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What to expect from Biden's big speech

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden delivers his State of the Union address tonight. It is one of the most watched speeches a president gives every year. It also comes as Biden kicks off a tight reelection campaign against his likely opponent, former President Trump, so it's a chance for him to make his case for a second term. To talk through what to watch for tonight, we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram. Hey, Deepa.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So the State of the Union, I mean, it's a pretty long speech, but there's obviously not enough time for Biden to get into everything. So what are you expecting to make the cut tonight?

SHIVARAM: Right. Yeah, I mean, definitely a big speech. And with a wider audience, he's going to be trying to highlight what he thinks his major accomplishments are and lay out what work he still wants to do. He'll be talking about abortion rights and reproductive freedom, which has been a big winning issue for Democrats. And he'll also be talking about improvements to the economy and what he's doing to lower costs for Americans on things like prescription drugs, housing, even lowering excessive fees like credit card late fees.

CHANG: Right, the junk fees. OK.

SHIVARAM: Correct.

CHANG: But what about Trump? Do you think he's going to talk about Trump?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. I mean, he might not mention Trump by name, but the Biden team has been saying that this election is about drawing contrasts. And highlighting those differences is what Biden will do tonight, especially when it comes to things like the issue on the border, right? The president has recently been going on offense and blaming Republicans for backing out of a bipartisan deal to fund the border, and he's also been blaming Trump. Immigration and the border and the economy, like we were talking about, are all issues where Biden has low approval ratings, and they're also top issues for voters in this election. So what Biden says tonight will be notable to watch.

CHANG: Well, also, a lot of voters have been voicing their dissatisfaction over how Biden's been handling Israel and the whole humanitarian crisis in Gaza. So how do you think Biden will try to respond to that anger tonight?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. The president's chief of staff, Jeff Zients, told NPR that Biden would spend a good deal of time talking about his work to get a deal on a temporary six-week cease-fire. I should note that we expect some of the family members of the hostages from the October 7 attack, they're going to be in the audience tonight. And Biden will be talking about his concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He'll announce a new effort to set up a port on the coast of Gaza, which would allow these very large ships to deliver food, water, medicine and shelter. But that process is going to take weeks to establish. And in the meantime, there are a lot of voters, like you mentioned, especially young voters, who have been voting uncommitted in recent primaries and want a permanent cease-fire. So even with these updates on aid, that dissatisfaction for Biden is still really present.

CHANG: Yeah. You mentioned in the audience tonight there will be some family members of hostages from the attack in Israel. I'm curious, who did the president invite tonight?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. I mean, Kate Cox, who's a woman from Texas who had to leave the state to get an emergency abortion, she'll be in the audience. Another woman from Alabama will be attending tonight who recently had to pause her IVF treatment after the state Supreme Court ruling said that embryos were children. And the prime minister of Sweden, Ulf Kristersson, will also be there. Sweden officially joined NATO today and that was something the president campaigned hard for after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And that'll come up too. The president will push hard for Republicans to pass that aid for Ukraine - right? - which has been blocked for months now.

CHANG: All right. Let's turn to the election, of course. Where does Biden go from here in terms of his presidential campaign?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. I mean, well, he's hitting the campaign trail immediately, where he'll repeat this message that he gives tonight, right? Friday he's headed to Philadelphia, and Saturday he'll be in Atlanta. I'll be traveling with the president. And one thing I'm watching for is how Biden's message goes over in Georgia, where there are a lot of communities of color. And their turnout will be essential for Biden to win the state, which he only won by a slim margin in 2020. And it's not just Biden who's going to be on the road. Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling on the West Coast, and other Cabinet officials will also be in states around the country in the coming weeks.

CHANG: That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Thank you, Deepa.

SHIVARAM: Thank you.

CHANG: And stay tuned to your local member station for live coverage of the State of the Union. Or watch the speech at npr.org or NPR's YouTube page, where we will have a live video stream of our coverage starting at 9 p.m. Eastern. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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