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Emory University experts comment on President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address
Image of a microphone in front of the American flag

Emory’s faculty experts on economics, politics and public discourse were watching along with the nation as President Joe Biden gave his State of the Union address Feb. 7. Below are some of their reactions to topics covered in the speech and the current and future outlook for the nation.

Vivian Yue, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics: 

  • President Biden’s state of the union speech really highlighted the nation’s strong labor market performance. The unemployment rate of 3.4% is at a 54-year low. The president specifically stressed the strong recovery of the economy since he took office. The economy has created 12 million jobs, including more than 800,000 manufacturing jobs across the country. 

  • In my opinion, the challenge is for the economy to maintain a resilient job market while battling inflation. The CPI inflation is 6.5% for December 2022. Inflation has fallen as the Fed has raised the interest rates eight times since 2022. The strong job market provides the economy a high likelihood of a soft landing.  But the economy is still at risk of a recession until inflation returns to the target range.

  • Another issue to keep an eye on is the national debt ceiling negotiation, which the president addressed in his speech. It is unlikely that the U.S. will risk its credibility by not lifting the debt ceiling, but the negotiation in Congress will determine which part of federal spending will be affected.

Alan Abramowitz, Alban W. Barkley Professor of Political Science Emeritus:

  • Biden made a forceful and energetic presentation that should help to alleviate some of the concern among Democrats about his age and readiness for the rigors of a presidential campaign. Despite the talk about bipartisanship, he especially seemed to enjoy goading Republicans on issues such as Social Security, Medicare and the debt ceiling. 

Ed Lee III, senior director of inclusivity for Emory College of Arts and Sciences:

  • “Bipartisanship” was the word of the night in President Biden’s State of the Union. One of the primary roles of a speech is to shape the audience’s understanding of where we are, where we are going, and what we need to do to get there. President Biden’s speech told a story about current D.C. politics that defied conventional perceptions that Washington is a den of partisan conflict and animosity. The President alluded to 300 pieces of “bipartisan” legislation.

  • Additionally, he directly referenced the “bipartisan” Chips and Science Act and the “bipartisan” Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Biden attempted to use the State of the Union to smooth the way for additional bipartisan legislative wins in partnership with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy by presenting zero-sum tribal politics as beyond the pale. While a radio address might be convinced that Republicans and Democrats are prepared to rebuild the economy together, those watching the speech saw a House visibly divided, with Speaker McCarthy doing everything he could to tamp down the jeers from members of his party and preserve a sense of decorum. Unfortunately, the interruptions undermine President Biden’s attempt to tell a tale that bipartisanship defines Washington, D.C., politics. It doesn’t look like President Biden will get much support from his Republican colleagues as he attempts to “finish the job.”

Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science, observed in her live tweets during the address:

  • POTUS is doing his own version of triangulation in #sotu2023. He’s trying to reclaim populism. His gambit works best rhetorically when people in the audience respond audibly (not with applause but with yesses). 

  • I think POTUS might have just gotten the best of the Freedom Caucus. He purposely brought up the proposal by some GOPers to cut Medicare/SS to get a rise out of Republicans, then claimed their vocal outrage as a bargaining chip on national TV. 

  • To be sure, I still expect a debt ceiling food fight, but what Biden did was actually shrewd. 

  • This is the first time I noticed bipartisan applause — when Biden proposed more inspections for drug smuggling and holding social media accountable for harming children.  

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