Laura Clawson: “A loose, masterful President Joe Biden gave a surprisingly entertaining State of the Union address Tuesday night, and never more so than when he was directly engaging with Republicans. After an early dig at Republicans who vote against infrastructure spending only to ask for projects in their district—“We’ll fund your projects. And I’ll see you at the ground-breaking,” he said—Biden really went for it on the debt ceiling and, in particular, Republican plans to hold Social Security and Medicare hostage to raise the debt ceiling.
Biden started by detailing how we got to this point on the debt ceiling—how the national debt rose under his predecessor while Congress voted three times to increase the debt limit. “Tonight, I’m asking this Congress to follow suit,” Biden said. “Let us commit here tonight that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will never, ever be questioned.”
And he was clear about why that’s a question mark right now: “Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage—I get it—unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what those plans are. Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” Biden said, accurately. “I’m not saying it’s a majority—“
Republicans did not like hearing this truth, and loud booing broke out, and Biden went way off script, inviting them to contact his office for copies of the specific Republican plans to do just that. “I’m glad to see, I’m telling you, I enjoy conversion. You know, it means if Congress doesn’t keep the programs the way they are, they go away. Other Republicans say—I’m not saying it’s a majority of you, I’m not even saying it’s a significant number, but it’s being proposed by individuals. I’m politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some.”
And then he reeled them in. “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books, right?” Cheering broke out.
“We’ve got unanimity,” Biden cheered, beaming, and returned to the script for a minute.”
A CNN flash poll of the State of the Union found 72% of viewers had a positive reaction to President Biden’s speech.
Key takeaway: 71% of speech watchers said Biden’s policies will move the country in right direction — up 19 percentage points from before his speech.
Josh Marshall: “The first part of Biden’s speech was unity, unity, unity. How we “came together,” essentially thanking the whole Congress and explicitly Republicans too for helping him accomplish all the things he got done in the first two years of his presidency.
As I said when it was happening, it’s always important to remember that these statements are aimed not at the members in the hall but at an audience at home. I don’t want to say it wasn’t sincere but it amounted to a set up. Biden then pivoted toward a series of unobjectionable or provable claims that set congressional Republicans to a series of catcalls, boos, jeers and more. The CSPAN video captured more ugliness than the networks did in real time. We’ll be seeing more of those clips. He lead them into a trap which they could only spring on themselves and they did so to a tee. I don’t know how else to describe it. He brutalized them in a bear hug of bipartisanship. He thanked them for their moment conversion and agreement not to cut Social Security.
Biden got energy from the angry and unhinged responses. Kevin McCarthy spent the second half of the speech trying to shush his members, the same feral radicals who tortured him for a week last month. The whole tableau spoke more than a thousand words.
It was beautiful.
The second standout was all in the moment – perhaps planned but still un-rehearsable. They jeered and screamed; he engaged. They went toe to toe: Biden smiling and Republicans snarling. He was enjoying himself, clearly drawing energy from the verbal fisticuffs. The best and most powerful parts of the speech were Biden’s ad-libs in response to feral Republican antics. He showed in an effortless and natural way quite the opposite of what many see as his achilles’ heel, the sense — not limited to Republicans — that he lacks vigor, is tired, simply too old for the job. Perhaps he is. But not tonight. As writing teachers say, show, don’t tell. And he did.”
President Joe Biden said the word “abortion” exactly once during the State of the Union Tuesday, the first since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Democrats have made abortion rights a key issue since the nationwide right to the procedure was rolled back last summer. Abortion rights helped deliver the party historic wins during the 2022 midterms elections. But during his speech, Biden took almost an hour to mention the fight for abortion rights. And when he did, he spent four sentences on the topic, using the actual word “abortion” only once.
Punchbowl News: “It was, to say the least, an unusual SOTU speech, even shocking at points, yet also a mostly effective one for the president. The focus was very heavy on domestic issues and there was little discussion of foreign policy.”
“Despite being warned by Republican leaders to behave themselves, there were constant jeers, boos and interjections from rank-and-file GOP lawmakers in the audience.”
“Yet Biden – who has more than 50 years in politics – rolled with it. At one point, Biden had a sort of call-and-response exchange with Republicans over preserving Social Security and Medicare. Biden sarcastically agreed with them that the hugely popular programs are off the table in any budget talks.”
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is planning a “rapid response operation” to respond to President Biden’s State of the Union address in real-time, the New York Times reports.
Trump also plans to release his own video response immediately after Biden’s speech.
Dan Pfeiffer: “Last year, 38 million people tuned in to watch President Biden deliver his constitutionally mandated report on the state of the union. A similar number will watch tonight’s speech. Absent a major national event on par with the Space Shuttle Challenger crash or the operation to take out Osama Bin Laden, the audience tonight will be more than ten times larger than that of any other speech Biden will give this year. The speech will also receive a ton of press attention. It has already been the subject of approximately one million thumb-sucking think pieces. The State of the Union really is a tradition like no other.”
“The State of the Union is also a weird speech. It’s a grand venue with a big audience in the room and across the nation. Even the least presidential Presidents look somewhat presidential giving the speech. In many ways, the State of the Union is a high-floor, low-ceiling speech. It’s hard to screw up, but it’s also hard to soar. The history, the moment, and the setting can be very restrictive.”
U.S. officials have offered to brief the Gang of Eight on their investigation into the classified documents found at Donald Trump’s Florida residence as well as President Biden’s Delaware home and former private office, the AP reports.
Wall Street Journal: “The discovery of classified documents from Joe Biden’s vice presidency at a foreign-relations think tank might have surprised many in the country. The fact that the think tank was run by the University of Pennsylvania and bore the president’s name shouldn’t have.”
“For decades, the Ivy League school and the Biden family, across generations, have fostered close relations to their mutual benefit. Those benefits extend beyond the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, where the documents were discovered in November.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has been subject of a Justice Department investigation for sex trafficking, is now serving on subcommittee investigating the “weaponization” of the federal government, including ongoing criminal investigations, CNN reports.
Gaetz switched onto the panel in place of Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who said the change was for a “variety of good reasons.”
“Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, one of the relatively few high-profile Trump administration officials who bolstered their careers through the experience, will step into the national spotlight again on Tuesday night when she delivers the Republican response to President Biden’s State of the Union address,” the New York Times reports.
“Ms. Sanders was still editing her address on Tuesday morning, but a spokeswoman said the speech would lean into the contrast in age between Ms. Sanders, who at 40 is the nation’s youngest governor, and Mr. Biden, 80, who in 2021 became the oldest president to be sworn into the office.”
“Sarah Huckabee’s State of the Union response Tuesday night will mark the payoff of an extraordinary bet that many Republicans took in 2016 — that they could hitch themselves to Donald Trump, accumulate power in the process and, ultimately, outlive the most unsavory parts of the association,” Politico reports.
“It hasn’t always worked. In competitive states and districts, several of Trump’s chosen candidates flopped in the midterms. And there’s a whole fraternity of Trump allies — people like Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone and Steve Bannon — who have found themselves embroiled in legal and political scandal.”
“But among those who did prosper, Sanders ranks among the richest. The former press secretary is now the governor of Arkansas, having leapfrogged dues-paying politicians who would have, in another era, been frontrunners for the post. And on Tuesday night, she will be bracketing Biden on behalf of the Republican Party — a massive responsibility for the most watched political address of the year.”
U.S. Navy sailors recovered the remains of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina after it was shot down.
“A US military intelligence report from last year that focused on China’s use of high-altitude balloons mentioned sightings in Hawaii and Florida during the Trump presidency,” CNN reports.
“The Air Force intelligence report is the first indication that the US military was aware of Chinese spy balloons well before the latest incident.”
“Alleged Chinese spy balloons were spotted on several occasions during President Donald Trump’s administration, including three instances where they traveled near sensitive US military facilities and training areas,” Bloomberg reports.
“The balloons were spotted near Texas, Florida and Hawaii, as well as the Pacific Ocean island of Guam, where the US has naval and air force bases – according to the people who requested anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The balloons also flew near Norfolk, Virginia, and Coronado, California – two ports where the US stations its prized aircraft carriers.”
“House GOP leaders are moving ahead with plans to pass a symbolic measure this week condemning a Chinese surveillance balloon. And it may even be bipartisan,” Politico reports.
“Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his deputies were in talks Monday with top Democrats about a bipartisan resolution to denounce the spy balloon that drifted across much of the nation last week.”
China said Tuesday it will “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests” over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon by the United States, as relations between the two countries deteriorate further, the AP reports.
Financial Times: “If the aircraft was a surveillance operation, it would raise serious concerns about decision-making at the top of China’s policy apparatus just as Xi prepares to begin his precedent-breaking third term as president. Backed by a new slate of loyalists, Xi’s elevation at the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament next month will cement his status as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.”
“The Biden administration said Chinese surveillance balloons had transited the US on only a handful of occasions over the past six years, suggesting that last week’s alleged spy mission was either approved by Xi despite the risks or was a relatively rare operation that he was unaware of, an unsettling prospect for both Washington and Beijing.”
“The U.S. military has notified Congress that China now has more land-based intercontinental-range missile launchers than the U.S., fueling the debate about how Washington should respond to Beijing’s nuclear buildup,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Rep. George Santos (R-NY) brushed off Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s confirmation that the House Ethics Committee is looking into his many lies and questionable campaign finances, telling CNN he’s “not concerned.”
“Santos, who continues to claim his mother was in downtown Manhattan on 9/11 despite immigration documents indicating she wasn’t even in the United States, has invited a former ground zero volunteer firefighter to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday,” ABC News reports.
Santos doubled down on claims that his mother died due to 9/11 and dismissed immigration records showing that she was in Brazil when the attack occurred, Insider reports.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) told Rep. George Santos (R-NY): “You don’t belong here,” according to a member who witnessed the tense exchange in the House of Representatives chamber Tuesday night, CNN reports.
Said Boebert: “Joe Biden’s president. We don’t know what to do, Lord! It’s all right, we pray for our presidents. You know, it says, ‘Let his days be few and another take his office.’”
The audience was heard laughing after the remark.
“Tankers in Iran’s ‘ghost fleet’ have switched to carrying Russian oil since western curbs on Moscow intensified in December, as the Kremlin turned to sanctions-busting techniques pioneered by Tehran,” the Financial Times reports.
“At least 16 vessels that formed part of the ‘ghost’ network that allowed Iran to breach U.S. sanctions have begun to ship Russian crude oil over the past two months.”
“As Russia makes slow, bloody gains in a renewed push to capture more of eastern Ukraine, it is pouring ever more conscripts and military supplies into the battle, Ukrainian officials say, although it remains far from clear that Moscow could mobilize enough forces to sustain a prolonged offensive,” the New York Times reports.
“The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday that Russian forces were attacking in five different directions along the crescent-shaped front line in the east, relying on masses of troops to try to overrun Ukrainian positions. The tactic has allowed Russia to make incremental gains in recent weeks and to slowly tighten a noose around the key Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, but at a cost of hundreds of dead and wounded soldiers each day.”
Washington Post: GOP base warms to giving Russia some of Ukraine’s territory.
“Ukraine’s battle against Russia is consuming ammunition at unprecedented rates, with the country firing more than 5,000 artillery rounds every day — equal to a smaller European country’s orders in an entire year in peacetime,” the Financial Times reports.
“The dramatic shift to a war footing is creating a supply chain crisis in Europe as defence manufacturers struggle to ramp up production to replenish national stockpiles as well as maintain supplies to Ukraine. Nearly a year since Russia’s invasion, the pace of demand for ammunition and explosives is turning into a test of Europe’s industrial production capacity in a race to re-arm.”
“President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine could visit Brussels on Thursday to meet with European Union leaders arriving in the Belgian capital for a long-planned summit,” the New York Times reports.
“As part of such a visit, Mr. Zelensky would likely address the European Parliament on Thursday.”
President Biden is expected to travel to Poland this month to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NBC News reports.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), a key moderate in the House, told the Washington Post that he’s open to a discharge petition to force a debt ceiling increase to the House floor — but not a clean increase.
Said Bacon: “We’re willing to do a discharge petition if there’s a good-faith effort by Biden to compromise and to come up with a good solution.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. government risks “economic and financial catastrophe” if the House fails to pass a bill to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, CNBC reports.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports President Biden will insist in his State of the Union address that raising the debt limit of the United States is not negotiable and should not be used as “bargaining chip” by lawmakers.
A founding member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen and his girlfriend were hit with federal charges of conspiring to attack the power grid around Baltimore. A third person they were allegedly conspiring with turned out to be an informant for the government who recorded many of their conversations.
“The House Republican investigation into the financial dealings of President Joe Biden’s family risks turning off more voters than it attracts,” Bloomberg reports.
“The Biden-centric investigation led by the Oversight and Accountability Committee kicks off Wednesday morning, just hours after the president delivers his State of the Union address to Congress. At the center of the probe is the contents of the laptop of Biden’s son Hunter — a topic that’s been a far-right preoccupation since 2020.”
“Yet a series of recent polls show the majority of Americans just aren’t that interested in what may or may not be on Hunter Biden’s hard drive.”
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) is calling on lawmakers in the Sooner State to deliver a bill to his desk that “bans all gender-transition surgeries” for minors, Fox News reports.
“A federal judge in Washington, D.C., suggested Monday that there may be a constitutional right to abortion baked into the 13th Amendment — an area she said went unexplored by the Supreme Court in its momentous decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade,” Politico reports.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly “noted that there is some legal scholarship suggesting that the 13th Amendment — which was ratified at the end of the Civil War and sought to ban slavery and ‘involuntary servitude’ — provides just such a right.”
“She is asking the parties in the criminal case, which involves charges of blocking access to abortion clinics, to present arguments by mid-March.”
New York Times: “Each justice typically hires four law clerks per term. The study, which collected data on the 1,426 former clerks in the 40-year period ending in 2020, found that more than two-thirds of them attended just five law schools: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and the University of Chicago…”
“You might think that doing well at one of those law schools and then obtaining a prestigious clerkship with a federal appeals court judge would check the necessary boxes. But it turns out that undergraduate degrees seem to matter, too. Going to college at Harvard, Yale or Princeton — even after controlling for law school grades — gave applicants a significant boost.”
Washington Post: “The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates by 4½ percentage points over the past 11 months, one of its sharpest moves in several decades, in a bid to cool off the economy and ease rising prices.”
“Yet employers continue to hire as if the good times will never end. In January, they added 517,000 jobs — almost twice as many as in December — while the unemployment rate fell to its lowest mark since 1969…”
“This Biden boom certainly is confounding skeptics who have been predicting for months that the Fed’s anti-inflation campaign would trigger an imminent recession. But the economy’s unexpected performance also is testing the ability of policymakers to keep the recovery going.”
Wall Street Journal: “Americans have spent down about 35% of the extra savings they accumulated during the pandemic as of mid-January, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs. By the end of the year, the company forecasts that they will have exhausted roughly 65% of that money.”
Donald Trump and one of his lawyers said they are appealing nearly $1 million in sanctions slapped on them for what a federal judge called their “frivolous” lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and more than two dozen other defendants, CNBC reports.
Mark Pomerantz, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, had drafted a charging document against Donald Trump for “a scheme to create and use false financial statements to obtain bank financing and other business advantages”—but the charges were never officially filed against the former president, the Daily Beast reports.
Slate: “As a baseline matter, the evidence that the former president committed crimes seems powerful. In Cohen’s guilty plea, he stated under penalty of perjury that Trump ‘directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election.’ That testimony is supported by an audio recording in which Cohen and Trump discussed the hush money payment to McDougal and how it could be accomplished surreptitiously through a shell company.”
“Trump has also indicated more than once that he was directly involved in the payments to Clifford, including saying in 2018 that the payments ‘came from me.’ He made a further admission last week on his social media platform, Truth Social, apparently acknowledging that he coordinated with Cohen to make the payments.”
“And all of this is backed up by the Trump Organization’s internal business records, falsely describing the reimbursements to Cohen as ‘legal expenses.’ Trump himself signed six of the repayment checks, including while in the Oval Office.”
“The first major criminal charges that Donald Trump could face for interfering in the 2020 election might come from Atlanta — and what happens in Georgia isn’t expected to stay in Georgia,” Bloomberg reports.
“Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her decision is ‘imminent’ on whether to indict the former president, which would make him the first US president charged with a crime. That decision will have a ripple effect on the Justice Department’s special counsel probe and other investigations circling Trump.”
“If Willis goes first, that case would road-test possible testimony, helping to determine what evidence holds up in court and providing a blueprint for prosecutions involving other battleground states where Trump and his supporters tried to undermine President Joe Biden’s win.”
“Legal experts say nothing stops a US special counsel overseeing the federal Trump probe from pursuing similar charges at the federal level, regardless of what Willis ultimately does.”
“Federal law enforcement officers say they seized 11 guns, a silencer, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, body armor plates and several pounds of a binary explosive from a Springfield man with ties to the Boogaloo extremist anti-government group,” the Springfield News-Leader reports.
“Imagine members strutting around the corridors of Congress in late 2001 with a Boeing 747 lapel pin, or wearing a spiky replica of the coronavirus when New York City’s morgues were overflowing in the spring of 2020. Explain to me how worshiping an AR-15 — when the blood stains are still being scrubbed off a dance studio in Monterey Park, Club Q in Colorado Springs, or a bus in Charlottesville — is any different, really?”