One question that always carries with it a frisson of unease during big presidential addresses: On a scale of 1 to Lauren Boebert, how disrespectfully will members of the opposing party behave? Normally, the out party is content to express its disagreement by withholding applause — or vaguely grumbling. But you never know when someone will go big, as when Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, shrieked “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a September 2009 speech before a joint session of Congress. Or last year, when Ms. Boebert, the pride of Colorado, interrupted a somber part of Mr. Biden’s SOTU to holler something about him putting service members in coffins. (Stay classy, Lauren!)
Of course, when it comes to throwing low-key SOTU shade, it would be tough to top Nancy Pelosi’s condescending opera clap at President Donald Trump in 2019, not to mention her ripping up a copy of his speech in 2020. (The former speaker really, really doesn’t like “whatshisname,” as she delights in calling him.)
This time, anything feels possible. Tuesday will be Mr. Biden’s first appearance before the Republican-controlled House, and with MAGA wing nuts dominating the conference. Will the chaos monkeys be on their best behavior, or will the compulsion to act out prove overwhelming? Notably, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has been engaged in a brand makeover of late, dialing down the crazy and snuggling up to leadership in an effort to sell herself as an intraconference bridge builder. This new stab at quasi respectability could have her playing nicer than usual, if for no other reason than to avoid embarrassing her new BFF, Mr. McCarthy. Alternatively, Mr. Biden could be lucky to make it through Tuesday night without being spattered in rotten produce — at least metaphorically.
When it comes to the president’s policy wish list portion of the speech, there’s no point sweating the details, especially this year. House Republicans have made clear that they plan to spend their time in power investigating everything from Mr. Biden’s foreign policy decisions to his grade school report cards. So even pressing legislative matters with bipartisan appeal will likely languish.
Even so, the president needs to lay out his vision. He is expected to make clear his re-election intentions very soon, and the SOTU is seen by many as an early pitch for a second term. Mr. Biden will likely walk people through some of his prouder achievements thus far, on issues from infrastructure to climate change to gun safety. This is also his moment to give his take on a host of hot-button issues such as inflation, the debt ceiling, gun violence, the war in Ukraine and police reform. (Among the event’s invited guests are the parents of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis man whose death after a brutal beating by the police has horrified the nation.)