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Optimistic Biden to try to lift Americans with State of the Union speech

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US President Joe Biden will have a huge audience in his State of the Union speech./AFP
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Feb 07, 2023 - 12:11 PM

WASHINGTON — An optimistic President Joe Biden will seek to lift an often unenthusiastic nation Tuesday with a State of the Union address showcasing his efforts to rebuild the US economy — and setting the stage for the 80-year-old’s bid for re-election in 2024.

After two years of managing the exit from the Covid pandemic, an end to the 20-year Afghan war debacle, the Western response against Russia’s Ukraine invasion, and extreme US political tensions, Biden feels he has much to celebrate.

“I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs — what’s going on, what I’m looking forward to working on,” Biden said Monday.

On Capitol Hill, he’ll address the full Congress, nearly every senior government member, and a vast television audience, buoyed by news that the economy is recovering strongly from the pandemic, with the lowest unemployment in 50 years.

“This is a president who is incredibly optimistic,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

But the dramatic downing on Saturday of a huge Chinese balloon by a US Air Force fighter leaves the unstable relationship with the communist superpower literally looming over the Biden administration.

And there are troubles closer to home, with two new polls showing that well over half of voters do not want Biden to seek a second term in 2024.

Biden spent the weekend at the presidential retreat Camp David, huddled with top advisors and speech writers to finesse the speech. They’ve been writing for weeks, Jean-Pierre said, but tweaks are ongoing “until the last minute.”

Trouble ahead 

Here’s the good news.

Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near-existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downward. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are starting to flow out into programs passed under Biden to spur high-tech manufacturing and repair infrastructure.

On Friday, new figures showed joblessness hitting that half-century low. This inspired Biden to boast: “I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong.”

Even if Biden has yet to formally announce his 2024 candidacy, the SOTU — followed by two very campaign-like trips Wednesday and Thursday to Wisconsin and Florida — is expected to give him a big push.

However, the Chinese balloon drama — Beijing claims it was an errant weather research balloon but the US government says it was a high-tech espionage device — shows how narratives in Washington easily take dangerous new turns.

When Biden speaks, half of the Congress members in the chamber, as well as Speaker Kevin McCarthy sitting directly behind him, will be Republicans vowing to use their new, narrow House of Representatives majority to block his policies.

Already, a major crisis is brewing over Republican refusal to extend the US debt limit, usually a rubber stamp procedure. Biden’s government warns of financial calamity, with major international implications, if Republicans stick to their guns, potentially pushing the United States into default.

Those kinds of uncertainties, as well as doubts over Biden’s future as the oldest person ever in the presidency, may be partly to blame for pessimism in the polls. An ABC News-Washington Post Poll found that 58 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said the party should find someone else for 2024.

Pressed on the dissatisfaction, Jean-Pierre acknowledged that many voters remain worried by economic insecurity.

“It’s an incredibly complicated time,” she said. The State of the Union will be an “important moment.”

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