Biden’s State of the Union address will take into account the state of the nation
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is poised to offer a reassuring assessment of the state of the nation rather than roll out flashy policy proposals as he delivers his second State of the Union address Tuesday night. seeking to overcome pessimism in the country and concerns about its own direction.
His speech to a politically divided Congress comes as the nation struggles to make sense of the confusing cross-currents at home and abroad — economic uncertainty, a grueling war in Ukraine, rising tensions with China among them — and Carefully assesses Biden’s suitability for a likely re-election bid.
The president will stand in the House gallery at a time when only a quarter of American adults say things in the country are moving in the right direction, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats don’t want Biden to seek another term.
He will confront those feelings head-on, his aides say, while trying to avoid appearing insensitive to American concerns.
Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, said Biden would “recognize and meet with Americans where they are,” realizing their “economic anxiety is real.”
“I think the central message is: we need to make more progress, but people need to be optimistic,” he added.
Chapman University presidential historian Luke Nichter said the closest parallel to Biden’s current situation may be the 1960s, when global uncertainty met domestic disquiet. Biden, he said, has the opportunity to be a “calming presence” for the country.
“Usually we look for an agenda: ‘Here’s what he plans to do.’ I don’t know if that’s really realistic,” Nichter said. “I think Americans’ expectations are pretty low in terms of what Congress is actually going to achieve. and tone, and helping Americans feel better about themselves, I think it’s going to go a long way.
The setting for Biden’s speech will be markedly different than a year ago, when it was stalwart Democrat Nancy Pelosi sitting behind him as House Speaker. She was replaced by Republican Kevin McCarthy, and it’s unclear what kind of reception the restless Republicans in the chamber will give the Democratic president.
McCarthy vowed Monday to be “respectful” during his speech and in turn asked Biden to refrain from using the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans,” which the president deployed on the campaign trail in 2022. .
“I won’t tear up the speech, I won’t play games,” McCarthy told reporters, a reference to Pelosi’s dramatic acting after President Donald Trump’s final State of the Union address.
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has gained national profile as Trump’s press secretary, was expected to deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech.
With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the White House and lawmakers from both parties invited guests designed to bring political messages home with their presence in the House chamber. The parents of Tire Nichols, who was badly beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, are among those expected to sit with first lady Jill Biden. Other Biden guests include rock star/humanitarian Bono and the 26-year-old who disarmed a gunman in the Monterey Park, Calif., shooting last month.
Biden is changing his mind after spending his first two years pushing through major bills such as the bipartisan infrastructure package, legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate action. With Republicans now in control of the House, Biden is focused on implementing these massive laws and making sure voters credit the improvements to him.
The shift to promoting new initiatives is largely out of necessity. Biden faces a newly empowered GOP that is eager to undo many of his accomplishments and vows to pursue a slew of investigations — including reviewing recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as vice president at his home and his former office.
At the same time, Biden will have to find a way to work across the aisle to maintain government funding by raising the federal debt ceiling by this summer. Biden has insisted he won’t negotiate honoring the country’s debt obligations; Republicans have been equally adamant that Biden must make concessions on spending.
On the eve of the president’s speech, McCarthy challenged Biden to come to the negotiating table with House Republicans to cut spending as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
As hopes for broad-based bipartisanship dim, Biden was set to reinvigorate his 2022 call for Congress to back his ‘unity agenda’ of actions to tackle the opioid epidemic, health mental health, veterans’ health and the fight against cancer. He was expected to announce new executive initiatives and call on lawmakers to act in support of new measures to support cancer research, address housing needs and suicide among veterans, improve access to health care mental illness and to continue cracking down on the deadly fentanyl trade.
The White House said the president would call for extending the new $35-a-month price cap on insulin for people on Medicare to everyone in the country. He would also push Congress to quadruple the 1% tax on corporate stock buybacks that was signed into law in the Democrats’ climate and health care bill passed last year, known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
The speech comes days after Biden ordered the military to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew brazenly across the country, captivating the nation and serving as a reminder of the strained relationship between the two world powers.
Last year’s address came just days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and many in the West doubted Kyiv’s ability to withstand the onslaught. Over the past year, the United States and other allies have sent tens of billions of dollars in military and economic aid to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Now Biden must advocate — both at home and abroad — to maintain this coalition as the war drags on.
“The president will really want to reinforce what a significant accomplishment has already been accomplished, and then reinforce how much remains to be done, how we commit to doing it, and how we will ask on a bipartisan basis of the US Congress. join us in doing this work,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday.
As COVID-19 has subsided at home, Biden will turn to other national ills, including the deadly opioid epidemic, gun violence and police abuse. A White House fact sheet ahead of the speech linked police reform with reducing violence, suggesting that giving police better training tools could lead to less crime nationwide.
The president spent much of the weekend through Monday reviewing draft speeches with aides at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
Senior White House adviser Anita Dunn will deliver key themes from Biden’s speech to Democratic lawmakers throughout the day Tuesday, beginning with a breakfast with House Democrats on Capitol Hill.
McCarthy called on Biden to embrace the Republican effort to put the nation’s finances on a path to a balanced budget, which would require deep and politically unpopular federal spending cuts that Biden and Democrats have vehemently resisted.
“We need to move toward a balanced budget and insist on real accountability for every dollar we spend,” McCarthy said.
He insisted that cuts to Medicare and Social Security, popular health and retirement programs aimed primarily at older Americans, were “out of place” in any budget negotiations. The GOP leader also said “defaulting on our debt is not an option.”
The White House has insisted that Republicans cannot be trusted to protect the programs and lambasted Republicans for “threatening to actively throw our economy into a tailspin with a default” by putting conditions on the debt limit.
PA Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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