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Biden pitches optimism to skeptical Americans in State of the Union address

Courtney Subramanian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — President Biden is delivering his second State of the Union speech, and hoping to convince skeptical Americans that they are better off than they were when he took office two years ago.

Biden plans to highlight his economic record, including a trio of bills he signed into law that will funnel trillions of dollars toward repairing the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure, tackling climate change, lowering prescription drug costs and boosting domestic manufacturing. He’ll also seek to contrast his leadership with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where GOP members have promised to be a roadblock during the remainder of Biden’s term and vowed to investigate both the president’s administration and his family.

“My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten,” Biden will say, according to excerpts released by the White House ahead of the speech. “Jobs are coming back, [and] pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years. This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”

The president has yet to announce whether he’s officially running for reelection, but aides say he’ll make a decision in the next few months. The prime-time speech gives him a chance to pitch what’s expected to be his biggest audience this year. An estimated 38.2 million viewers tuned in to his first State of the Union speech, according to Nielsen ratings.

Biden will navigate both old and new challenges before a Congress no longer controlled by his party. The president is facing a special counsel investigation into whether he mishandled classified documents, and House Republicans are ramping up their own oversight efforts. Biden is also trying to keep Western allies and the American public united behind continued support for Ukraine as Russia’s invasion lurches into a second year. And a pair of recent mass shootings in California along with the brutal police killing of a Black man in Memphis have served as a glaring reminder that Democrats have failed to pass an assault weapons ban or police reform measures in the face of GOP opposition.

A State of the Union address “is an impossible speech to give for any president,” said William Howell, an American politics professor at the University of Chicago. “It’s a speech that has to politically attend to a lot of competing claims and it comes at a time when there’s acute uncertainty about the state of the world and the state of the economy.”


Biden will balance the public’s economic anxiety against a more optimistic message of progress, according to Brian Deese, the president’s top economic adviser. The pandemic has receded, with the COVID-19 public health emergency set to expire in May. Employers added more than half a million jobs in January while the unemployment rate fell to 3.4%, the lowest on record in over half a century, according to Labor Department data released on Friday.

“Two years ago our economy was reeling. As I stand here tonight, we have created a record 12 million new jobs — more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years,” Biden will say.

The president will step to the dais with one of his biggest challenges peering over his shoulder: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is locked in a standoff with Biden over the federal deficit and has refused to raise the debt limit unless the president commits to unspecified cuts on future spending. If the two leaders are unable to reach a deal, the U.S. would default on its debt, rattling financial markets and wreaking economic havoc.

Biden plans to use the bully pulpit to address the impasse, making clear that “honoring the full faith and credit of the United States” is an obligation of “everybody who holds an office of trust,” Deese told reporters on Monday.


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