Your guide to watching Biden’s State of the Union address : NPR

Televisions showed President Joe Biden as he delivered his State of the Union address last year.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Your guide to watching Biden's State of the Union address : NPR

Televisions showed President Joe Biden as he delivered his State of the Union address last year.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Welcome to a new NPR series where we shine a light on the people and things that make headlines — and the stories behind them.

On its surface, the State of the Union address serves as the recording of the president. But the annual orchestration includes the efforts of many, including speechwriters, to communicate Oval Office priorities.

And if they’re lucky, they might land a good State of the Union Moment™

Who are they?

  • Cody Keenan is a political adviser and former editor to Barack Obama.
  • Michael Ricci is a Fellow of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service and has written speeches for Republicans like John Boehner and Paul Ryan.

What is the problem ?

The talking points. Ricci and Keenan tell us about four things to consider in the State of the Union.

  1. The role of the speechwriter “It is [difficult] for the White House speechwriters, because you have every cabinet agency, every interest group, everyone pushing you to get their policy idea into the speech. And it’s exhausting. And it’s the speechwriter’s job to keep it from becoming a Christmas tree, putting something in the speech just because someone will be mad that you don’t, that’s not good writing. So it’s just that kind of endless battle.”-Cody Keenan

    “I also had to struggle with different stakeholders[ing] for different language, on how much the president puts his shoulder to the wheel rhetorically. Thus, committee chairs [say], ‘Has the president issued a vague call to action? Did he specifically say pass this bill or hammer home a problem? Committee chairs, speakers, people watching, are obsessed with this stuff. And those are all choices for White House speechwriters to make.”

    -Michael Ricci

  2. Who is Biden actually talking to?“As he tries to contrast the parties, he’s definitely going to mention political issues that probably work well in the suburbs. He’s going to talk about capping the cost of insulin and things like that.

    They can’t do much to get the Republicans into the room. So a lot of it is about going over the heads of Republicans in the chamber and trying to reach common-sense conservative voters with rhetoric that appeals to people in the middle.

    -Michael Ricci

  3. The President’s response

    “The White House is thinking about all the different big issues on the Hill. They’re mostly thinking about what members of Congress are obsessed with. And usually it’s 2-3 things at a time.

    You prepare on 12 to 15 numbers. You prepare a quick response. You try to get all your ducks in a row, but in the end you have little oxygen against the president. So from my experience, I can tell you that usually it boils down to, you plan everything, but usually you have to boil it down to two or three things that you’re going to hit hard on in your response.”

    -Michael Ricci

  4. How many journeys to make a “great moment”

    “You can create these great moments. And, you know, President Obama was joking on game day that the beginning and the end of the speech was in great shape. And we just said the middle was fine. And that is the part where you have this long list of propositions. But the opening and ending is really what lends itself to emotional moments that people will remember. And I want to give the Biden speechwriters some coverage here. There’s no clever turn of phrase or story that’s necessarily going to guarantee action or ensure unity or bring people in. I mean, it’s still kind of an ongoing thing. going to change everyone’s mind, but those are the times that people remember.
    -Cody Keenan

So what now?

Learn more


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