Why We Have a State of the Union Address

And How Biden Has Addressed the State of our Democracy in the Past

On March 7, 2024, President Biden will deliver his fourth State of the Union address. The speech is the President’s opportunity to address our nation’s most pressing issues and highlight a path forward.

Why Do We Have a State of the Union Address?

The U.S. Constitution calls for the President to give Congress a State of the Union message from time to time on the condition of the country.

Presidents use this time as an opportunity to highlight their successes, identify their top priorities, and outline policy solutions. Afterward, a member of the opposition party delivers a rebuttal of the State of the Union address. 


What Happens at the State of the Union?

This has taken many forms throughout our history but is now a primetime event where the President addresses Congress, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a select few ordinary Americans. One member of the administration, called a Designated Survivor, stays at an offsite secure location to ensure there will be an acting President in case disaster strikes the Capitol.

Has Biden Addressed Democracy Issues in the Past?

Biden’s speeches in 2021 and 2023 focused heavily on democracy. As we head into the November election, we expect Biden will address the importance of protecting our democracy again this year.

2021 State of the Union Address 

In his April 2021 address, just 112 days after violent criminals stormed the Capitol, President Biden focused on the state of our democracy. During the attack on January 6, the insurrectionists that Donald Trump incited assaulted at least 174 police officers and killed nine people.

Biden called the insurrection “The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” He highlighted the extraordinary courage people showed that day who ensured the survival of our democracy and urged us to prove the strength of our democracy. 

“[America’s adversaries] look at the images of the mob that assaulted the Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy.  But they are wrong.  You know it; I know it.  But we have to prove them wrong.

We have to prove democracy still works — that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.” 

2023 State of the Union Address 

Biden focused on our democracy again in his 2023 address, saying what we know all too well:

“[Democracy itself is] the most fundamental thing of all.

With democracy, everything is possible. Without it, nothing is.

For the last few years our democracy has been threatened, attacked, and put at risk.”

Biden went on to decry the political violence. Just 102 days before Biden’s address, the husband of the Speaker of the House, Paul Pelosi, was attacked by a far-right conspiracy theorist in his home. The attacker was motivated by The Big Lie, Trump’s political disinformation campaign. 

“We must all speak out. There is no place for political violence in America. In America, we must protect the right to vote, not suppress that fundamental right. We honor the results of our elections, not subvert the will of the people. We must uphold the rule of the law and restore trust in our institutions of democracy.

And we must give hate and extremism in any form no safe harbor.

Democracy must not be a partisan issue. It must be an American issue.

Every generation of Americans has faced a moment where they have been called on to protect our democracy, to defend it, to stand up for it.

And this is our moment.”

Biden ended his address by saying, “We are not bystanders to history.” He urged the nation to embrace “light over darkness, hope over fear, unity over division. Stability over chaos.”

What is the state of our democracy today?

As disinformation spreads and divisions in our country widen, our democracy is vulnerable. Extremist politicians continue to undermine the authority of election officials and incite political violence. Unregulated digital platforms contribute to rising polarization and radicalization. Unfair maps dilute some communities’ voting power while amplifying others’ voices. 

The future of our democracy depends on us. That’s why we’re working tirelessly to protect our elections and expand our democracy. 

You can get involved with our “Protect the Vote 2024” program here

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