US President Joe Biden yesterday was preparing to offer a reassuring assessment of the condition of the US rather than roll out flashy policy proposals as he delivers his second State of the Union address seeking to overcome pessimism in the country and concerns about his own leadership.
His speech before a politically divided US Congress was to be delivered 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.
Just a quarter of US adults said that 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 said that things are on the wrong track and a majority of Democrats do not want Biden to seek another term.
Biden’s aim was 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 that 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,” Deese said.
Luke Nichter, a presidential historian at Chapman University in Orange, California, said that the closest parallel to Biden’s present circumstance might be the 1960s, when global uncertainty met domestic disquiet.
Biden has an opportunity to be a “calming presence” for the country, Nichter said.
“Usually we’re looking for an agenda: ‘Here’s what he plans to do.’ I don’t know that that’s really realistic,” he said. “I think Americans’ expectations are pretty low of what Congress is actually going to achieve. And so I think right now, sentiment and tone, and helping Americans feel better about their circumstances, I think are going to go a long way.”
The setting for Biden’s speech was be markedly different than a year ago, when it was Democratic stalwart Nancy Pelosi seated behind him as speaker of the US Houe of Representives.
She has been replaced by Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and it was unclear what kind of reception restive Republicans would give the Democratic president.
With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the White House and legislators from both parties are inviting guests designed to drive home political messages with their presence in the House chamber.
The parents of Tyre Nichols, who was severely beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, were among those expected to be in the audience.
Biden is shifting his sights after spending his first two years pushing through major bills such as an infrastructure package, a bill to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate legislation.
With Republicans now in control of the House, Biden is turning his focus to implementing the massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements rather than crafting major new initiatives.
It is largely by necessity. Biden faces a newly empowered Republican Party that is itching to undo many of his achievements and vowing to pursue a multitude of investigations — including looking into the recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as vice president at his home and former office.
At the same time, Biden needs to find a way to work across the aisle to raise the federal debt limit by this summer and keep the government funded.
Biden has insisted that he would not negotiate on meeting the country’s debt obligations. Republicans have been equally adamant that Biden must make spending concessions.
One the eve of the president’s address, McCarthy challenged Biden to come to the negotiating table with House Republicans to slash spending as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
“Mr President, it’s time to get to work,” McCarthy said in remarks from the speaker’s balcony at the Capitol.
While hopes for large-scale bipartisanship are slim, Biden was set to reissue his appeal last year for Congress to get behind his “unity agenda” of actions to address the opioid epidemic, mental health, veterans’ health and fighting cancer.
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