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Former senator talks economic anxiety, State of the Union, geopolitical pressures

Former Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) joins Yahoo Finance Live to highlight what topics President Biden is expected to address in tonight's State of the Union speech, including economic uncertainties, calls for bipartisan unity, and international relations tied to the recent Chinese spy balloon incident.

Video Transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: All right, tonight's State of the Union address is expected to lean heavily on the economy. The president sure to boast of robust January job creation and unemployment at a 50-plus year low. Former US Senator Byron Dorgan joins us now with what to expect tonight.

Senator, nice to have you. A "Washington Post" poll found 41% of Americans say they're worse off financially. That's the most ever recorded. How does the president make his case on the economy, given that?

BYRON DORGAN: Well, he can make the case. There's some good things out there. Now, I don't quite understand the 41%, but, you know, I saw that in the "Washington Post" as well. The president, he has the moment and the attention of the American people at this point in the State of the Union address-- all presidents do.

I've sat through 29 of the 30 when I was there and five presidents, and they all have their case to make. And the question is, where have we been? What have we done? And what next? And the president will talk about all of that. He'll talk about the strength in the economy.

The economy seems fairly strong, jobs are increasing, wages are up a bit, inflation seems to be coming down a bit. And it's also the case that the president will be able to report to some changes-- the CHIPS Act, which is a big, big deal, the Inflation Reduction Act that was passed, the infrastructure bill that was passed-- all of which can be very significant for this country's economic future as well.

SEANA SMITH: Well, Senator, there certainly are a number of wins, a number of things that the president should be proud of and is proud of during his first two years in office. But that approval rating is a massive issue when we look ahead to 2024. Some additional things that we're expected to hear from the president tonight is calls for the billionaires tax, also a much larger tax on share buybacks. When we're talking about getting that approval rating up, how do you think those two initiatives or calls are going to be received?

BYRON DORGAN: Well, I don't know. Obviously, Democrats will probably receive them fairly well. But the president will also, I think, in addition to some of those suggestions, he's going to talk about climate a bit. He's going to talk about the Ukraine. He's going to talk about Chinese spy balloons and so on.

In addition to that, he's also going to suggest that it's very important for the country at this point in time for the president and the members of congress to reach out and work together. Because he's going to try to do that. I don't know-- it's a divided government. The House and the Senate are split. And so we'll see what happens. But I think the country is best served by both parties caring more about their country than their political party.

DAVE BRIGGS: That would be nice. I hate to laugh, but it's been a while. I want to go back to Reagan, Clinton, Obama, even Trump-- what they did more than anything else, aside from their achievements, is sell those achievements. Does the Biden administration have a problem in how they sell their achievements?

BYRON DORGAN: Actually, they've been pretty successful in selling a fair amount of it. But you talk about the 41%-- I understand that. The fact is approval ratings are pretty hard to come by these days. There's a lot going on in the world. It's a complicated world and a difficult place.

And there's so much happening on supply chains. You've got wars and you've got the issue with Russia and the Ukraine. You've got a massive earthquake that kills thousands yesterday. So there's just a lot happening in the world.

And the president will come to the chamber today and tonight and he'll make his case. And he'll have the attention of the American people. They don't get that very often. But in the State of the Union address, they do.

And he'll make the case. And he will describe what has happened and hopefully he will sell how he believes the future should be. And then we go from there.

SEANA SMITH: Senator, you mentioned the fact that he's going to be focused on bringing both sides of the aisle together, something that we haven't seen happen now in quite some time. Putting the ball in your court here, one thing that you think both Democrats and Republicans can agree on within the next year or two.

BYRON DORGAN: Well, I don't know what they can agree on but I know what I hope they would agree on. The fact is both political parties have a responsibility to deal with immigration and deal with it effectively. Neither wants to touch it very much. Each blame the other.

But immigration is going to require both political parties to try to deal with it and get it right. There's a lot this country can do and should do if people work together. And I hope that would be the case in congress.

And let me just mention one other thing if I can-- at the State of the Union, it's always a great moment to be there. I was a designated survivor one year. That's why I wasn't there one of the years. And they have designated survivors from the House and the Senate and one from the cabinet.

But the first person-- I was thinking back in 1982 when Ronald Reagan was there and a guy named Lenny Skudnik was the first person to join the first lady up in the chamber, sitting in the first lady's box-- and he was a man who a month earlier was a hero, jumped off a-- the Washington Bridge when Air Florida crashed, and he went down and pulled a drowning woman from the water.

And Ronald Reagan recognized him as a hero. And since that time, of course, there have been a lot of people sitting with the first lady in the first lady's box with other presidents as well.

DAVE BRIGGS: Right. Great stuff. I hope you got a t-shirt that says, designated survivor. Quickly, that satellite balloon from the Chinese that we shot down-- how's that forcing a last minute rewrite?

BYRON DORGAN: It's what-- I didn't get the last part.

DAVE BRIGGS: The Chinese spy balloon, how might that force the administration to do a bit of a rewrite on the speech?

BYRON DORGAN: Well, they're going to have to-- I don't know whether they will rewrite what happened. I mean, there's a discussion about what happened and when it happened, but I think he's going to send a message to China. And that message will come in the way he describes it tonight at the State of the Union. And we'll see.

I mean, there's so much going on that's troublesome, and interesting, and difficult, and challenging. The Ukraine-Russia issue is also very significant. But this balloon that floats across the country with the equivalent of three school buses on it, I mean, it's a big deal. And I think the president will have to address it and will address it to China in the State of the Union address.

SEANA SMITH: Well, we will certainly be watching that tonight. Senator Byron Dorgan, thanks so much.

BYRON DORGAN: Thank you. Good to be with you.