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Two new kids in class share their State of the Union first impressions

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address.
Kevin Dietsch
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Getty Images
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address.

Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.


They might be new to school, but they have plenty of insight to offer on Joe Biden's State of the Union address, from the issues raised to the experience of sitting in the chamber for the first time. Also, by school, we mean Congress.

Who are they? Two first-term House representatives from both sides of the aisle.

  • The first Gen Z congressman, Democrat Maxwell Alejandro Frost, of Florida's 10th district.
  • Republican Mike Lawler, from New York's 17th district.
  • What's the big deal? The address was widely viewed as Biden getting ready for another campaign ahead of the 2024 election. But what happens in the House between now and then comes down to those in Congress, like Frost and Lawler. Here are their takeaways.

    On experiencing the State of the Union for the first time

    "It was surreal. I'm used to being in an apartment, listening in with some friends ... The entire thing was surreal. But I will tell you, that the house was definitely bumpin' for the president and in the message that he brought."

    — Maxwell Frost

    "Well, I've watched almost every State of the Union for as long as I've been alive, and it was a wonderful experience on a personal level, and certainly professionally to be there. And all the more special, my wife, an immigrant from Moldova who became a citizen two years ago, was my guest. And so she was able to listen to the President of the United States deliver his State of the Union."

    — Mike Lawler

    On the possibility of bipartisan legislation in the coming months with the current divide between the House and Senate

    "There are smaller bills and packages that I think will be helpful for our people. But in terms of bold, transformational legislation, like we saw the past two years — CHIPS and Science Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, the Safer Communities Act, all these different great bills that were passed — I don't think we're going to see anything that big this Congress, just due to the division and dysfunction that especially is coming out of the Republican majority."

    — Maxwell Frost

    "We're going to need to work together. There is no longer a one-party rule in Washington. So Democrats and Republicans have to come together to work on the big issues that we're dealing with. Whether you're talking about the debt ceiling, whether we're talking about immigration, the problems at our border ... Last night, the president could have really laid out some concrete proposals about how we do that. And I didn't hear that. And I think that was in large part where the missed opportunity was to forge that path forward."

    — Mike Lawler

    On how they think Biden handled the address

    "I mean, I thought what he said was great. We do need to ban assault weapons. I love that he brought someone who is a survivor of gun violence, that because of his heroic actions, resulted in less people dying. But I always ask the question, what's next, right? What's the marker that the president has set down? And I was a little disappointed to not hear him talk about specific actions that he would take ... I know the president really cares about this issue and wants to be a leader on it, and we'll continue to push. But overall, it's just great to hear him champion it, talk about it, and really give that give that bold cry to action where when he said we need to ban assault weapons."

    — Maxwell Frost

    "Throughout the speech, I certainly applauded numerous things that he talked about, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the microchip legislation, addressing fentanyl and the opioid crisis that is plaguing our communities. But to be honest with you, I was a little disappointed. I think the president, both in tone and substance, could have done more to really forge a path forward on bipartisanship and, frankly, address the critical issues that we really can work on together, especially China, who is our greatest geopolitical threat. And in light of what happened last week with the Chinese spy balloon, I think he should have given a lot more time to that during his speech."

    — Mike Lawler

    So, what now?

  • Frost wants to continue working towards gun control, one of his main running points, as well as the popular legislation in the pipeline for curbing entertainment companies and ticketing "junk fees."
  • Lawler wants to remain focused on raising the debt ceiling and curbing spending. He, alongside Mitt Romney, has continued to call for New York representative George Santos to resign, after it was revealed he fabricated large parts of his resume.
  • Read more

  • Read about the legislation mentioned by Frost, as Biden calls for passage of a bill to stop "junk fees" in travel and entertainment
  • Get the scoop on the House response, where Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the choice in the U.S. is "normal or crazy" in GOP response to Biden
  • Here's what went down, when Romney told Santos "you don't belong here" in a tense State of the Union run-in
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.