Biden’s 2023 State of The Union: A Divided Congress

In the 2022 election, Republicans won the House of Representatives. Biden, for the first time in his Presidency, addressed a divided Congress.


The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

President Biden delivered his third official State of The Union address on Tuesday, February 7th, 2023, at 9:00 p.m.

Biden faces a divided Congress in the second half of his first term. That is to say that he’ll have a difficult time passing bills and furthering his political agenda. He hopes to use the second half of his term to codify the Democratic Party’s plans for economic recovery, immigration law, gun reform, climate protections, racial equity, and healthcare. All of these plans have mostly been considered unacceptable for the GOP thus far. With McCarthy as House Speaker and far-right MAGA Republicans gaining power, Biden must navigate America’s delicate political sphere to prove that he is capable of delivering on his promises. His reelection campaign may very well depend on it. 

The State of the Union Address typically occurs every January before the first joint session of Congress takes place. The President is expected to present a prewritten speech, declaring the “state of the union”, which usually consists of what the President considers to be the most important takeaways and victories from the previous year, and what needs to be accomplished in the upcoming year. Every major television network broadcasts the Address globally, allowing the President to speak directly to the American public and leave lasting impressions. It is considered a highly orchestrated event and is crucial to the President’s image. Many past presidents have used the platform effectively to pass bills and pressure Congress to act. It represents possibly the most powerful opportunity a standing President has to create change. 

In his third official SOTU, Biden started with standard congratulatory remarks, first to the new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, and then to other major leaders of Congress, Hakeem Jeffries, the first black Minority leader in the House, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority leader. However, he also gives special recognition to the previous House Speaker: Nancy Pelosi, who Biden stated was “the greatest speaker in the history of this country.”

Then, he boasted about the unity of the nation, quoting the recent job growths and government bipartisan support during the COVID-19 pandemic. His speech constantly revisited the idea of national unity, and Biden was specific in promoting the prospect of a united, bipartisan Congress. In particular, Biden hopes to project this narrative abroad, proving to international watchers that the political atmosphere of the United States is in no way fractured or political gridlock. 


In his speech, Biden made several key points in which he addresses specific policies. Some, like the response to the War in Ukraine or his Infrastructure Bills, were met with mostly bipartisan support. Major GOP leaders have previously signaled support for the “Building a Better America” bill, and most of the officials present at the address were seen entering the chamber with U.S.-Ukrainian pins, a clear show of solidarity with the ongoing struggle abroad.

During his speech, Biden spent the majority of his time here, talking about the nation’s initiatives and agenda in Ukraine. He condemned Russia’s invasion, calling it “brutal” and “a murderous assault” as well as comparing it to the violence seen during WWII. He claimed that this war has been a test to see if the United States would stand by its principals and allies, a test he believes the U.S. has passed. 

The President then pivoted to the Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., claiming that “America is united in our support for your country.” He used this rhetoric to lay out the nation’s political agenda: “Our nation is working for more freedom, more dignity, and more peace, not just in Europe, but everywhere.” Biden’s comments linked the U.S.’ moral responsibility to Ukraine’s sustained sovereignty. 

In doing so, he identified who the U.S. sees as “aggressors” and who the U.S. sees as “competitors.” Biden specifically called out China as the United States’ main competitor and clarifies the relationship the U.S. hopes to maintain with China. “I’ve made clear with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict.” Interestingly, instead of backing down from the Trump era of trade wars and economic conflict, Biden reframed the narrative to show that America is interested in protecting its interests and promoting its growth, not in pressuring other countries into submission. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning claims China is “being smeared” by this rhetoric. She claims that the U.S. has “restricted their country’s legitimate development rights under the excuse of competition, at the expense of disrupting the global industrial and supply chain” and they urge the U.S. to return bilateral relations to a position of stability. 

Other subjects, like gun control, abortion, and immigration laws, were met with staunch partisan opposition. However, that did not stop the President from addressing these subjects extensively. 

Biden invited Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park shooter during the Lunar New Year celebrations this year, to the event to highlight the extreme violence perpetrated against civilians through the use of assault weapons. The Monterey Park shooter killed 11 people and injured 10 before he was stopped by Tsay. 

The President called for an immediate ban on assault weapons, saying, “Ban assault weapons now. Ban them now. Once and for all,” in his speech. He also mentioned the bipartisan gun laws that passed in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting last May, using them as reminders to Congress that bipartisan support for gun control is possible. His call for a ban on assault weapons mirrors his policy directives, which have claimed that his administration is determined to eliminate the risk of mass shootings. 

Unfortunately, Americans don’t seem to support such a ban. An ABC News poll released a day before the State of the Union showed that 51% of Americans oppose an assault weapons ban and only 47% support it. The poll also showed that support has been steadily decreasing since 1999. A Monmouth University poll corroborated this, stating that they found a 9-point drop in support since 2022. 

Abortion was the elephant in the room, especially considering the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade. President Biden kept his words on the subject brief and direct. He called on Congress to restore the women’s reproductive rights previously held under Roe v. Wade, and claimed that his administration is “doing everything to protect access to reproductive healthcare and safeguard patient safety.” Additionally, he assured the American public that any congressional proposals for an abortion ban will be vetoed. Though it comprised only a small portion of his speech, Biden’s message is clear: he will not tolerate any attempts to further curb reproductive rights.

When speaking on Medicare, President Biden directly addressed members of Congress through his speech by talking about plans some have proposed in committee. “Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what their plans are,” said Biden, “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years.” 

Protests from the Republican aisles erupted and some felt the need to retaliate, with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene openly calling the President a “liar.” But Biden wasn’t finished. Over the shouting and booing, he retorted “Anybody who doubts it, call my office, I’ll give you a copy of the proposal,” referring to a proposal by Senator Rick Scott of Arizona to sunset all federal programs after 5 years. 

While comments like these from SOTU audience members have traditionally been considered taboo, in recent years more officials have been willing to engage in this unorthodox and disruptive fashion. 


For most of the night, the scene remained the same. While the Democratic side of the benches cheered, the Republican side remained silent and sedentary. While some Democrats enthusiastically clapped, some Republicans found the need to jeer and boo. 

Regardless, the consensus on this year’s SOTU has been that there have been no winners. American support and approval of the Democratic leadership have not held firm in the wake of economic and political issues. The Republican party, which had already shown large fractures during the Speaker of the House elections, seemed even more factionalized. While their ideals generally align, some are far more willing to take it to the extremes, with those making up a bulk of the unhappy comments during Biden’s speech. 

For Biden, however, SOTU can be perceived as receiving a personal victory. By baiting members of Congress into interacting with him, he has shown the American people on live television that he is still willing and able to fight for them politically. 

On April 24, 2o23, Biden officially announced his reelection campaign. This SOTU will almost certainly act as a stepping stone for his race in 2024 and it may serve as proof that Biden is ready to be President for another four years. 

Biden faces a divided Congress in the second half of his first term. That is to say that he’ll have a difficult time passing bills and furthering his political agenda. He hopes to use the second half of his term to codify the Democratic Party’s plans for economic recovery, immigration law, gun reform, climate protections, racial equity, and healthcare.