WASHINGTON – An optimistic President Joe Biden will seek to lift an often unenthusiastic nation on 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-19 pandemic, an end to the 20-year Afghan war debacle, the Western response against Russia’s Ukraine invasion, and extreme US political tensions, Mr 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,” he said on 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 Mr Biden to seek a second term in 2024.
Mr 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, Ms Jean-Pierre said, but tweaks are ongoing “until the last minute”.
Here’s the good news.
Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near-existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downwards. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are starting to flow out into programs passed under Mr Biden to spur high-tech manufacturing and repair infrastructure.
On Friday, new figures showed joblessness hitting that half-century low. This inspired Mr Biden to boast: “I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong.”
Even if Mr Biden has yet to formally announce his 2024 candidacy, the SOTU – followed by two very campaign-like trips on 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.