State of the Union 2023 viewing guide

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is expected to give the GOP's response to the address.
The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen at the Capitol in Washington.
Posted at 6:30 PM, Feb 02, 2023

U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver his second State of the Union address, but it will be his first in front of a Republican House that's pushing to investigate his family. 

Here's everything you need to know ahead of the State of the Union speech.

When and where to watch

Scripps News will air special coverage of State of the Union Tuesday starting at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT. Stream the State of the Union on scrippsnews.com or anywhere Scripps News is available.

President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address March 1, 2022. He also delivered an address to a joint session of Congress in 2021 shortly after becoming president. His previous two addresses to Congress lasted just over an hour.

What is the State of the Union address?

The president is obligated to occasionally update Congress on the functions of the executive branch. The State of the Union can be delivered in writing or orally. For most of the 19th century, the State of the Union was delivered by presidents in writing. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson controversially opted to deliver the State of the Union orally in person in House Chambers.

The last time a president submitted the State of the Union in writing was President Jimmy Carter in 1981, just days before leaving office.

Most Americans remain sour on the state of the U.S.

Although presidents generally include a line about the state of the U.S. being “strong,” most Americans disagree.

According to Gallup polling released this week, 76% say they’re dissatisfied with how things are going in the U.S. Nearly half the U.S. says they’re very dissatisfied.

Those figures are an improvement from when President Biden first took office in 2021. Then, 88% said they were dissatisfied. Last year, that number was down to 82%.

Republican response

On Thursday, Republicans announced that new Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders would give the GOP's response. She previously served as President Donald Trump's press secretary.

Although Sanders will deliver a formal response to the presidential address, it has become customary in recent years for lawmakers to release their own reaction videos via social media.

The invitation list

Each member of the House of Representatives is allowed to invite a guest to sit in House chambers during the State of the Union. The president can also make his own set of invitations to guests.

Among the known invitees include Tyre Nichols’ parents. They were extended an invitation from Rep. Steven Horsford, the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after multiple Memphis Police officers beat him following a traffic stop. Video of the confrontation was released last week and prompted protests throughout the U.S.

First time facing an adversarial House

After two years of Democrats holding both congressional chambers, Republicans will now be in the majority in the House. That means instead of Nancy Pelosi joining Vice President Kamala Harris behind President Biden, it will be Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

While the two leaders don’t see eye-to-eye often on many political issues, President Biden and McCarthy appeared to have a cordial meeting in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

“I've just walked out having an hour conversation with this president that I tell you in perspective was a good conversation. No agreements, no promises except we will continue this conversation,” McCarthy said.

One major topic of conversation is the U.S. reaching its debt ceiling. McCarthy has stated he would like to cut spending to raise the debt ceiling. President Biden said those negotiations should be done separately.

Opposition in the House means investigations

With McCarthy now speaker, that means President Biden is going before the very body that will be investigating many aspects of not just his administration but his family.

One day after President Biden’s State of the Union address, House Republicans will lead a committee hearing on the president’s son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

“We are committed to following the Biden family and associates’ money trail—consisting of many complex, international transactions worth millions of dollars—and providing answers to the American people,” read a summary of the hearing by the House Oversight Committee.

The hearing could diminish President Biden’s ability to pitch his State of the Union message. Generally, presidents travel the day after to highlight aspects of the speech. The Biden administration has not yet announced travel plans for the president.

Economy expected to be a theme

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Biden is expected to discuss his economic plan during Tuesday’s address. While data indicate a strong job market and an improving stock market, inflation has been stubbornly high for the last year.

“You’ll hear from him talk about optimism, talk about possibilities, which is something that you've heard the President speak to, and how optimistic he is for the future of this country,” she said. “He'll talk about, you know, his economic policy and how it's delivered these last two years. And he'll lay out what he believes his legislation plan is going to be for the American people.”

Support for Ukraine likely to remain a priority

President Biden’s last State of the Union came just days after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine. The events meant that much of his address was focused on U.S. providing support for Ukraine.

A year later, the president has continued to pledge support, and if he wants to keep Ukraine as a priority, he’ll need to be more vocal about it. Many Republican lawmakers have suggested the U.S. should reduce or cut aid.

This week, Pew released polling finding support for Ukraine aid has significantly reduced. The poll finds that 26% of those asked believe the U.S. is sending too much aid to Ukraine, compared to 20% who say the aid is not enough. In March 2022, just 7% of respondents said the U.S. was providing too much support compared to 42% who said there was not enough support from the U.S.

Will applause lines be overshadowed?

State of the Unions are noted for their long applause lines and how one side of the aisle will stand while the other sits. Last year, however, was notable for what did not get applause.

Rep. Lauren Boebert yelled, “You put them in, 13 of them,” when President Biden addressed U.S. troops dying due to toxic burn pits. President Biden included his son Beau among those who died from the toxic smoke.

Boebert was referring to 13 troops killed in Afghanistan in 2021 as the U.S. pulled troops after two decades. The moment was met with groans from others in the audience.

As with every State of the Union speech, watching what gets applause and what does not often indicates the mindset of the members of Congress in attendance.