In front of the Congress meeting in plenary and the Americans in front of the TV, this evening Biden will outline his idea for America and lay the foundations for a new candidacy for the White House. He will do it in front of a split Congress and sitting behind him Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House, to symbolize the control of the House by the Republicans.
The president’s speech will not exceed 80 minutes, by 10.40, according to the White House schedule, in fact, Biden will have returned to his residence.
Yesterday Brian Deese, economic adviser, gave some advances on the topics that the president will touch. He will certainly talk about the most delicate issue at the moment (and in the future), namely the raising of the debt ceiling, which the Republicans oppose. The White House is willing – said Deese – to discuss the “economic and fiscal priorities of the country to find common ground”. But, the adviser pointed out, it is a question of discussing how to contain expenses in a budget management vision. The president has no intention of linking the debt ceiling to spending cuts. Which is one of the conditions, the most important, that the Republicans set.
Recent incidents involving the police in the deaths of African Americans – the latest in Memphis where 29-year-old Tire Nichols was beaten by officers – will force him to address the issue of police reform without cutting funds, as part of the his party – the progressive wing – would like. In this context, Biden will also ask for a common effort from deputies to ban assault weapons.
He will not be able to ignore immigration, a bipartisan law has been missing for years and Biden would like to give Congress another chance and is expected to push. There will certainly be a reference to the solidity of the US labor market (3.4% of unemployed) but also to inflation, a terrain on which the Republicans are ready to counterattack given that the cost of living indicators are still high. Social issues such as abortion and the reduction of costs for prescriptions and medical care will enter the topics, from the emphasis that Biden will place he will also understand how much “political capital” he intends to invest in the search for a law on abortion and health and the aid funds.
The foreign policy front has been enriched in the last few days by the story of the Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina. Yesterday Biden said he had not changed her speech because of this episode, but the White House made it known that obviously China and “strategic competition” will be an important element of the speech. In fact, no one denies that bilateral relations are “tense”: the question is how much Biden will show the hard side on the issue tonight, perhaps to curry favor with the Republicans.
And then Ukraine. Half of Republicans are skeptical of massive and sustained US aid to Ukrainians, Biden will likely reiterate the line that the Ukrainian conflict is one piece in a larger mosaic in the fight against authoritarianism and for freedom. Some foreign policy analysts have noted that Biden could also use the podium to sketch a possible roadmap for ending the conflict. But the Administration has not received any confirmation on this.
Then it will be up to the Republicans to respond, the counter-speech has been a tradition since the second half of the 1960s. It begins as soon as the president has finished his speech. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, new governor of Arkansas and former Trump spokesperson, will hold it tonight.