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Newly divided Congress to hear President Biden's State of the Union address

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaks to reporters
Jesse King
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaks to reporters

With an expected re-election campaign kickoff approaching, President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union speech tonight at 9.

It’s a different Congress than the one that heard Biden’s address a year ago, with Republicans now holding a narrow House majority and Democrats controlling the Senate. That means a new Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and forthcoming investigations into the administration and the president’s family. And it comes with negotiations already under way over raising the nation’s debt limit.

First-term Republican Congressman Marc Molinaro of New York’s 19th district says it’s time for the president to rein in his plans.

“First, to acknowledge that the federal government is too big, it is too bloated, and in many ways it is too broken. The president has to acknowledge that we needed to make certain investments during the pandemic, that I understand, although I think far too much was spent — dollars we didn’t have,” he said. “But I do think the president needs to acknowledge that there needs to be a demand that government produce, do better for the people it serves.”

House Republican Conference Leader Elise Stefanik represents New York’s 21st district.

“Our families cannot afford Joe Biden’s failed, far-left Democrat policies,” she said. “In the new House Republican majority, we have already hit the ground running.”

On the Democratic side, lawmakers say the president has accomplished a transformative agenda over his first two years, and they’re hoping to draw a contrast with the GOP.

Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko of New York’s 20th district points to the CHIPS Act, meant to boost the nation’s semiconductor industry, as one example.

“I’m hoping that we can continue in a robust fashion to implement those bills that were signed into law,” he said. “They’re very worthy and important investments into today’s economy, so I hope that continues.”

Democratic Congressman Pat Ryan of New York’s 18th district says Biden’s brand is built for bipartisanship.

“I’m still an optimist that we can deliver for folks. I think back to President Biden’s State of the Union last year; sort of towards the end, he outlined several areas where we he felt there was real room and need for bipartisan cooperation to deliver. One that was very personal to me, and I know a lot of others, was legislation was to provide care for veterans exposed to toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan, to burn pits and other toxic exposures. So President Biden last year said ‘We need to do this, we’re going to do this,’ put out that call to action, and in that year’s time, we passed this landmark PACT Act legislation.”

Speaking of Afghanistan, Democratic Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal is bringing Army veteran Alex Plitsas as his guest. He helped hundreds of Afghans evacuate the war-torn nation at the end of the U.S. presence there.

“Alex being in the gallery will send a powerful message to all of my colleagues, as well as the president, and I hope that President Biden will in fact use this occasion to say we’re going to keep faith with our at-risk Afghan allies,” he said. “We will not leave them behind.”

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York says Biden’s major legislative victories to date have included Republican support.

“This Congress, despite being divided, we have huge opportunities to work on a bipartisan basis. You have the defense bill, which is always bipartisan, every year. Shared defense concerns with China, as we just discussed, shared defense concerns with intelligence, and many, many issues that are very deeply bipartisan. We have the opportunity to do a bipartisan Farm Bill,” she said.

A month after taking office, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey will attend the speech as the guest of Congressman Richard Neal of the 1st District. The Democrat says she looks forward to hearing Biden’s plans to strengthen the economy, lower costs, invest in infrastructure and combat climate change.

WAMC will have coverage of the State of the Union at 9 p.m. on air and at wamc.org.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.