President Joe Biden is ready to offer a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition rather than roll out flashy policy proposals as he delivers his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night seeking to overcome pessimism in the country and concerns about his own leadership.
His speech before a politically divided Congress comes as the nation struggles to make sense of confounding cross-currents at home and abroad — economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China among them — and warily sizes up Biden’s fitness for a likely re-election bid.
The president will stand at the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research.
About three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats do not want Biden to seek another term.
Biden will aim to confront those sentiments head on, aides said, while at the same time trying to avoid sounding insensitive to Americans’ concerns.
Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, said Biden would “acknowledge and meet American people where they are,” adding that their “economic anxiety is real”.
“I think the core message is: We have to make more progress, but people should feel optimism,” he added.
Chapman University presidential historian Luke Nichter said the closest parallel to Biden’s present circumstance may be the 1960s, when global uncertainty met domestic disquiet.
Biden, he said, has an opportunity to be a “calming presence” for the country.
The setting for Biden’s speech will be markedly different than a year ago, when it was Democratic stalwart Nancy Pelosi seated behind him as speaker.
She’s been replaced by GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and it’s unclear what kind of reception restive Republicans will give the Democratic president.
McCarthy on Monday vowed to be “respectful” during the address and said he asked Biden to refrain from using the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans”‘ which he deployed on the campaign trail in 2022.
Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained a national profile as Trump’s press secretary, was set to deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech.
Senior White House adviser Anita Dunn will preview broad themes of Biden’s address to Democratic lawmakers throughout the day on Tuesday, starting 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 toward a balanced budget, which would require deep and politically unpopular reductions in federal spending that Biden and Democrats have vehemently resisted.
U2 star Bono, the 26-year-old who disarmed a gunman in last month’s Monterey Park, California, shooting, and the family of Tyre Nichols will be among the featured guests sitting alongside first lady Jill Biden.
Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, will sit with the first lady and has invited Ruth Cohen, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor from the Washington area, to be his guest, his office said. Emhoff, who is Jewish, has taken a lead role in administration efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
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