The Jolt: What to watch in Biden’s State of the Union address

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
President Joe Biden will deliver his State of the Union address tonight.  (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Credit: Al Drago/New York Times

Credit: Al Drago/New York Times

President Joe Biden will deliver his State of the Union address tonight. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

With Republicans running the House for the first time since he was elected, President Joe Biden will deliver his State of the Union address tonight with one job — to connect what he sees as two years of accomplishments to an American public that doesn’t think he’s done much since he arrived at the White House.

Biden’s challenge was laid out Monday in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed 62% of Americans believe he’s done “not very much” or “little to nothing” in office.

To counter those opinions, look for Biden to highlight the nation’s 53-year low unemployment rate, Democrats’ legislative wins over the last two years, and what remains on his to-do list as he ramps up an expected re-election campaign.

Georgians will recognize some of Biden’s plans. Politico reports he will champion a universal $35 monthly cap on insulin costs, something Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Rep. Lucy McBath have called for. The Inflation Reduction Act signed into law last year lowered insulin costs for people on Medicare.

Also shaping the president’s remarks: Republicans demands tying budget talks to raising the debt ceiling; renewed attention on police accountability after the death of Tyre Nichols; and the timing of the White House’s decision to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon.

Every member of Congress is invited to the address and can bring a guest. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is bringing Marianne Brown, a pecan grower in Leesburg. Ossoff recently announced India’s decision to reduce tariffs on pecans, including from Georgia.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock invited Lacy Mason, an Atlantan with diabetes who shared publicly how high insulin costs have strained her finances.

And U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams will bring Monica Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong. The reproductive justice organization focused on women of color and has sued the State of Georgia over the state’s six-week abortion ban.

We’ll also be watching for Republican reaction to the speech. Last year, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, made headlines when she and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boehbert heckled the president from the floor as he spoke, yelling “Build the wall!”

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde told Steve Bannon what he expects. “I can set the bar as low as I can and I don’t think the President’s going to meet it,” Clyde said.


BACK AGAIN. Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Atlanta on Wednesday to reinforce the economic messages baked into Biden’s speech. We still don’t have details about her visit, nor whether it will be open to the public.

But we expect that Harris will find a way to connect Biden’s rosy outlook of the U.S. economy and list of legislative accomplishments to money on the way to Georgia through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS Act and other measures Biden signed into law.

Plus, it gives the White House another opportunity to stress Georgia’s importance as a swing state that has recently delivered for Democrats in Washington. Carrying Georgia again in 2024 will be crucial if President Joe Biden seeks another term in office, which is widely expected.


The Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

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Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

UNDER THE GOLD DOME (Legislative Day 14):

  • 7:30 a.m.: Committee hearings begin;
  • 10 a.m.: The House gavels in;
  • 10 a.m.: The Senate convenes.
  • The House Judiciary Committee will consider the hate crimes bill sponsored by state Reps. John Carson, Chuck Efstration and Esther Panitch.
  • The state Senate will vote on four bills, including SB 36, which would increase penalties for pimping and pandering.

Also happening today:

  • The State Elections Board holds its meeting in Macon, part of a new effort to give voters outside of Atlanta better access to board meetings.


SHOW OF FORCE. Members of the state House and Senate spoke out Monday against the antisemitic flyers distributed in suburban Atlanta neighborhoods over the weekend, including to the home of state Rep. Esther Panitch, D-Sandy Springs, the House’s only Jewish member.

House Speaker Jon Burns began the morning session by addressing the flyers, which he called “repulsive.”

“Hate has no place in Georgia,” Burns said.

With Democratic and Republican colleagues standing with her in the well, Panitch warned not to be complacent in the face of hate. “Their stated goal is to destroy us. Kill Jews. Wipe us off the face of the Earth. We can do something, especially here. And we must.”

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Gloria Butler called on the chamber to pass the bill sponsored by Panitch that would define antisemitic acts as hate crimes. “I understand what it feels like to be targeted on the basis of your identity,” Butler said.


Democrats wants to move up the Georgia presidential primary. Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his aides are endorsing the idea. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

EARLY IN 2028. We told you that the Democratic National Committee voted over the weekend to make Georgia the fourth state in the 2024 presidential nominating calendar, even though Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has indicated he’s against it.

Now Raffensperger and his aides are endorsing the idea of moving Georgia up the schedule — just not this year.

Instead, he suggested 2028 — when he might not even be in office. (His second term ends in 2026 and he’s widely expected to run for governor or another higher office.)

“Georgia would be a great early primary state — it has a good cross-section of engaged voters from both parties and, as everyone seems to now be recognizing, we run great elections,” he said.

He added: “Any decision to move the state of Georgia up would require bipartisan support.”

The remarks echoed what he told the AP earlier.

Georgia law gives Raffensperger the final say on setting the primary date. And he has said he’ll oppose any calendar moves that require two separate presidential primaries or risk the state’s delegates to either party’s convention. Since Republicans have already agreed to their lineup without Georgia near the start, jumping the ranks would cost the state GOP delegates in the presidential count.

What’s more, state Republicans bristle at the notion that they’re being forced into the change by President Joe Biden and national Democrats. That’s one reason why Gov. Brian Kemp washed his hands of the idea.

Raffensperger and his aides have left some wiggle room in case of an improbable change of heart by the Republican National Committee. But Josh Putnam over at Frontloading HQ, an election analysis site, explains that’s “likely to be futile,” since Michigan’s Legislature has already voted to move that state’s primary ahead of Georgia’s.

The most likely outcome in Putnam’s view? Georgia stays with its March 2 primary along with a spree of other states.


Former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan shakes hands with Bavarian State Minister Florian Herrmann in Munich. Duncan led a group of 14 Georgians, including six state senators, on an economic development trip to Germany and the United Kingdom. Photo credit Georgia Senate Press Office via Geoff Duncan's Twitter account.

Credit: Georgia Senate Press Office

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Credit: Georgia Senate Press Office

DUNCAN PROBE. The Georgia Senate’s most powerful leaders want an investigation into how taxpayers wound up on the hook for their predecessors’ European tour shortly before they left office.

Our colleague James Salzer reports that Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy called for the probe after an AJC report detailing the 14-person November trip to Germany and England, led by former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and former Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller.

In their joint statement, Jones and Kennedy said “proper protocol may not have been followed in the budget approval process.”

“We believe that transparency and ensuring that any travel paid using taxpayer dollars should have a direct connection to the Legislature or bringing businesses and work into Georgia,” read the statement.

The development triggered swift criticism of Duncan, who frustrated many within his party for opposing Donald Trump and his allies, including Herschel Walker in last year’s runoff.

“That must explain why Geoff didn’t know who to vote for in the runoff despite spending hours in line - he was on a different continent while the campaign was conducted,” jabbed Scott Paradise, who was Walker’s campaign manager.


QUITTING FREEDOM? We picked up word at the Capitol that a trio of legislators met with state Rep. Charlice Byrd to discuss the three stepping down from the far-right Georgia Freedom Caucus.

Among them is state Rep. Emory Dunahoo, a charter member of the group who declined to comment on his decision. We also heard that state Reps. David Clark and Mitchell Horner were in the mix.

”The Freedom Caucus is going through some stages but there’s nothing more to say right now,” Horner told us.

A  trio of legislators met recently with state Rep. Charlice Byrd (right) to discuss stepping down from the far-right Georgia Freedom Caucus.   (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

One reason for the rift? Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed $32.5 billion budget, which includes $2 billion in tax rebates and one-time bonuses for many state government retirees.

Clark, Dunahoo and Horner all voted for the measure. Byrd was the sole “no” vote.


  • President Joe Biden will deliver the State of the Union address tonight at 9 p.m.
  • Members of the U.S. House will start the day by reading the entire Constitution aloud, a tradition in the House since 2011.
  • The House will also vote on two measures from Rep. Clyde to reverse decisions made by the Democratic-led District of Columbia Council.


PINNED DOWN. Some Republican members of the U.S. House have recently been spotted wearing lapel pins in the shape of assault-style rifles around the Capitol complex, including newly sworn in U.S. Rep. George Santos.

Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, who owns two Georgia gun stores and a weapons government contracting business, said in a video on Twitter that he’s heard “some of the pins I’ve been giving out on the House floor have been triggering my Democrat colleagues.”

The Washington Post reported that many Democrats were, indeed, appalled by the trinkets:

The assault-rifle pins have angered Democrats, who began noticing them in recent days before they knew of their origin. On Wednesday, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) posted images of two GOP members of Congress — Reps. Anna Paulina Luna (Fla.) and George Santos (N.Y.) — sporting the assault-rifle pins on their lapels.

“Where are these assault weapon pins coming from?" Gomez asked. “Who is passing these out?"

Gomez also noted that Paulina Luna was wearing such a pin less than 48 hours after a mass shooting in her state wounded 11 people.

“This isn't the flex you think it is," Gomez tweeted.

- The Washington Post

Your Jolters also noticed that Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, made the pins the focus of an email to supporters recently, with a petition to denounce them.

“On the heels of several mass shootings, far-right politicians have replaced their American flag lapels with AR-15 pins,” she wrote. “This is a slap in the face to all the folks who have lost loved ones in assault weapon shootings, and I’m disappointed to see my colleagues lean further into the culture wars.”


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