U.S. President Joe Biden will face Republicans who question his legitimacy and a public concerned about the country’s direction in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech that is expected to serve as a blueprint for a 2024 re-election bid.
In his first address to a joint session of Congress since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, Biden is expected to explain how he is trying to reshape the post-pandemic economy, highlight massive infrastructure and inflation bills passed in 2022, and stress that a bitterly-divided Congress can still make laws in the year ahead.
“I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs… what I’m looking forward to working on from this point on, what we’ve done,” Biden told reporters on Monday after returning from presidential retreat Camp David, where he spent the weekend working on the speech.
Biden’s public approval rating edged one percentage point higher to 41% in a Reuters/Ipsos poll that closed on Sunday. That is close to the lowest level of his presidency, with 65% of Americans saying they believe the country is on the wrong track, compared to 58% a year earlier.
In the prime-time speech, Biden will call on Congress to deepen “historic bipartisan achievements” taken last year on a “unity agenda” focused on advancing cancer research, supporting veterans and reducing their high rates of suicide, expanding mental health services overall, and beating the “opioid and overdose epidemic,” the White House said.
Reforms in policing will loom large in Biden’s speech after the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man fatally beaten by officers in Memphis, Tennessee last month, with his mother and stepfather to be guests of first lady Jill Biden.
The president will again call for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill named for a Black man killed under the knee of a white police officer in 2020.
He will also insist that Congress vote to require background checks for all gun sales, require safe storage of firearms and ban assault weapons, the White House said, although the prospects for such legislation remain slim. Biden will recognize another guest, Brandon Tsay, who was hailed as a hero after he disarmed a gunman who shot dead 11 people in Monterey Park, California last month.
He will also run through a wish list of economic proposals, many of which are unlikely to be passed through Congress, the White House said. They include a minimum tax for billionaires, and a quadrupling of the tax on corporate stock buybacks.
On foreign policy, Biden is expected to highlight the U.S.-led response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the strength of the NATO alliance and tensions between the United States and China, recently spotlighted by a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by the U.S. military this week.
Biden aides describe the speech, which will draw millions of viewers and perhaps the president’s largest television audience of the year, as a milestone ahead of the second presidential campaign he is expected to launch in coming weeks.
Biden turned 80 in November and, if re-elected, would be 82 at the start of a second term, a fact that concerns many Democratic voters, recent polls show.
Another area he will ask Congress to work together on is to toughen regulations on the technology sector – including what the administration perceives as a need for stronger privacy protections, one aide said.
NOT NEGOTIATING ON DEBT .
Biden will face a rambunctious and splintered gathering of Republican lawmakers, eager to put their conservative mark on U.S. policy following four years of Democratic control of the House.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy will sit behind Biden for the address for the first time. The two are at loggerheads over the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, which must raised in the coming months to avoid a default.
Some House Republican lawmakers have questioned Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential race against former President Donald Trump and have indicated they plan to investigate his Cabinet and family. But with a razor-thin majority and intraparty divisions, Republicans had a difficult time electing a speaker and are expected to continue to struggle to unite their far-right and more moderate members on legislation.
Biden will insist during his speech that raising the debt limit is not negotiable and should not be used as a “bargaining chip” by lawmakers, National Economic Council director Brian Deese said Monday.
McCarthy on Monday called on Biden to agree to compromises and spending cuts, adding that “finding compromise is exactly how governing in America is supposed to work and exactly what the American people voted for.”
While the U.S. economy continues to outperform expectations, faith in Biden is undermined by entrenched political divisions, high prices and concerns over his age, polls show.
Just four in 10 Americans say the state of the union is strong, according to a Monmouth University poll published this week, in which many respondents blamed Washington’s problems on a lack of compromise.
Biden’s senior aides plan to use the speech to build an argument that Biden’s policies have helped to stabilize the U.S. economy following the COVID-19 pandemic and are the way to go to bring down inflation and boost good-paying jobs.
Biden plans to explain how his strategies “makes a clear contrast to the trickle-down economic philosophy that has pervaded thinking for years and decades in the past,” Deese said.