President Joe Biden aims to use his second State of the Union address to illustrate how two years of hard-nosed legislating have helped realize key promises he made to voters — especially on the economy — as he gears up for a likely re-election campaign.
Biden is building up to next week’s primetime speech with a series of events designed to showcase major deliverables from new laws he championed, while also drawing a sharp contrast with the GOP.
With at least a year until his potential GOP opponent emerges from what is expected to be a contentious nomination fight, the president is using the new House GOP majority as a stand-in sparring partner as he warns about undoing hard-fought victories for who he’s describing as the “forgotten” voter.
“It’s about investing in America and reinvesting in places that have been forgotten; seeing communities all over America, not just on the coasts, but all over America, reborn,” Biden said at a speech in in suburban Virginia that’s part of the White House’s road-test campaign.
The president’s upcoming address to Congress is still very much a work in progress, aides stress. He had his longest speech prep session with top aides on Friday at the White House, before heading to Camp David this weekend with deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed, one of the chief architects.
For two years, Biden has talked about growing the economy from the “bottom-up and the middle-out.” But as he acknowledged in Thursday’s speech, his party has often struggled to explain how policy fights in Washington benefit working class voters.
“They remember, in my old neighborhoods, why the jobs went away, and wonder whether a path even exists anymore for them to be counted in — these invisible folks that I grew up with,” he said. “But I know we can forge that path — I’m confident we can — by building an economy where nobody is left behind.”
Biden’s travel this week — whether it’s at a rail bottleneck in Baltimore Monday, the site of a new major cross-river tunnel in New York on Tuesday, or in his push to replace aging lead pipes in Philadelphia on Friday, is all about trying to do just that, demonstrate what government can finally deliver on its promises.
“The President’s economic plan keeps his promise … with new factories and construction in communities across America, creating good-paying middle-class jobs that don’t require a four-year degree,” an administration official said in previewing Biden’s upcoming travel.
He’ll continue to note, the official said, what he sees as “the biggest threat to our economic progress: House Republicans’ MAGA Economic Plan.” It’s an extension of a key focus of his from the midterms, when he repeatedly highlighted plans from some top Republicans that he said would undercut Social Security and Medicare.
“What in God’s name would the Americans give up the progress we’ve made for the chaos they’re suggesting?” Biden said this week.
In the same speech, though, Biden referred to another recent trip he made to tout a new project funded by the infrastructure law — announcing billions of dollars to build a new bridge across the Ohio River with “my friend, Mitch McConnell.” One goal of the speech next week, advisers say, is to further marginalize so-called “MAGA Republicans” from more mainstream lawmakers who voted for bills like the infrastructure or advance manufacturing bills Biden signed.
It speaks to one of the most difficult needles for Biden to thread. His 2020 campaign was built around three core promises, including delivering an economic agenda that rebuilds the middle class, while also uniting the country. Biden’s address to Congress is again expected to highlight what he’s called his “Unity agenda.”
But he also is likely to address continued threats to the nation’s democracy and hot-button political issues like further gun safety measures and immigration.
Next week’s build up to the State of the Union also serves to set up a potential 2024 Biden bid. In addition to his speech in Philadelphia Friday, the president will address the Democratic National Committee winter meeting in one of his first expressly political events since the midterm elections.