to win them over through great argumentation. But I’m not going to judge my fellow Republicans on their actions, so I’ll leave that up to them," he said.
Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito did not go so far as to call the president a liar, instead saying that “he was definitely misunderstood.”
“I think that there were definitely some instances where he did not have the facts, and he didn’t understand or wasn’t sure of the facts, but the facts are what we said – people are not better off today than they were when he took office," he told CNN.
12:56 a.m. ET, February 8, 2023
Fact check: Biden's claim that inflation rates have been falling
From CNN’s Daniel Dale and Alicia Wallace
President Joe Biden said that “food inflation is coming down, not fast enough, but coming down. Inflation has fallen every month for the last six months, while take-home pay has gone up.”
Facts first:Biden's claims are true if he was comparing year-over-year growth rates to each other, but not if he was measuring inflation itself.
Food prices were up 10.4% in December 2022 from the year-before period, according to the latest available Consumer Price Index (CPI) report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food price inflation, as measured by the CPI, has slowly declined since hitting a 40-year high of 11.4% in August 2022.
The CPI, which measures the average change in the prices over time of a basket of consumer goods, is one of several closely watched inflation barometers that also have showed price increases to have moderated in recent months. Within CPI and other indexes, there are various measures to gauge inflation. Most notably, “core” inflation measures that exclude items with more volatile price increases.
Biden’s claim that take-home pay has gone up is true if you start the calculation seven months ago; “real” wages, which take inflation into account, started rising in mid-2022 as inflation slowed.
However, real wages are lower today than they were both a full year ago and at the beginning of Biden’s presidency in Jan. 2021. That’s because inflation was so high in 2021 and the beginning of 2022.
There are various ways to measure real wages. Real average hourly earnings declined 1.7% between December 2021 and December 2022, while real average weekly earnings (which factors in the number of hours people worked) declined 3.1% over that period.
12:59 a.m. ET, February 8, 2023
CNN flash poll: Here's what viewers thought of Biden's address
From CNN's Ariel Edwards-Levy and Jennifer Agiesta
A 72% majority of Americans who watched President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address had a positive reaction to the speech, according to a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS, with a smaller 34% reacting very positively.
That pattern of broad but tempered enthusiasm is similar to the reception for Biden’s speech last year. In 2022, 71% of speech-watchers reacted positively to his address, with 41% saying their reaction was very positive.
Good marks from speech-watchers are typical for presidential addresses to Congress – in past years, most viewers reported positive reactions to third-year addresses from former presidents Donald Trump (76% positive), Barack Obama (84% positive) and George W. Bush (84% positive). The 34% who reacted very positively to Biden’s speech is the lowest in CNN’s speech reaction polls dating back to 1998.
Biden’s speech received a particularly warm reception from Democrats (62% had a very positive reaction), liberals (57% very positive) and older speech-watchers (52% very positive among those age 65 or older). Among those younger than 45, though, just 21% reported a very positive reaction, even as speech-watchers in this age group were just as likely as those age 65 or older to say that Biden’s policies would move the country in the right direction (75% younger than 45 said so, as did 76% of those age 65 or older).
State of the Union addresses rarely have major, lasting impact on presidents’ approval numbers, particularly in recent years. But Biden’s speech did bolster confidence in his policies among some who tuned in. Following the speech, 71% of speech watchers said they felt the policies Biden proposed would move the country in the right direction, versus 29% who said they would move things in the wrong direction. In a survey conducted before the speech, those same people were closer to evenly split (52% right direction, 47% wrong direction).
The biggest movement came among those who were skeptical of Biden to begin with. Among those who said in the pre-speech survey that they disapproved of the way Biden is handling his presidency, just 7% said before the speech that they thought Biden’s proposed policies would move the country in the right direction, rising to 45% post-speech. And among political independents, the share saying Biden’s policies would move the country in the right direction rose from 40% pre-speech to 66% afterwards.
Overall, 66% who watched the address said that Biden’s policies would move the country in the right direction on the economy – that’s in comparison to 62% of speech-watchers who said the same about his economic policies following his speech last year, and 72% following Biden’s first presidential address to Congress in 2021. The share of viewers this year who felt Biden’s economic policies would mark a shift in the right direction rose 16 percentage points following his speech. That shift was also heavily concentrated among independents, who went from 38% saying his economic proposals would move things in the right direction pre-speech to 64% post-speech.
A two-thirds majority also said that Biden’s policies would move the country in the right direction on foreign affairs (67%) with somewhat more modest majorities saying the same of his policies on gun laws (63%), government spending (59%) and immigration (55%). The share of viewers who said Biden’s immigration policies would move the country in the right direction rose 14 points post-speech.
Roughly half of Americans who tuned in for the speech, 52%, said that Biden’s proposals struck the right balance ideologically, with 38% calling them too liberal and 11% not liberal enough. Most Biden disapprovers, 68%, called his proposals too liberal.
About two-thirds of all speech watchers, 67%, said Biden did enough to address racial injustice in his speech, though that was notably lower among people of color (58% said he did enough) than among White speech watchers (72%). Majorities overall said he did not do enough to address the US relationship with China (59%) or inflation (55%).
Slightly over 6 in 10 speech watchers, 62%, said they had at least some confidence in Biden’s ability to provide real leadership for the country, with 28% expressing a lot of confidence. Another 38% said they had no real confidence.
More on the poll: Surveys were conducted by text message with 552 US adults who said they watched the State of the Union on Tuesday, and are representative of the views of speech-watchers only. Respondents were recruited to participate before the speech, and were selected by a survey of members of the SSRS Opinion Panel, a nationally representative panel recruited using probability-based sampling techniques. Results for the full sample of speech-watchers have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.