Biden’s State of the Union address will make his case for re-election in 2024
At the start of his speech Tuesday night, President Joe Biden is apt to proclaim that the state of the union is strong.
And by the time he’s done, he’ll have laid out a case that he deserves an ample share of the credit.
The 2024 presidential race looms large over Biden’s State of the Union address, even though he has yet to announce whether he’s running for re-election. With a captive audience that traditionally assembles once a year, he isn’t about to pass up the chance to explain why voters should give him a second term.
Biden will use the speech to reach a wider audience that may have only a passing interest in politics and policy, and assure its members that he’s enacted plans that will make their daily commutes shorter and their prescription drug bills lower, a person close to the White House said.
That will take some doing: An NBC News survey last month found that only 31% believe Biden to be 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 audiences have shrunk over the years amid increasing political polarization and a fracturing of the news media. Yet the viewership remains vast: Last year, 38 million people tuned in to Biden’s speech, and 16 networks carried it live. That’s more than three times the television audience for the final game of the Astros-Phillies World Series last fall.
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Once the speech is over, Biden and his Cabinet will crisscross the country to amplify the message. The following 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 megaphone a sitting president commands.
“This is the year and the message where the president needs to establish his governing and campaign narrative: What his presidency has meant to the public’s well-being and why they should give him their support,” said Martha Kumar, emeritus professor at Towson University and a specialist in White House communications. “If he doesn’t do that, by next year Ron DeSantis,” a potential Republican candidate, “and Donald Trump will have defined him by his failures as they see them.”
A message Biden will deliver is that the economy is in better shape than when he took over from Trump, and that America’s overseas alliances are now stronger because of his diplomatic overtures, according to a White House official.
“I can’t imagine he’s announcing in 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’ll hear the rationale for why in the State of the Union.”
Biden’s second State of the Union address promises to be a bit of a balancing act. Over the past two years, he’s toggled between castigating Republicans and courting them as he’s worked to advance his policies. Just last week, he told an audience of Democratic activists that the GOP has gone “haywire.”
On Tuesday, he’s likely to show a more bipartisan face, making the point that the two parties can accomplish much when they work together, the White House official said. Biden has been road testing some themes he’s likely to employ, including that the U.S. is ascendant when it comes to economic and geopolitical influence — something that both parties can applaud.
“The speech is a good opportunity for the president to present his way forward,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat. “It should have an optimistic and upbeat tone.”
Still, the chances of grand bipartisan breakthroughs seem remote. Sitting behind Biden in the House chamber will be the new speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy — not Democrat Nancy Pelosi who lost her leadership role when her party lost its majority in the midterm elections.
House Republicans have little incentive to work with Biden and burnish his record ahead of the 2024 election. Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who’s the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told a conference of conservative activists last August that GOP-led investigations into the Biden administration would “help frame up the 2024 race, when I hope and I think President Trump is going to run again, and we need to make sure he wins.”
In the face of a divided Congress, a more realistic focus for the back half of Biden’s term would be implementing the trillion-dollar spending packages that he has signed into law, some who’ve worked with him said.