President Biden will use his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to take a victory lap and test his reelection pitch, claiming credit for a robust economy and keeping global allies unified against Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The upbeat assessment is expected to omit or gloss over the crises surrounding Mr. Biden from the chaos at the border to the special counsel investigation of his mishandling of government secrets.
The plans he details on Tuesday will be on a collision course with a Republican-controlled House, which has already opened investigations into the Biden family’s business and financial deals that often involve foreign entities.
In a brief preview of the speech, the White House said Mr. Biden will brush all those concerns aside and focus on the most critical issue of his presidency, the economy.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden will emphasize his optimism about the future of the economy.
“You can expect the president to hit on many of the issues that you hear him speak about every day,” she said. “The significant economic progress we’re seeing under his leadership, his economic vision that’s building our economy from the bottom up and the middle out, the historic pieces of legislation passed into law over the last two years.”
That’s the right call, Mr. Biden’s fellow Democrats say.
“He will lay out a very strong economic vision of how we bring jobs back to America and how we make sure that we’re tackling the high prices,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat.
Rep. Chip Roy, Texas Republican, said the economy is nothing to brag about and the American people will see through the president’s rhetoric.
“Look at what the government’s done for you: $32 trillion in debt, massive inflation, low labor force participation,” Mr. Roy said.
Mr. Biden can point to economic growth since taking office, highlighting low unemployment, cooling inflation and replacing millions of jobs lost during the recession. Employers added a stunning 517,000 jobs in January, signaling a red-hot job market despite recession fears and inflation. The influx of jobs reduced the January jobless rate to 3.4%, its lowest level since 1969. That’s lower than the nation’s 3.5% jobless rate in March 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inflation declined to 6.5% in December compared to 7.1% in November, marking the sixth straight monthly slowdown. Prices also dropped by 0.1% in December compared to November, the first such drop since May 2020.
Despite the good news, Mr. Biden’s approval rating remains mired at 40%, close to the lowest level of his presidency, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.
The same poll ranked the economy as the most important issue for Americans with 26% saying it’s their top concern. That was more than double the share that cited crime and immigration as the biggest issue, which polled at 10% and 9%, respectively.
Voters are skeptical that Mr. Biden is up to the job of managing the economy. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll found that 90% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats say the economy is in bad shape.
“He’s got to convince Americans that things are under control, the economy is moving in the right direction and there is no chaos,” said veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.
Americans also are wary of potential economic chaos ahead. The Federal Reserve is trying to balance slowing inflation through rising interest rates that could spin out into a recession. Some economists say the U.S. hasn’t felt the full impact of those interest rate hikes.
U.S. technology companies are cutting jobs at their highest rate in years with companies from Microsoft to Amazon laying off thousands of workers. The layoffs are spurred by a consumer downturn spurred by reduced spending due to high inflation and rising interest rates.
The drop in consumer spending is being felt nationwide as retail sales dropped in November and December, a warning that Americans are cutting back as prices and interest rates remain high.
Mr. Biden told reporters Friday that America’s tough economic times started under his predecessor, President Trump, and voters shouldn’t blame him for soaring inflation under his watch.
“It was already here when I got here,” Mr. Biden said.
Critics say Mr. Biden was too slow to address the problems, which only exacerbated the problems.
“Acknowledging our problems is the first step to solving them,” said Republican strategist Dave Carney. “He denied inflation was a problem for the year. If he was realistic and dealt matter-of-factly with the public, it would go a long way to getting us out of this malaise.”
A chief criticism of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda is his massive spending, including the $740 billion tax-and-climate law known as the Inflation Reduction Act, a $1 trillion law to shore up the nation’s infrastructure, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package and a $280 billion law to spur U.S. computer chip manufacturing.
Financial markets have also been shaken up by uncertainty over whether Mr. Biden and House Republicans can reach a deal to avoid defaulting on the national debt. If they can’t agree to address the nation’s debt limit, America could default on its loans causing economic calamity and severe recession.
Mr. Biden has urged Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, while GOP lawmakers are pushing the president to limit spending.
The president will likely address the debt limit in his speech and push for a bipartisan solution.