By James Oliphant and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden, who has earned praise for his efforts to rally European allies and other nations against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, will turn to uniting Americans in the State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
With the conflict in Ukraine raging, Biden intends to use the annual speech to stress the importance of countering Putin and push his domestic economic agenda, including reintroducing elements of his stalled Build Back Better program, administration officials said.
“Every State of Union speech also reflects a moment of time,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. Biden, she said, will detail his efforts “to rally the world to stand up for democracy and against Russian aggression.”
Democrats are expected to have a difficult time holding control of the U.S. House of Representatives – and perhaps the Senate as well – in the Nov. 8 elections, analysts said, which would likely cripple Biden’s policy goals.
A rebound in Biden’s public standing would make the task of staying in power easier.
“The (speech) comes at a good time,” said John Geer, a political scientist and an expert in public opinion at Vanderbilt University. “He needs to grab the national stage and set a course that offers a brighter future.”
Biden should tout his work helping the world resist Putin’s advances, Geer said, while celebrating the effectiveness of vaccines and other mitigation measures that have brought about a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases and easing of guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public opinion polls have shown Biden out of favor with the majority of Americans for months. The most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken last week, showed him at 43% approval.
Even with the jobless rate at 4%, most voters remain pessimistic about the economy largely due to skyrocketing consumer prices. A quarter of Democrats think the party has failed to take advantage of its rare control of the White House and both houses of Congress.
While aides believe Biden’s perceived strength in handling COVID helped him win the presidency, some voters, especially Republicans, think the country has not moved quickly enough to ease pandemic restrictions as case counts have fallen.
On Tuesday, members of Congress attending Biden’s speech at the U.S. Capitol will not be required to wear masks for the first time in months, a sight that could provide helpful optics for the president.
U.S. ECONOMY, RUSSIA SANCTIONS
Biden must convince viewers at home that the economy is, in fact, in solid shape despite inflation concerns, and that tough sanctions imposed by the Washington and allies are worth the pain. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could cause gasoline prices to skyrocket in the United States, adding to the highest inflation rate in 40 years.
About two-thirds of Americans support Biden slapping Russia with economic sanctions over its incursion into Ukraine. [L1N2UY1I0]
At the same time, security at home is an issue. Federal authorities are reinstalling fencing around the Capitol as Washington prepares for planned trucker protests inspired by demonstrations in Canada against pandemic-related restrictions. [L1N2V20N0]
Biden can also trumpet his $1 trillion infrastructure bill that was passed last year with some Republican support.
He likely will urge swift confirmation of his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, federal appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first Black woman on the high court.
Matt Bennett, vice president of Third Way, a moderate Democrat think tank, said that Biden should aim for a sweeping tone about U.S. leadership on the world stage and the economy.
“The most important thing,” Bennett said, “is that he shows America that he is in command of world and domestic events. No policy idea or accomplishment is going to make a real difference.”