SOTU Backgrounder

February 7, 2023
A photo of the White House

The State of The Union

What You Need To Know About Today’s Annual Speech By The President

Why It Happens:

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient …”

The Constitution simply states that the president must deliver an update on his assessment of the union and his own priorities, but it makes no mention of how or when or where "he" must do so.


  • Origins date back to the British tradition of the Crown delivering a speech to start each new legislative session.

  • 1790: First delivered in person by Pres. Washington in New York.

  • Delivered via a written letter to Congress from 1801 – 1913.

  • Known as the "President’s Annual Message to Congress" until 1946, and as the State of the Union address/message ever since.

  • No required length; since 1964, the general speech ranges 35 – 80 minutes.

Who Attends:

  • The president and first lady traditionally invite up to 24 guests.

  • Each sitting member of Congress gets two tickets (one for them & one for a guest).

  • Also invited: Supreme Court justices, fmr. members of Congress, joint chiefs of staff, & the president’s Cabinet (*except* for one cabinet member purposefully excluded – a “designated survivor” who stays in a separate location during the address in case a disaster strikes).

What To Expect Tonight:

  • Timing: Pres. Biden's speech comes after the halfway point of his presidential term. It is his first SOTU address since Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives.

  • Content: His speech is expected to touch on the state of the economy and highlight his admin's efforts over the past two years. Other possible topics include raising the debt limit, the recent Chinese spy balloon, and the war in Ukraine.

  • Perspective: Last year, Pres. Biden's speech was given days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

President Biden will deliver the State of the Union address tonight at 9 p.m. ET. The speech serves as a unique opportunity for the president to outline his policies and agenda for a larger-than-usual audience, and tonight is no exception.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders will deliver the Republican Party's response. Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) will also be giving a rebuttal in Spanish.


The 2023 Address:

by Jenna Lee,