President Biden will take the stage for his second State of the Union speech in a divided Washington facing major challenges at home and abroad — and as he is believed to be readying his 2024 reelection campaign.
With 517,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy last month, according to the Labor Department, the job market is scorching hot. But concerns about inflation remain high, and many Americans view the economy as faring poorly.
“Put simply, I would argue that the Biden economic plan is working,” the president said Friday after the jobs numbers came out. “These critics and cynics are wrong.”
Last month’s unemployment rate came to 3.4%, the lowest level since 1969. So you can expect the president to trumpet the jobs numbers on Tuesday starting at 9 p.m.
It will be a tough sell to Americans. About three out of four adults think the economy is doing poorly, according to an Associated Press poll conducted in late January.
Chief among their concerns is inflation. The general price for goods and services was 6.5% higher in December than a year earlier. That’s an improvement over decades-high peaks reached earlier in 2022, and gas prices have mercifully gone down, but consumers are still feeling the pain when it comes to basics like milk and groceries.
Biden will have to stave off Republican criticism that the massive domestic spending packages from the first half of his administration have damaged the economy and risk creating a recession.
“The true state of America’s economy isn’t measuring up to the Biden Administration’s false advertising,” Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a Friday statement.
“Any job growth is good news, but labor force participation is still disappointingly below pre-pandemic levels and the economy is being weighed down by Democrats’ deficit spending,” he added.
Tuesday’s speech comes as Biden and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate, have been pushing the Republican-controlled House to lift the debt ceiling.
Last month, the federal government reached its self-imposed limit on borrowing funds. Since then, the Treasury Department has used a range of financial tricks to keep the government running and stave off defaulting on the national debt.
Dems have balked at Republican suggestions that they’ll only raise the debt ceiling if they get spending cuts in return.
Meanwhile, some Republicans have been complaining about the huge price tag of ongoing U.S. aid to Ukraine — more than $100 billion and counting, according to the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies. The one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of the Eastern European country comes on Feb. 24, just a few weeks after the State of the Union speech.
The latest U.S. aid package for Ukraine drew grumbles from members of Congress’ far-right Freedom Caucus. But expect Biden to redouble his administration’s supporting Ukraine, which is pushing for European Union membership as it faces the prospect of renewed onslaughts from Russia.
“With spring approaching, the Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter-offensives,” Biden said Jan. 25 as he announced a shipment of tanks to Ukraine.
“The United States, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners, is going to continue to do all we can to support Ukraine,” he added.
Along with the threat from Russia, Biden is likely to discuss the latest twist in the U.S.’ complicated relationship with China.
Last Wednesday, he ordered a fighter jet to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it was caught floating across the continental U.S., and the blimp was blasted Saturday.
The delay drew criticism from some Republican lawmakers, who said Biden should have acted sooner. But the military waited to strike until there was no risk to civilians, according to the commander-in-chief.
The row prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a trip to China indefinitely.
“This really damages a relationship between us and China” and “puts a big dent in moving forward in a constructive way, which we really need to do,” said retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
Meanwhile, Biden is expected to launch his 2024 bid in the coming weeks. Tuesday’s speech is likely to provide a preview of his campaign message.
“He should focus attention on … big legislative achievements, the national pandemic emergency ending, the economy stabilizing and still growing, and how the midterms went very well for his party,” Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, was quoted as saying about the upcoming State of the Union address.
“If this was any other president, without the age issues or concerns about what the Republican campaign might look like, this would be a message to launch 2024,” he said.
With News Wire Services