What to watch in Biden’s 2024 State of the Union address

Mar 7, 2024, 8:30 AM

President Biden...

President Joe Biden, here on March 5, will address Congress and the American people on Thursday. (Mandatory Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(Mandatory Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden on Thursday will address Congress and the American people in what could be the most consequential speech of his presidency, seeking to boast about his first term while also warning the country about what he views as a ruinous threat to its very existence.

Tune in at 8:45 a.m. as we preview the State of the Union!

While State of the Union addresses have typically been opportunities for presidents to present themselves at their most bridge-building and presidential, the primary results on Super Tuesday, which effectively consolidated the 2024 campaign into a two-man race, gives this year’s speech a political hue.

While it remains to be seen how often Biden will invoke former President Donald Trump’s name – or whether he will choose to at all – the 2024 general election campaign, for all intents and purposes, will be kicked off with Biden’s speech.

As he delivers the address, Biden will command the attention of what might well be his largest crowd before November, giving voters concerned about his age and stamina a crucial barometer to determine whether the 81-year-old president is up for another four years in the job one month after a special counsel’s report faulted his memory and cognition.

It also gives Biden the opportunity to present his administration’s biggest wins directly to the American people, bypassing the traditional media, which Biden has frequently complained obfuscates his accomplishments and base of support.

Touting his economic record, even if Americans aren’t perceiving a windfall

The United States economy has outperformed experts’ expectations since a year ago, when many economists thought it would be undergoing a recession right now.

That hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons. It’s not looking like it will anytime soon either with an unemployment rate that’s stayed below 4% for the past 24 months.

But Americans aren’t feeling so optimistic. In survey after survey, they’ve conveyed strong disapproval of the state of the economy, something Biden has struggled to wrap his head around.

Inflation is at the core of their consternation.

Even though price increases have moderated significantly from two years ago, Americans are paying 18% for goods and services compared to before Biden took office, according to Consumer Price Index data.

It’s an issue Biden has acknowledged in the past and pledged to fix. His rhetoric on the economy has recently taken a more populist tone, with Biden saying in remarks earlier this year that “For all we’ve done to bring prices down, there are still too many corporations in America ripping people off.”

“Price gouging, junk feeds, greedflation, shrinkflation,” Biden said in remarks in Columbia, South Carolina, adding the country is “tired of being played for suckers.”

Even Cookie Monster has complained about feeling the pinch in his amorphous wallet.

Two days before Thursday’s address, Biden’s administration launched a new strike force with the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission “to root out and stop illegal corporate behavior” that results in higher prices for Americans.

This effort, aimed at demonstrating to Americans that he hasn’t lost sight of the impact high prices are having, will come up in Biden’s remarks Thursday, White House national economic adviser Lael Brainard told reporters on a call Monday night.

The Biden administration has also focused on lowering drug prices and health care costs more broadly, both through laws aimed at reducing costs and through administrative proposals aimed at increasing competition.

For instance, the administration proposed a rule in November governing the financial incentives that health insurers offering Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D drug plans can provide to brokers and agents.

The proposal would set up guardrails to prevent plans from providing excessive compensation to brokers and agents to steer potential enrollees to their policies rather than those in senior citizens’ best interests.

Failed border deal and abortion rights provide a contrast with Trump

Following the failure, at Trump’s urging, of a bipartisan deal that would have included significant border concessions from Biden, the president promised to make his case directly to the American people – blaming Trump directly for an issue that many Americans say is their top concern heading into November.

Biden will have his largest platform yet to do so on Thursday.

Visiting the US-Mexico border on the same day as Trump last week, Biden offered his foe an olive branch, entreating the former president to work with him to find a solution that would strengthen the United States’ southern border and overhaul its immigration system.

Trump, who hopes to use illegal immigration as a political cudgel against Biden, has not accepted a truce.

Biden has repeatedly cited Republican cowardice to stand up to Trump as the key reason why a deal failed. He’ll have a chance on Thursday to call out congressional Republicans directly.

He’ll also have the opportunity to elucidate his efforts to protect abortion rights in the United States, and the threat posed to those rights if Trump were to be elected again. The president and his administration have spent much of the time since the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court blaming Trump for the decision.

Defending America’s role abroad

Speaking directly to the Republican-controlled House that dismantled hopes of the border deal that contained funding for Ukraine and Israel, Biden will have the chance to lay out in vivid detail the price of Republican waffling on additional support to the country in its third year of war against Russia.

The lack of further US-funded ammunition has had serious consequences for Ukrainian soldiers on the battlefield, and Biden has frequently said that history will judge harshly the lack of resolve shown in continuing to fund the country’s defense.

The speech comes weeks after Ukraine announced a withdrawal from the strategic hub of Avdiivka after fighting dealt heavy casualties to the Ukrainians, and as other world leaders doubt the future of American leadership abroad in a hypothetical second Trump term.

Meanwhile, Trump – who has always been wary of leveling any sort of criticism at Russian President Vladimir Putin – has sharpened his rhetoric around withdrawing the United States from international partnerships, saying he would encourage Russia to attack US allies who don’t meet NATO spending guidelines and offering no criticism of Putin for the death of his leading critic, Alexey Navalny.

Perhaps in an effort to drive Biden’s point home, the White House announced that Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, and Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska were both invited by the White House to watch Biden’s address. Neither were able to attend.

Biden will also have the opportunity to defend his stance on Israel’s continued war in Gaza, as his continued, albeit increasingly tepid, support for the war threatens to turn a key progressive faction against him.

Warning about democracy and threats at home

Biden on Tuesday posted a picture on social media of himself reading the first page of his speech’s draft during preparations at Camp David.

While that page contained the greetings customarily given by the president to the House speaker, members of Congress, the vice president and the American people, a close look reveals a name Biden hoped to invoke in his address, at least in its initial drafts.

Visible semi-transparently through the first page is President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s name and the beginning of his 1941 speech to Congress, in which the nation’s 32nd president famously proposed four fundamental freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear – and extolled the virtues of democracy across the world.

Opening his address, Roosevelt told members of the 77th Congress that he was speaking to them “at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union.”

“I use the word ‘unprecedented,’ because at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today,” Roosevelt said.

Biden has made his own warnings – increasingly dire in recent months – about a threat to the US’ security. But that threat, the president has warned, comes from within.

Roosevelt’s speech was given on January 6, 1941 – 80 years to the day before a mob incited by Trump stormed the building where Biden will address the country, in a violent attempt to disrupt the democratic process that put him in office.

CNN’s Elisabeth Buchwald and Tami Luhby contributed to this report.

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What to watch in Biden’s 2024 State of the Union address