Biden’s State of the Union address will make his case for re-election in 2024

WASHINGTON — Early in his speech Tuesday night, President Joe Biden is inclined to proclaim that the state of the union is strong.

And by the time he’s done, he’ll have presented a case that deserves a large share of the credit.

The 2024 presidential race looms over Biden’s State of the Union address, though he has yet to officially announce whether he’s running for re-election. With a captive audience that traditionally meets once a year, he isn’t going to pass up an opportunity to explain why voters should give him a second term.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee in Philadelphia (Andrew Caballero/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee in Philadelphia (Andrew Caballero/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden will use the speech to reach a larger audience who may have only a passing interest in politics and politics, and he will assure his members that he has plans in place that will make their daily commute shorter and their drug bills from lower prescriptions, a person close to White said House.

It will take time: An NBC News poll last month found that only 31% believe Biden is a competent and effective president, while 71% say the country is on the wrong track.

Tuesday is a chance to sway the skeptics, his advisers hope. State of the Union’s audience has shrunk over the years due to growing political polarization and media fracturing. Yet audiences remain large: Last year, 38 million people tuned in to Biden’s speech and 16 networks broadcast it live. That’s more than three times the television audience for the final game of the Astros-Phillies World Series last fall.

Once the speech is finished, Biden and his cabinet will criss-cross the country to amplify the message. The next day, Biden will visit Madison, Wisconsin to discuss his job creation plans, while Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Atlanta to talk about clean energy. All told, Biden, Harris and the Cabinet will visit 20 states in a post-speech blitz that seeks to capitalize on the bullhorn commanded by a sitting president.

“This is the year and the message where the president needs to establish his governing and campaign narrative: what his presidency has meant for the welfare of the public and why they should give him their support,” said Martha Kumar, professor emeritus at Towson University and a White House communications specialist. “If he doesn’t, by next year Ron DeSantis,” a potential Republican candidate, “and Donald Trump will have defined him by his failures as they see them.”

One message Biden will send is that the economy is in better shape than when he took over from Trump and that America’s foreign alliances are now stronger thanks to his diplomatic overtures, according to a White House official.

“I can’t imagine him announcing to the State of the Union that he’s running for re-election,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a Biden ally. “You will hear the logic of why in the State of the Union.”

President Joe Biden arrives to deliver the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill (Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden arrives to deliver the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill (Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty Images)

Biden’s second State of the Union address promises to be a balancing act. Over the past two years, he’s gone from chastising Republicans to courting them as he works to advance his policies. Just last week, he told an audience of pro-democracy activists that the GOP has gone “haywire.”

On Tuesday, he is likely to show a more bipartisan face, emphasizing that the two sides can achieve a lot when they work together, the White House official said. Biden has road-tested some themes that she is likely to employ, including that the United States is in the ascendancy when it comes to economic and geopolitical influence, something both sides can applaud.

“The speech is a good opportunity for the president to present his path forward,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey. “It should have an upbeat, upbeat tone.”

However, the chances of major bipartisan breakthroughs seem remote. Sitting behind Biden in the House will be the new speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, not Democrat Nancy Pelosi who lost her leadership role when her party lost a majority in the midterm elections.

Republicans in the House have little incentive to work with Biden and improve his record ahead of the 2024 election. Republican Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, who is the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told a conservative activists’ conference that the GOP-led investigation into the Biden administration “would help frame the 2024 race, when I hope and think President Trump will run again and we need to make sure he wins.”

Rep. Jim Jordan speaks during a House Judiciary Committee meeting in Washington, DC (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Rep. Jim Jordan speaks during a House Judiciary Committee meeting in Washington, DC (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Facing a divided Congress, a more realistic goal for the second half of Biden’s term would be the implementation of the trillion-dollar spending packages he has signed into law, some who have worked with him have said.

“Some of the most important work that will be done in the second half of the term is the execution of these priorities,” said David Kamin, a former member of Biden’s National Economic Council. The chances of more ambitious bills passing through bipartisan votes “look dire right now.”

Not that Democratic interest groups are giving up. Before the speech, allies of the president met privately with White House staff and urged Biden to use the forum to kick off unfinished parts of his agenda.

Their hope is that the speech will build momentum behind various initiatives languishing on Capitol Hill: proposals to curb police abuse, to protect voting rights and provide pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. All Biden needs to look up to the House gallery for an anguished reminder of police violence. Among the guests will be the parents of Tire Nichols, who died a few days after police beat him in Memphis, Tennessee.

“The president needs to recognize that shaping public opinion may be more important now than trying to be the most successful legislative maker,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans.

Now is not the time to “just sit down and say, ‘I can’t do this or that because of Congress,'” Morial added. “People don’t hire the president to become an adjunct member of Congress.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton has suggested that, for inspiration, Biden look to a national speech given by former President Lyndon Johnson. It wasn’t a State of the Union address, but in March 1965, Johnson delivered a civil rights speech following the beating of protesters attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the name of voting rights. “We’ll get through it,” Johnson promised in a speech that was the impetus for passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.

“He needs to have a Johnson moment and face the fact that we don’t pick the civil rights issues of our time, but these are the issues of our time and we need to stand up and address them,” said Sharpton, who spoke at the funeral by Nichols last week with Harris.

What the general public wants from speech is an entirely different question. For Biden, one of the troubling findings from the NBC poll is how many Americans doubt he’s up to the job. Only 28% believe he is mentally and physically healthy enough to be president, down from 33% a year earlier.

The oldest person to ever be president, Biden would be 86 by the end of a second term if he ran again and won.

“More than any policy initiative he supports or any particular line of rhetoric, the speech will be judged by how clear and forceful it sounds,” said Jeff Shesol, a speechwriter at Bill Clinton’s White House who helped draft his State of the Union speeches in 1999 and 2000. “His health, fitness and vigor are the subject of the speech whether he likes it or not and it doesn’t matter what he says about anything else. If he trips, that’s all anyone will talk about.

“The good thing is that expectations are quite low in terms of the quality of a Biden speech and its fluency. If he makes a really good, clear, forceful speech, it won’t dispel those questions about him being the oldest president in American history, but it will at least calm, rather than stoke those concerns for a while.

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