New America Experts React to President Biden’s Fiery State of the Union Speech

Blog Post
President Biden standing at a podium during the State of the Union with Vice President Harris in the background.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz
March 8, 2024

Last night, President Biden delivered an energetic—and sometimes confrontational—State of the Union address that was aimed at setting the tone for an upcoming general election campaign.

Here are several takeaways from New America’s research and policy experts reacting to President Biden’s politics-heavy speech and themes covering fraught national security issues, ideas to strengthen democracy, digital security, access to affordable care, and education and career pathways.

Biden Passed the Commander in Chief Test

Peter Bergen, Vice President of Global Studies & Fellows, Future Security

Not since President George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union months after the 9/11 attacks has the commander in chief had so much at stake about national security issues while delivering the Super Bowl of political speeches.

The Russians are waging the largest land war in Europe since World War II, yet the US Congress’ support for the Ukrainians seems to be wavering; the war in Gaza rages on with little immediate prospect of a ceasefire in sight, and the conflict is destabilizing the Middle East more than any event since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Israel’s conduct of the Gaza war is also alienating a swath of President Joe Biden’s base. Meanwhile, at the border, a record number of immigrants are arriving, which is now the top issue for voters in the 2024 presidential election, according to Gallup.

In his State of the Union speech, Biden had to answer the mail on all of these. So, how’d he do?

Biden gave a very clear defense of his Ukraine policy, that the US should provide the aid and weapons to the Ukrainians to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion and he called out former President Donald Trump—without mentioning him by name—who has opposed sending tens of billions of dollars of additional aid to Ukraine.

Biden also weighed in on the crisis at the southern border noting that there was a bipartisan deal on the table in recent weeks in the U.S. Senate that would have sped up rulings on asylum claims, beefed up law enforcement resources at the border and would have discouraged some migrants from coming to the country. Biden swiped at Trump for dissuading members of Congress from passing the deal to keep the political issue alive for him to use in the 2024 campaign.

And Biden made his clearest public stance so far on behalf of Gazans, saying “More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed. Most of who are not Hamas. Thousands and thousands are innocent women and children.”

All in all, Biden gave a strong performative speech, and on the crucial national security issues he needed to address—Ukraine, Gaza and the border—he did a more than creditable job.

Note: This post first appeared on CNN.

We Need Bolder Ideas to Strengthen Democracy

Oscar Pocasangre, Senior Data Analyst, Political Reform

President Biden’s State of the Union started off with a vigorous defense of democracy. He summarized one of democracy’s core norms—the losers’ consent—when he said, “You can’t love your country only when you win.” Unfortunately, the electoral rules in the U.S. are not set up for people to do that.

Winner-take-all elections in a time of extreme partisan polarization make it extremely painful to lose an election as losing candidates are completely shut out of power. As the stakes of elections keep getting higher, candidates are incentivized to resort to extreme, often non-democratic behavior in attempts to secure electoral wins.

President Biden should encourage Congress to revisit how it elects its members. A switch to proportional representation—where a party’s vote share roughly translates to its share of seats—would reduce the cost of not coming in first in an election, in addition to providing more voices and choices in elections. As I recently wrote in The Thread, “If democracy is a system where parties are willing to lose elections because they know they have a chance of winning in the next election, then a proportional system in which coming in second place does not shut a party out of power may be better suited at keeping everyone playing the democratic game.”

Reforming the electoral system to be more proportional is one of those bold ideas President Biden called for at the end of his speech that can help move the country into a more democratic future.

The President Covered Issues Critical to Ensuring Tech Benefits All Americans

Prem Trivedi, Policy Director, Open Technology Institute

During a crucial election year address, President Biden mentioned issues at the heart of ensuring that established and emerging technologies promote security, safeguard democracy and human rights, and further economic well-being.

The president spotlighted the urgent need for “affordable high-speed Internet for every American.” But he stopped short of urging Congress to extend the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a vital program that will soon run out of funding. Broadband is essential to an equitable future in which all Americans can, as the president noted, “harness the promise” of artificial intelligence (AI).

Strong consumer protections should be at the core of U.S. technology policy, and that’s why New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) commends the president for his welcome attention to unnecessary hidden fees—also known as “junk fees”—that can show up in places like bills from internet service providers.

Strong privacy laws also protect consumers, strengthen democracy, and keep everyone more safe online—and President Biden rightly pointed out that bipartisan federal privacy legislation is key to keeping children safe.

Privacy protections are also central to governing artificial intelligence. OTI welcomed President Biden mentioning the “perils” that AI may exacerbate, which include manipulated media, disinformation, bias, and discrimination. Recognizing the challenges of AI is key to crafting AI legislation that balances innovation and protects people’s rights through fairness and algorithmic accountability mechanisms.

Over the coming year, OTI looks forward to continuing to work with the Biden administration, Congress, civil society, and industry to ensure that all Americans have equitable access to technology and its benefits.

Investing in Secure and Trustworthy Digital Public Infrastructure

Silvana Rodriguez, Senior Fellow, and Allison Price, Senior Advisor, Digital Impact and Governance Initiative

Modernizing our physical infrastructure is worthy of public investment, but so are much needed upgrades to our digital infrastructure. As America looks to the future, two things are clear: effective democracies must show they can deliver for their people, and data-powered technology is a critical component of our daily lives that is here to stay.

President Biden hit on many of the essential pieces necessary to modernize our future with the support of digital tools—child safety, public health, education, and jobs training, to name just a few. He rightly placed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law at the center of a strategic vision, touting plans to extend high speed internet access to every American.

In addition to expanding connectivity, the administration could leverage this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build and invest in America’s digital public infrastructure (DPI)—to ensure that the foundational digital rails that help us run businesses, access public services, and go about every facet of our lives are safe and accessible by everyone in society. By working together to provide the rights-respecting architecture that facilitates identity verification, digital payments, data exchange, and other functions on which anyone can build digital products and services, leaving behind no communities, we can nurture greater trust in our government and our society.

DPI should be part of America’s comeback story, because our strength rests in being innovative, inclusive, and future-thinking. The decisions we make about our digital systems today will have long-term implications for the health, prosperity, and resiliency of our country.

Imagining a Country That Works For All Families

Tara McGuinness, Founder and Executive Director, New Practice Lab; and Vicki Shabo, Senior Fellow for Gender Equity, Paid Leave & Care Policy and Strategy, Better Life Lab

Last night, President Biden in his 2024 State of the Union imagined exactly what we would want to see for families: a country in which the wealthiest pay their fair share in taxes enabling investments in families through affordable childcare, living wages, paid leave, pre-K, eldercare, healthcare, and housing.

We too imagine that no one should have to choose between helping those they love through an illness and working. We too imagine that care workers and family caregivers get the pay and support they deserve. This isn’t an impossible dream. In small ways we have taken steps forward: 13 states plus the District of Columbia have passed paid leave, all 50 states made investments through the American Rescue Plan to raise care wages, and over a dozen states expanded their investments in tax credits for families.

While there is much more work to be done, we no longer have to dream that families can have the support they need to thrive.

Ensuring Access to High-quality Early Care and Education

Aaron Loewenberg, Senior Policy Analyst, Early & Elementary Education

In an animated speech that made clear just how high the stakes are in the upcoming election, President Biden reaffirmed his support for increasing access to preschool, ensuring families have access to affordable child care, and restoring the Child Tax Credit expansion.

If his support for these pro-family policies was limited to a few words uttered during a speech it would be merely symbolic. But the president has repeatedly backed up his words with concrete policies that have tangible benefits for young children and their families. Less than a year ago, he signed an executive order that represents the most comprehensive set of executive actions any president has taken to improve the country’s care infrastructure.

And, just last week, Vice President Harris followed up on that order by announcing actions that will lower child care costs for more than 100,000 families with low incomes while improving the financial stability of child care providers. These policies are not just words read aloud during a speech; they’re concrete actions that will have significant and positive impacts for families with young children who need all the help they can get. We look forward to continuing to work with the administration and Congress on continued efforts to ensure all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable early education.

A Nod to Youth Apprenticeship

Morgan Polk, Senior Policy Analyst, Center on Education & Labor; and Taylor White, Director, Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship & Postsecondary Pathways for Youth

President Biden highlighted the importance of strengthening connections between high schools and local businesses so students can earn valuable work experience on their way to college and careers, a nod to recent investments and policy activity in support of career pathways opportunities, including youth apprenticeship. At New America, the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) initiative works towards this goal, supporting states and cities in their efforts to expand access to high-quality apprenticeship opportunities for high school age youth. We believe that youth apprenticeship programs are key to creating a more inclusive economy, and have supported over 65 place-based partnerships to do this work across the country.

Biden’s remarks come on the heels of the Administration's latest executive order expanding Registered Apprenticeship, as well as more than $200M in new investments from the U.S. Department of Labor. Apprenticeship seems poised to continue to be an unusually bipartisan topic in Washington for the year ahead.