President Joe Biden on Tuesday evening will deliver his first State of the Union address amid a series of geopolitical and domestic crises that threaten his presidency: a stalled legislative agenda, rising inflation, declining public support and an escalating war in Ukraine.
Biden will focus much of the speech on the economy, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the address. He will outline what the White House identifies as its recent accomplishments in job creation and recovery, as well as how the president hopes to further combat rising prices.
The president, who is scheduled to begin delivering his remarks at 9 p.m. Eastern time, is also sure to tout his historic nomination last week of federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
Presidents have typically used the address to tout domestic priorities and accomplishments with a mere nod to international issues. But as the crisis in Ukraine escalates — with images of Ukrainians battling Russian aggressors blasting around social media — Biden will be unable to do so this year.
“There’s no question that this speech is a little different than it would have been just a few months ago,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. Every State of the Union speech, she said, “reflects a moment in time.”
Biden is expected in his speech to lay out the United States’ global leadership position, spelling out the efforts of the U.S. and its allies to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop his nation’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, one that has posed the most dire threat to European security in decades.
The speech comes as Biden is hoping for a reset, particularly when it concerns the economy.
An NPR/PBS “NewsHour” poll released Friday found that only 36% of respondents agreed with how Biden is handling the economy and 39% approved of his overall job performance. Inflation was the top concern cited.
To that end, the president plans to announce a new effort that officials say will help boost the economy by seeking to promote more competition in the ocean shipping market, one dominated by just three global alliances.
He also plans to reiterate support for pieces of a massive spending bill, once known as “Build Back Better,” that was killed in December by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., a moderate concerned over the measure’s proposed cost.
Administration officials said Biden would ask Congress to send him legislation that includes the effort’s proposals to reduce prescription drug costs, expand child care, tackle climate change and reduce the deficit. It is not clear how Biden will convince Manchin to get on board with such proposals.
Biden is unlikely to refer to the plan — which he once said would define his presidency — by its old moniker.
“It’s not about the name of the bill,” a senior administration official said. “It’s about the ideas. It’s about lowering costs for families.”
The president will have to walk a tightrope on the COVID-19 pandemic. He plans to talk about the toll the pandemic has taken on nursing homes and announce new steps to improve the working conditions in those facilities. The administration has framed the proposal as an economic initiative.
Yet, while eager to show progress amid declining case numbers and hospitalizations, Biden must be careful not to declare early victory on a virus with a history of new variants. He made that mistake in July, just before delta and omicron battered the U.S. and the world. The administration is also aware that many parents of children still too young to be vaccinated have not been convinced to put down their guard, hampering a return to normalcy.
Biden will give the address at the Capitol amid tighter physical security but fewer COVID-19 precautions.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said a fence — similar to the one installed after last year’s breach — was going back up out of an abundance of caution.
On Monday, Congress’ attending physician lifted a mask requirement on Capitol Hill, a move that many Republicans have been demanding for months. While the vast majority of House Democrats have been wearing masks around the Capitol in recent weeks, most Republicans wear them only when they enter the House chamber.
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