Biden State of the Union To Look Backward, Not Forward

After the speech, Biden and members of his Cabinet plan to hold more than 30 events in two days to drive the messages home.

AP/Patrick Semansky
President Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting on Friday. AP/Patrick Semansky

President Biden will use his second State of the Union address to remind Americans of how he thinks their lives have been improved over his first two years in office, as he tries to confront pessimism in the country and navigate the tricky politics of a newly divided Washington.

Rather than laying out major new policy proposals, Mr. Biden on Tuesday is expected to devote much of his speech to highlighting his efforts over the past two years to create jobs, fight inflation, and improve the nation’s infrastructure. The speech comes as Mr. Biden is honing his pitch to voters ahead of his expected announcement in the next few months that he will seek another term in office despite voter frustrations about the direction of the nation.

“Next week, I’ll be reporting on the state of the Union,” Mr. Biden said Friday after a stronger-than-expected jobs report that saw the unemployment rate drop to the lowest level in more than 53 years. “But today, I’m happy to report that the state of the Union and the state of our economy is strong.”

Mr. Biden’s remarks from the House rostrum will take place in a sharply different context from a year ago. Republicans now control the chamber, rendering it unlikely that any significant legislation reaches Mr. Biden’s desk for the remainder of his term. The newly empowered GOP is itching to undo many of Mr. Biden’s initiatives and is raising the specter of persistent investigations — including into the recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as vice president at his home and former office.

“Jobs are up, wages are up, inflation is down, and Covid no longer controls our lives,” Mr. Biden told the Democratic National Committee on Friday. “But now, the extreme MAGA Republicans in the House of Representatives have made it clear they intend to put it all at risk. They intend to destroy it.”

The president, meanwhile, is shifting his focus from legislating to implementing the massive infrastructure and climate bills passed in the last Congress — and to trying to make sure Americans credit him for the improvements.

“These things don’t sell themselves,” the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, said Sunday on NBC. “And it’s one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to that State of the Union address. I will say that there have been so many accomplishments under this administration. It can be difficult to list them in a distilled way.”

While large-scale bipartisanship remains unlikely, Mr. Biden was set to reissue his 2022 appeal for Congress to get behind his “unity agenda” of actions to address the opioid epidemic, mental health, veterans’ health, and cancer.

Mr. Biden will also call on lawmakers to responsibly raise the debt limit and keep the government funded. The president has remained opposed to negotiating to avoid default, while Republicans are pushing for unspecified deep spending cuts to reduce the deficit.

Mr. Biden, according to two administration officials who requested anonymity to preview the speech, was also expected to discuss his decision to shoot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon Saturday, as part of a broader section on countering China’s more assertive economic and military actions around the world.

His address last year came just days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and many in the West doubted Kyiv’s ability to avoid a swift routing. Now the war is on the cusp of entering its second year, and under Mr. Biden the United States and its allies have sent tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Now the president must make the case — both at home and abroad — for sustaining that coalition as the war drags on.

Meanwhile, inflation, which rose precipitously last year in part because of soaring energy prices from the war and the administration’s massive Covid relief programs, has begun to ease.

Still, only a quarter of American adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research; about three-quarters say things are on the wrong track.

Similarly, views of the national economy remain deeply negative, with 24 percent calling the national economy good and 76 percent calling it poor. Forty-one percent of Democrats and 8 percent of Republicans call the economy good. The figures are similar to when Mr. Biden delivered his State of the Union address last year, but an adjustment from Mr. Biden’s first year in office, when Americans were more optimistic; about half said they thought the country was headed in the right direction when the president took office.

At the same time, 57 percent say their personal financial situation is good. That’s unchanged since December, but has eroded slightly since earlier last year. No less than 62 percent of Americans had called their personal financial situation good in AP-NORC polls conducted from late 2019 through spring of 2022.

Two years after the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, a protective fence was reinstalled Sunday around the Capitol ahead of Mr. Biden’s address.

After the speech, Mr. Biden, Vice President Harris, and his Cabinet plan to hold more than 30 events in two days to drive the message home to the American people in their communities. Mr. Biden will visit Wisconsin to discuss job creation on Wednesday and on Thursday will be in Tampa, Florida, to talk about his efforts to lower prescription drug costs and protect Social Security and Medicare.

“During the State of the Union, President Biden will outline how the past two years have seen historic job growth, falling inflation, higher wages, and record investments coming back to America,” the White House said. “The economic travel blitz showcases how the president’s vision is creating jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, lowering costs for families, tackling climate change, investing in our future and delivering for families too often left behind.”

The travel follows Biden’s stops last week in Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia focused on rail and water infrastructure projects funded by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

The New York Sun

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