President Biden delivers State of the Union address

Zeke Miller and Seung Min Kim, Associated Press

Published Thursday, March 7, 2024 8:57 pm EST

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden intends to use his State of the Union address Thursday night to urge voters to reject “an American story of resentment, revenge and retribution” as he makes his case for a second term before a discouraged electorate. and he warns that GOP front-runner Donald Trump would be a dangerous alternative.

Biden’s third such speech from the House platform will be a job interview of sorts, as the nation’s oldest president attempts to quell voters’ concerns about his age and job performance while sharpening the contrast. with his almost certain November rival.

“My life has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy,” Biden will say according to prepared remarks released by the White House, without mentioning Trump by name but making it very clear that he is the topic. “A future based on the fundamental values ​​that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity and equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair chance. To not give hate any safe harbor. Now, other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That is not me.”

The president hopes to showcase his achievements in infrastructure and manufacturing, as well as push for action on aid to Ukraine, stricter immigration rules and lower drug prices, among other issues. But as long as he does, the 81-year-old president will be closely watched not only for his message but also for whether he can deliver it with vigor and command.

White House advisers said Biden would try to prove his doubters wrong by showing his combative side and trying to pressure Republicans on positions he believes are out of step with the country, particularly on abortion access, but also in tax policy and health care. It is part of his campaign-year effort to even use official speeches to clarify the choice for voters at the polls this fall.

Biden spent last weekend working on the speech at the Camp David presidential retreat with his closest aides and presidential historian Jon Meacham. He was expected to continue fine-tuning it until the day of the speech, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

The president will speak before a historically ineffective Congress. In the GOP-led House of Representatives, Speaker Mike Johnson took office five months ago after the chaotic overthrow of former President Kevin McCarthy. Lawmakers are still struggling to pass funding bills for the current year and have been deadlocked for months on foreign assistance bills to help Ukraine stave off Russia’s invasion and support Israel’s fight against Hamas.

The State of the Union address is a star night on the White House calendar, offering presidents a direct line to a captive audience of lawmakers and dignitaries in the House of Representatives and tens of millions of viewers at home. But still, the night has lost some of its luster as the audience has dwindled.

Still, said Michael Waldman, a speechwriter in the Clinton White House, “it may not be as big as Taylor Swift at the Super Bowl, but it’s a big audience for a political speech.”

The president’s State of the Union is also an opportunity for lawmakers to make their own statements, often of a sartorial variety. Several House Democratic women wore white — a symbol of women’s suffrage — to promote reproductive rights. A large number of Democrats and Republicans wore pins and stickers honoring the Israeli hostages still held captive in Gaza. Meanwhile, several House progressives wore Palestinian keffiyehs, the black and white checkered scarves that have come to symbolize Palestinian solidarity.

And while most State of the Union guest appearances are carefully choreographed beforehand, at least one was a surprise. Expelled former Rep. George Santos, who still retains privileges as a former member of Congress, addressed the speech wearing a dark coat, cream-white pants and bright accents as he made his way through the rows to chat. with former colleagues.

Biden’s advisers inside the White House and on his campaign are hoping for new viral moments, like when he brawled last year with booing Republicans and berated them for past efforts to cut Medicare and Social Security.

Johnson, eager to avoid a similar episode this year, urged Republicans in a private meeting Wednesday to show “decorum” during the speech, according to a person familiar with his comments to lawmakers.

And Republican congressional leaders are showing one of their newest lawmakers through the State of the Union rebuttal to draw a generational contrast with Biden. Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, the youngest Republican elected to the Senate, plans to paint a picture of a nation that “seems to be disappearing” and where “our families are suffering.”

“Right now, our commander in chief is not in command. “The free world deserves better than a wavering, diminished leader,” Britt plans to say, according to excerpts released Thursday night. “America deserves leaders who recognize that secure borders, stable prices, safe streets and a strong defense are the cornerstones of a great nation.”

Biden comes to the speech with work to do to shore up his position. Only 38% of American adults approve of how she is handling his job as president, while 61% disapprove, according to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The same poll found that more than 6 in 10 (63) say Trump lacks the memory and acumen for the job.

The already intense scrutiny of Biden’s age was magnified when special counsel Robert Hur raised questions about the president’s mental acuity in his report last month on Biden’s handling of classified information.

Jim Messina, former President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, said Thursday’s speech offers Biden an important opportunity to address voters’ concerns.

“The more people see him doing his job, the better,” Messina said. “And the more people see him as president of the United States, the better off we will be.”

Since Hur will testify before lawmakers Tuesday about his investigation, Messina said, Biden’s speech could serve as a “pre-rebuttal” to the special counsel’s appearance.

Biden is expected to paint a rosy future for the country as the massive laws he signed during his first two years in office are implemented. But he will also warn that the progress he sees at home and abroad is fragile and particularly vulnerable if Trump returns to the White House.

Republicans, on the other hand, are describing the current state of the union with dark and threatening terms – such as “crisis” and “catastrophe” – that echo the somber tone Trump uses during the election campaign.

“America is in decline, nothing I say tomorrow night is going to change that,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Trump, for his part, said he planned to respond in real time to Biden’s comments on his Truth Social platform.

This year, Biden could also face heightened protests and emotions — particularly among his grassroots supporters — over his strong support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Initially, the White House hoped that a short-term ceasefire would be established after the speech. He blames Hamas for not yet accepting an agreement negotiated by the United States and its allies.

Amid growing concerns about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, Biden will announce in his speech that he has ordered the US military to establish a temporary port on the coast of Gaza with the aim of increasing the flow of aid to the besieged territory, according to senior administration officials. .

The president will also strongly call on lawmakers to approve much-needed defense assistance for Ukraine. The serious shortage of ammunition has allowed Russia to resume the offensive in the two-year war.

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives has refused to act on a version of the relief legislation passed by the Senate, insisting on new, stricter measures to limit migration at the US-Mexico border, after that Trump used his influence to help sink a bipartisan compromise that would have done just that.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he hoped Biden would “hit Republicans in the teeth” for rejecting the border security deal.

“Voters want a candidate who cares about the border, but they want a candidate who will do something about it, not just complain,” he said.

Access to abortion and fertility treatments is also expected to be a key component of Biden’s speech, especially in light of a controversial Alabama Supreme Court ruling that has upended access to in vitro fertilization treatment in the state. .

One of the guests at First Lady Jill Biden’s speech will be Kate Cox, who sued Texas and ultimately left her home state to obtain an emergency abortion after a serious fetal abnormality was detected.

“If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you: I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again,” Biden will say.

The White House also invited union leaders, a gun control advocate and others Jill Biden and her husband met while traveling the country promoting their agenda. Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will attend to commemorate his country’s accession to NATO following Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Addressing the State of the Union, Biden has also raised the issues of “counterinflation” (companies putting fewer pretzels in the jar and less yogurt in sealed cups) and so-called “junk tariffs” on services. Neither is a major driver of inflation, but the White House hopes to show consumers that Biden is fighting for them.

Biden was also set to unveil an expanded plan to raise corporate taxes and use the revenue to trim budget deficits and cut taxes for the middle class.

After the speech, Biden was scheduled to spend a weekend of campaign travel, holding events in Pennsylvania on Friday and Georgia on Saturday. Trump will also campaign in Georgia that day. The president’s cabinet will also fan out across the country to amplify his message.

Biden’s campaign said it would host more than 200 watch parties across the country Thursday night, including in cities, suburbs and rural towns in battleground states. Campaign officials will use the events to recruit volunteers and encourage others to get involved in Biden’s re-election effort.

AP writers Stephen Groves, Josh Boak, Aamer Madhani, Amanda Seitz and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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