President Joe Biden is set to deliver his first State of the Union address at the Capitol on Tuesday evening, a chance for him to lay out his domestic agenda and speak to the world during an international crisis in Europe.
During his speech, scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. ET, the President is expected to focus heavily on the conflict in Ukraine and acknowledge the economic challenges Americans have continued to face as a result of rising inflation, global supply-chain issues and higher prices at the gas pump.
But as the nation heads toward the midterm elections this November, Biden will also surely acknowledge his political wins since taking office and chart a path toward a “new normal” amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Heading into the major address, the latest CNN Poll of Polls for Biden’s average approval rating stood at 40% approve to 54% disapprove – indicating that little had changed from his numbers since earlier in February. And according to a recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS, just 42% of respondents said they trusted the President at least moderately to make the right decisions regarding the situation in Ukraine.
Here’s what to watch for during Biden’s State of the Union address:
A defense of democracy in Ukraine
White House officials and allies have said the war in Ukraine will become a major focus for Biden’s remarks, a pivot that’s taken place as Russia invaded the eastern European nation.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged on Monday that the conflict will play an outsized role in the President’s speech, saying during the briefing that “there’s no question that this speech is a little different than it would have been just a few months ago.”
Psaki said Biden is expected to lay out the efforts he has taken on “to rally the world to stand up for democracy and against Russian aggression.”
Biden, who has long asserted that the battle between autocracies and democracies would be the challenge of his lifetime, is expected to discuss the US’ importance as a global leader and the efforts he’s made to mitigate the impacts of the war in Ukraine on Americans, like rising gas prices.
He will also talk about the steps the US has taken to target Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle for Russia’s acts of war against Ukraine. “And he will talk about the steps he’s taken to mitigate the impact of President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, on the global economy and the American people,” Psaki added.
Steps to bolster the economy
Biden will talk about inflation during his address, the White House says, outlining a new plan to lower costs for American families. And while he’ll tout economic gains over the past year, the President is expected to underscore that there is “more work” to do toward lowering costs, according to officials – an acknowledgment that despite a strong recovery, many Americans are still pessimistic about the economy.
The White House says the President will specifically lay out a four-point plan to lower costs for American families and continue on the US’ economic recovery amid the pandemic: making more goods in America, reducing everyday expenses, promoting fair competition and eliminating barriers to “good-paying jobs” for American workers.
Along with new efforts being announced, Biden will talk about how his administration’s work aided in the country’s economic recovery.
He is expected to call on Congress to act on aspects of his signature social spending legislation, Build Back Better, which has stalled in Congress since Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced he’d oppose the bill.
But a senior administration official previewing Tuesday’s remarks wouldn’t say if Biden would call explicitly for passage of Build Back Better by name, just one month after Manchin told reporters the legislation was “dead.”
A ‘new normal’
For the first time since taking office, Biden will deliver a joint address to Congress in a full House chamber where masks are optional – a major change from his speech last year, which featured a masked audience with extremely limited, socially distanced seating.
The symbolism of the night comes amid changes to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on masking and the White House’s work to develop a strategy for the next phase of the pandemic.
Biden is expected to address the evolution of the pandemic and America’s response to it during the speech. His comments come ahead of the release of a new Covid strategy document.
Led by Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, White House officials have spent weeks putting together a new document outlining the administration’s strategy to tackle the next phase of the pandemic, officials said. It’s expected to address how the nation can mitigate the impacts of Covid while reestablishing a sense of normalcy in the country.
Political victory laps
Democrats face an uphill battle to maintain control of the House when they head into the midterm elections this fall. And it’s clear they hope the President can deliver a message to celebrate his and his party’s wins that gets through to voters and boosts his poll numbers.
Biden, who started the second year of his term with one of the lowest approval ratings of a modern-day president, has acknowledged that his administration has not adequately touted its political victories.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain told House Democrats in mid-February that he was hoping the address would boost Biden’s polling, in part by demonstrating leadership on national security and by showing empathy for Americans frustrated with Covid-19 and inflation. The recent historic nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court was also expected to be a boost.
But some Democrats, like Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, have warned that the President’s domestic agenda and any accomplishments he will outline during the address have effectively “been eclipsed by Ukraine.”
The speech comes on the same night that the midterm election season effectively begins with primary elections in Texas. It’s the first statewide election to be held under Texas’ new restrictive voting law, and Biden has made voting rights a major focus in recent months, though he has been stymied in getting federal legislation passed to address the issue.
Polls will close statewide at 9 p.m. ET, as Biden’s speech gets underway, but most polls in the state will close an hour earlier.
How to watch
CNN’s coverage of the State of the Union address and Republican response will stream live, without requiring a cable login, on CNN.com’s homepage and across mobile devices via CNN’s apps for iOS and Android on Tuesday, 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET. It can also be viewed on CNNgo (at CNN.com/go on your desktop, smartphone and iPad, and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Android TV, Chromecast and Roku).
CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta, Ariel Edwards-Levy and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.