The Inside Story-State of the Union TRANSCRIPT


The Inside Story: State of the Union

Episode 78 – February 9, 2023

Show Open:

Unidentified Narrator:

Joe Biden presses bipartisanship by touting its successes:

President Joe Biden:

But now we’re coming back, because we came together and passed the bipartisan infrastructure law.

Unidentified Narrator:

Halfway through his first term, the U.S. president makes his case to the American people and a rowdy opposition.

And he wants more time to finish the job.

President Joe Biden:

The State of the Union is strong.

Unidentified Narrator:

Now, on The Inside Story — State of the Union.

The Inside Story:

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA, VOA White House Bureau Chief:

I’m Patsy Widakuswara, VOA White House Bureau Chief.

This week, an American political tradition, enshrined in the US Constitution that the President

of the United States “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.”

President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, the third time speaking before a joint session of Congress since coming into office.

Now halfway through his four-year term, Biden faced a divided Congress of a polarized nation, as a likely candidate for re-election.

House Sergeant-at-Arms:

Mister Speaker, the president of the United States.


During his second State of the Union speech on Tuesday, his third address to a joint session of Congress since taking office, President Joe Biden stayed with his “unity” agenda.

President Joe Biden:

Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.


Biden touted increased American manufacturing, and legislation that invests in renewable energy production, domestic semiconductor industry and infrastructure to compete against China.

President Joe Biden:

We used to be number one in the world of infrastructure. We’ve sunk to 13th in the world, the United States of America, 13th in the world on infrastructure, modern infrastructure. But now we’re coming back because we came together and passed the bipartisan infrastructure law.


Addressing high inflation, Biden argued the problem is global, caused by the pandemic and the war on Ukraine and focused instead on low unemployment.

President Joe Biden:

We have created a record 12 million new jobs — more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years.


He highlighted steps his administration took to erase federal student loan debt, increase the number of insured Americans, implement COVID relief programs, and lower prescription drug prices.

But can he convince Americans things are looking up? Republicans are determined to stop him, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas governor and former White House press secretary under President Donald Trump, delivering the GOP response.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas Governor:

In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country.


With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives following the November election, new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised renewed scrutiny on the administration, including on the classified documents found in Biden’s home, the billions of dollars of aid to Ukraine, and what they say is his weak response to a Chinese surveillance balloon, which the U.S. recently shot down.

Despite low unemployment and gas prices down sharply from a record high in mid-2022, Biden’s approval rating remains at 40 percent. Eighty percent of Democrats, 37 percent of independents and only 3 percent of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing, according to Ipsos.

While his speech is unlikely to change that, it does signal that he is likely to run again in 2024.

Jennifer Mercieca, Texas A&M University:

He didn’t say he is, or he isn’t, but he made the case for why he should, which is that he can see what needs to be done, he’s had all of these successes so far, he’s had all of these achievement[s], but there’s still a lot more that he wants to get done


As a gesture of solidarity to Ukraine, first lady Jill Biden again invited the country’s ambassador, Oksana Markarova. And parents of Tyre Nichols, the Black man who was beaten by Tennessee law enforcement officers and died days later.

President Joe Biden:

When police officers or departments violate the public’s trust, we must hold them accountable.


Following recent shootings in California, Biden again called on Congress to ban assault-style rifles. He urged Republicans to come up with immigration reform, debt reduction proposals, and vowed to protect reproductive rights.

President Joe Biden:

Make no mistake; if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it.


But bipartisan legislation is unlikely under a divided government.

In a few months, he’s set to clash with Republicans who are demanding spending cuts before agreeing to pass a debt ceiling hike to prevent the country from defaulting.

State of the Union addresses are traditionally focused on domestic issues. But, for the second straight year, foreign policy troubles cast a shadow over Biden’s speech.

Last year, Russia attacked Ukraine days

before the address.

This year, it’s China’s balloon that popped the president’s good news bubble.

VOA Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine drills down on foreign policy issues.

CINDY SAINE, VOA Senior Diplomatic Correspondent:

As President Joe Biden spoke to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening on the state of the nation, tensions with China loomed large after a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon captured the attention of both lawmakers and ordinary Americans.

Without mention the balloon specifically, Biden sought to reassure Americans, while sending this message to China.

President Joe Biden:

I am committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world. But make no mistake: As we made clear last week, if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.


On Saturday, a U.S. fighter jet shot down the balloon in midair over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina.

China has called the U.S. shooting down of the balloon “unacceptable” and an “over-reaction.”

Some Republicans criticized Biden for not ordering the balloon shot down earlier as it traversed the country. They may be looking for a tougher stance on China, Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center told VOA.

Michael Kugelman, The Wilson Center:

So, he was not taking a forceful, hawkish position. He was leaving open some space for conciliation, and I really don’t think those members of Congress that wanted a more hard-line stance would have been would have been satisfied with what he said tonight.


Russia’s war against Ukraine also was featured in Biden’s address. The U.S. has committed more than 27 billion dollars in security assistance to Ukraine. Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion one year ago was a test that America passed.

President Joe Biden:

We united NATO and built a global coalition. We stood against Putin’s aggression. We stood with the Ukrainian people. Tonight, we are once again joined by Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States. She represents not just her nation, but the courage of her people.


Some Republicans have been skeptical of military aid to Ukraine, but that was not the case when Republicans in the chamber, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, appeared to strongly support Biden’s remarks.

Elizabeth Shackelford, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

I have to say, I saw a lot more support coming from the Republican side of the aisle when he was speaking about Ukraine, particularly at the moment when he said, ‘we are in it as long as it takes.’ This is something that we have heard the Republican Party push back on specifically, saying that there wasn’t a blank check for Ukraine.


Apart from the war in Ukraine and a long-planned “pivot to Asia,” President Biden is planning for the first visit to sub-Saharan African by an American president since 2015.

Cindy Saine, VOA News, Washington.


President Biden took full advantage of the State of the Union address to lay out an array of policy measures for Congress to consider —- And issues you will likely hear more about

during the 2024 presidential campaign.

President Joe Biden:

The story of America is a story of progress and resilience. Of always moving forward. Of never giving up.

A story that is unique among all nations.

We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we entered it

That is what we are doing again.

Two years ago, our economy was reeling.

As I stand here tonight, we have created a record 12 million new jobs, more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years.

Two years ago, COVID had shut down our businesses, closed our schools, and robbed us of so much.

Today, COVID no longer controls our lives.

And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War.

Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken.

As we gather here tonight, we are writing the next chapter in the great American story, a story of progress and resilience. When world leaders ask me to define America, I define our country in one word: Possibilities.

You know, we’re often told that Democrats and Republicans can’t work together.

But over these past two years, we proved the cynics and the naysayers wrong.

Yes, we disagreed plenty. And yes, there were times when Democrats had to go it alone.

But time and again, Democrats and Republicans came together.

Came together to defend a stronger and safer Europe.

Came together to pass a once-in-a-generation infrastructure law, building bridges to connect our nation and people.

Came together to pass one of the most significant laws ever, helping veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

In fact, I signed over 300 bipartisan laws since becoming President. From reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, to the Electoral Count Reform Act, to the Respect for Marriage Act that protects the right to marry the person you love.

The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.

I ran for President to fundamentally change things, to make sure the economy works for everyone so we can all feel pride in what we do.

To build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down. Because when the middle class does well, the poor have a ladder up and the wealthy still do very well. We all do well.

And that’s always been my vision for our country.

To restore the soul of the nation.

To rebuild the backbone of America, the middle class.

To unite the country.

We’ve been sent here to finish the job.

It’s never a good bet to bet against America.

Our strength is not just the example of our power, but the power of our example.


For the first time in his presidency, Joe Biden spoke to a politically divided Congress.

Republicans control the House of Representatives while Democrats have the US Senate. And despite calls for civility from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, several Republicans heckled and booed the president.

One Congresswoman shouted “liar” as Biden asserted that Republicans want social spending programs Medicare and Social Security to sunset, drawing a raucous uproar. Biden, swiped back with his own quips and jabs.

The evening underscored the tense relationship between the White House and Congressional Republicans and perhaps signaled that the American tradition of lawmakers listening with decorum as the president speaks, is now broken.

VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson brings the lawmakers’ reactions after the speech.

KATHERINE GYPSON, VOA Congressional Correspondent:

President Joe Biden with a message of bipartisanship for the U.S. Congress Tuesday night….

President Joe Biden:

If we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well.


But on Capitol Hill, now divided between a Democratic-majority U.S. Senate and a Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers disagreed on the big issues Biden said the country needs to address.

Rep. Mark Takano, Democrat:

The Republicans chant ‘Close the border, close the border’ without really conceding that that is not the solution to the problem. I think, I think we can get more serious about the border, other ports of entry like airports. But we also have to really get down to our DREAMers, those, you know, several million young people, some of them adults by now in their 30s, who came to this country through no fault of their own.


But Republicans are skeptical of Biden’s request for more funding for border security, fearing it would be used in ways that encourage rather than discourage migration.

Rep. Brian Babin, Republican:

If we give them more money, they’re going to use it to count more, and facilitate the process and give more immigrants coming in. Instead of stopping the immigration and disincentivizing it, that’s where that money would be used.


Biden said backing Ukraine is a key U.S. national security interest.

President Joe Biden:

Putin’s invasion has been a test for the ages.

Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, Democrat:

This is our reputation at stake in front of the world, in front of the global community. We stand for democracy, we’re the beacon of hope to democracies around the world. We must stand with Ukraine.


But House Republicans want more oversight of U.S. aid to help combat the Russian invasion.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, Republican:

What’s the plan? To suggest that it’s just open-ended, a blank check in Ukraine. And remember, when we ship armament to Ukraine, we don’t control where their armaments going.


Republicans also say that Biden did not react quickly enough to the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down last week.

Rep. Don Bacon, Republican:

He’s very tentative. He doesn’t want to provoke but by doing so he’s actually tempting the Chinese to do more. I think they see, they sense weakness.


But Biden argued the United States is in competition – not conflict with China.

Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, Democrat:

The president did the right thing and waited till it left our coast and it was in a safe place to shoot it out of the sky. And we did, and I think we showed China, Russia, and the world that if you come and try these type of maneuvers in our country, that we’re going to take repercussions.


The divided Congress will face a major test in late May when the debt ceiling must be raised to avoid a U.S. government default.

Katherine Gypson, VOA News, Capitol Hill.


Despite repeated calls for bipartisanship, President Biden knows that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is intent on investigating him and his administration.

VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson explains their concerns about immigration, political favoritism and Biden’s handling of classified documents.

KATHERINE GYPSON, VOA Congressional Correspondent:

A Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives was sworn in last month ushering in a new era of divided government in Washington, DC. And with it, Republicans pledging to fulfill Congress’ role of oversight of the White House.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House:

I do not think any American believes that justice should not be equal to all and we found from this administration, what happened before every single election, whatever comes out that they utilize… to try to falsify, they try to have different standards for their own beliefs. That doesn’t work in America.


Republicans argue the Biden administration has abused its powers; from the way it has handled mass-migration at America’s southern border….

Rep. Jim Jordan, House Judiciary Committee:

Month after month after month, we have set records for migrants coming into the country. And frankly, I think it’s intentional. I don’t know how anyone with common sense or logic can reach any other conclusion. It seems deliberate. It seems premeditated.


…to the alleged weaponization of the federal government for political purposes…

Rep. James Comer, House Oversight Committee:

We’re going to be returning this committee to its core mission. And that is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being mismanaged, abused or wasted, to shine a light in the darkness of the federal bureaucracy to prevent corruption and self-dealing to make sure our federal government is working efficiently for the American people.


Republicans also plan investigations into the president’s own family, including accusations his son, Hunter Biden, improperly benefited from his father’s positions.

Oversight of the executive branch is a key part of Congress’ role and analysts say these investigations are common when the U.S. government has divided party rule.

Ken Hughes, Miller Center, University of Virginia:

Even in a polarized era, Congressional investigations can do some good, but in order for it to have a truly beneficial impact, both parties have to cooperate.


But Democrats say the probes will unfairly target the president.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, House Democratic Leader:

It’s very unfortunate that we’ve seen this extreme MAGA Republican agenda which is apparently anchored in impeachment and investigations focused on witch hunts, not on working families.


Any legislative fixes that come out of the House hearings won’t be passed in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

Sarah Binder, Brookings Institution:

There’s a broad realm here for lawmakers to use the subpoena power to force people to come to speak to them, even though no one expects a real lesson of change to occur because of those investigations.


The discovery of classified documents at Biden’s residence will also prompt a House investigation, one Republicans hope will keep the focus on the president ahead of the 2024 elections.

Sarah Binder, Brookings Institution:

Congressional investigations we can show historically, do dampen presidential approval, right? They really tarnish what the public thinks about the president.


The first subpoenas stemming from House investigations of the Biden Justice Department were issued last week.

Katherine Gypson, VOA News, Washington.


President Ronald Reagan started the tradition in 1982 — inviting to the State of the Union a man who dove into an icy river to save the life of a woman after an airplane crash. Since then, heroes and many others have been invited to be recognized by the president in his address.

This years’ guests included the man who disarmed a mass shooter in California and the family of murdered Memphis motorist, Tyre Nichols.

President Joe Biden:

Joining us tonight is Brandon Tsay, a 26-year-old hero.

Brandon put off his college dreams to stay by his mom’s side as she was dying from cancer. He now works at a dance studio started by his grandparents.

Two weeks ago, during Lunar New Year celebrations, he heard the studio’s front door close and saw a man pointing a gun at him.

He thought he was going to die, but then he thought about the people inside.

In that instant, he found the courage to act and wrestled the semi-automatic pistol away from a gunman who had already killed 11 people at another dance studio.

He saved lives. It’s time we do the same as well.

Ban assault weapons once and for all.

We did it before. I led the fight to ban them in 1994.

In the 10 years the ban was law, mass shootings went down. After Republicans let it expire, mass shootings tripled.

Let’s finish the job and ban assault weapons now. Once and for all.

Joining us tonight are the parents of Tyre Nichols, who had to bury him just last week.

There are no words to describe the heartbreak and grief of losing a child.

But imagine what it’s like to lose a child at the hands of the law.

Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter will come home from walking down the street or playing in the park or just driving their car.

I’ve never had to have the talk with my children – Beau, Hunter, and Ashley – that so many Black and Brown families have had with their children.

If a police officer pulls you over, turn on your interior lights. Don’t reach for your license. Keep your hands on the steering wheel.

Imagine having to worry like that every day in America.

Here’s what Tyre’s mom shared with me when I asked her how she finds the courage to carry on and speak out.

With faith in God, she said her son “was a beautiful soul and something good will come from this.”

Imagine how much courage and character that takes.

It’s up to us. It’s up to all of us.

We all want the same thing.

Neighborhoods free of violence.

Law enforcement who earn the community’s trust.

Our children to come home safely.

Equal protection under the law; that’s the covenant we have with each other in America.

And we know police officers put their lives on the line every day, and we ask them to do too much.

To be counselors, social workers, psychologists; responding to drug overdoses, mental health crises, and more.

We ask too much of them.

I know most cops are good. decent people. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield.

But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often.

We have to do better.

Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre’s mother come true, something good must come from this.

All of us in this chamber, we need to rise to this moment.

We can’t turn away.

Let’s do what we know in our hearts we need to do.

Let’s come together and finish the job on police reform.

Do something.


Follow us on social media and stay up to date with the latest US and world news at

Catch up on past episodes on our free streaming service, VOA Plus.

And for all things White House related, my Twitter is P-Widakuswara.

Thanking you on behalf of my colleagues who brought you today’s show, I’m White House bureau chief Patsy Widakuswara. See you next week for The Inside Story.



Published on 2023-02-09

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Originally posted as: The Inside Story-State of the Union TRANSCRIPT, made available by Voice of America under the terms of the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal license.

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