US President Joe Biden will give his first State of the Union address to Congress on the evening of Tuesday, 1 March after accepting the customary formal invitation for that date from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Article Two of the US Constitution requires every occupant of the White House to “give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”.
The custom was begun by Founding Fathers George Washington and John Adams but discontinued by Thomas Jefferson, who delivered his thoughts on the current state of American prosperity by letter and the address was not given in person again until Woodrow Wilson revived the practice in 1913.
The annual speech is held in the House of Representatives with members of the Senate, Supreme Court justices and Mr Biden’s cabinet all present, alongside an audience of specially invited guests.
President Biden will have a complex message to put across, with good news to deliver on the coronavirus pandemic as infections wane and the economic recovery continues with unemployment down to 3.9 per cent in December but inflation rising and the threat of war looming in Eastern Europe thanks to Vladimir Putin’s aggressions at the Ukrainian border in defiance of international sanctions.
He is in a position to champion the impact of his American Rescue Plan, which helped small businesses and families with weighty health insurance premiums, and his Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provided fresh funding for broadband and improving the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, ports and drinking water pipes.
President Biden will also be hoping to encourage Congressional Democrats to back his Build Back Better bill, bringing together social reforms, new climate policy and voting rights legislation, which Ms Pelosi cheered as “truly transformational” in her invitation.
However, he will find himself addressing the chamber at a time when his popularity rating among Democrats has fallen from 90 per cent to 78 per cent and among independents from 51 per cent to 34 per cent.
The opposing party of the president is entitled to issue a rebuttal to the State of the Union and this year the Republicans have nominated Iowa governor Kim Reynolds to deliver the GOP response.
She will seek to make the party’s case that red states handled the pandemic better than their Democrat-governed counterparts ahead of the 2022 midterm elections this fall.
Governor Reynolds is the first woman to hold her office in the Hawkeye State, a proud Donald Trump supporter and a known opponent of face-mask mandates in response to Covid-19.
That stance is expected to strike a chord with many Americans weary of pandemic social restrictions, but anyone attending Mr Biden’s address will nevertheless be required to take a Covid test before arriving, avoid physical contact with others in the chamber and wear a KN95 or N95 mask that completely covers the nose and mouth, all reminders that the virus has not entirely gone away.
Also expressing opposition to Covid restrictions and headed for Washington, DC, in time for Tuesday is a truck convoy known as The Great American Patriot Project, which is reportedly planning a protest rally similar to that which brought the Canadian capital of Ottawa to a standstill in recent weeks.
The prospect of their arrival has already seen fences reinstalled around the US Capitol grounds. The fences were in place for six months last year in response to the failed insurrection on 6 January 2021 that saw supporters of Mr Trump storm the legislative complex to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results under the misapprehension that the vote had been “stolen” in an elaborate nationwide Democratic conspiracy to deprive the 45th president of a return to the Oval Office.
“Law enforcement agencies across the National Capital Region are aware of plans for a series of truck convoys arriving in Washington, DC, around the time of the State of the Union,” said US Capitol Police (USCP) on Friday.
“As with any demonstration, the USCP will facilitate lawful First Amendment activity. The USCP is closely coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Park Police, the United States Secret Service and other allied agencies to include the DC National Guard.”
The 2022 State of the Union address will be available to stream on C-SPAN and its website and will be broadcast across major US news networks.
The Independent will be running a liveblog to cover it in full, in addition to bringing you all the breakout stories from the night.