U.S. President Joe Biden will declare U.S democracy is bruised but “unbowed and unbroken” on Tuesday in a State of the Union speech that will serve as an olive branch to skeptical Republicans and a blueprint for his 2024 re-election bid.
In his first address to a joint session of Congress since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in January, Biden plans to cite progress in a post-pandemic economy, highlight massive infrastructure and inflation bills passed in 2022, and stress that a bitterly divided Congress can still make laws in the year ahead.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,” Biden, a Democrat, will say, according to excerpts of the speech released by the White House ahead of the speech scheduled for 9 p.m. ET (0200 GMT on Wednesday).
“The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere … We’ve been sent here to finish the job!”
The president has said he wants to unify the country, but he remains unpopular.
Biden’s public approval rating edged one percentage point higher to 41% in a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll that closed on Sunday. That is close to the lowest level of his presidency, with 65% of Americans saying they believe the country is on the wrong track, compared to 58% a year earlier.
Seeking to project optimism ahead of a 2024 presidential campaign, Biden will say the economy is benefiting from 12 million new jobs, COVID-19 no longer controls American lives, and U.S. democracy remains strong.
“Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken,” he will say, according to the excerpts.
Biden aides see the speech, which will draw millions of viewers and perhaps the president’s largest television audience of the year, as a milestone ahead of the second presidential campaign he is expected to launch in coming weeks.
Biden turned 80 in November and, if re-elected, would be 82 at the start of a second term, a fact that concerns many Democratic voters, recent polls show.
Biden will hail the resilience and strength of the U.S. economy, with unemployment having dropped to a nearly 54-year low in January, while pledging continued efforts to lower inflation and defend Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Tuesday that 2023 should be a year of “significant declines in inflation,” but strong jobs data means the process of tightening interest rates could continue for “quite a bit of time.”
Biden will hammer corporations for profiteering from the pandemic, and run through a wish list of economic proposals, the White House said, although many are unlikely to be passed by Congress. They include a minimum tax for billionaires, and a quadrupling of the tax on corporate stock buybacks.
On foreign policy, Biden is expected to highlight the U.S.-led response to Russia’s year-long invasion of Ukraine, the strength of the NATO alliance and tensions between the United States and China, spotlighted by a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by the U.S. military this week.
The president will appeal for bipartisan efforts on his “unity agenda” to advance cancer research, support veterans, expand mental health services overall, and beat the “opioid and overdose epidemic,” the White House said.
He will ask Congress to work together to toughen regulation of the technology sector, including what the administration sees as a need for stronger privacy protections, one aide said.
Reforms in policing also will feature in the speech after the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died last month after being beaten by officers in Memphis, Tennessee. Nichols’ mother and stepfather will be among the guests at the speech.
Biden adviser Keisha Lance Bottoms said the president would continue to press for passage of the George Floyd bill on police reforms named for a Black man killed under the knee of a white police officer in 2020, and had discussed ways to “move the needle” with the Congressional Black Caucus last week.
He will also push Congress to require background checks for all gun sales and ban assault weapons, the White House said, although the prospects for passage of those measures are slim.
Biden will face a rambunctious and splintered gathering of Republican lawmakers, eager to put their conservative mark on U.S. policy following four years of Democratic control of the House.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy will sit behind Biden for the address for the first time. The two are at loggerheads over the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, which must raised in the coming months to avoid a default.
McCarthy said on Tuesday that he would not rip up Biden’s speech, referencing to the actions of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi after former President Donald Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address.
“I respect the other side,” McCarthy said in a video. “I can disagree on policy. But I want to make sure this country is stronger, economically sound, energy independent, secure and accountable.” He said he urged Biden not to use the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans” in his speech, a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Some House Republican lawmakers have questioned Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential race against Trump, vowing to investigate his Cabinet and family. But with a razor-thin majority and intraparty divisions, Republicans had a difficult time electing a speaker and are expected to continue to struggle to unite their far-right and more moderate members.