Biden to deliver high-stakes State of the Union address as Trump rematch looms

Washington DC - President Joe Biden is preparing to deliver a State of the Union speech on Thursday aimed at convincing skeptical voters the 81-year-old is fit to beat Donald Trump in November's election.

President Joe Biden is due to deliver his State of the Union address on March 7 at 9PM.
President Joe Biden is due to deliver his State of the Union address on March 7 at 9PM.  © REUTERS

Most years, the annual address to Congress is a largely ceremonial affair, but in 2024, the stakes are enormous as Democrat Biden seeks to overcome growing doubts about his age, the US economy, the war in Ukraine, and his support for Israel's assault on Gaza.

Millions of Americans will also be tuning in to the primetime spectacle to see not just what the oldest president in US history says but also how he says it, with Republican Trump (77) continually mocking Biden's health and mental acuity.

Set for 9:00 PM, the speech is expected to trumpet achievements on infrastructure, drug prices, and student debt forgiveness, with Biden saying on Wednesday that he had done "more over three years than most presidents have in eight."

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Donald Trump Trump may be sued by E. Jean Carroll for a third time after Memorial Day rant

"You hired me to get the job done, build an economy that works for working people, and make life better for families," Biden wrote on X. "I'll update you on our progress and lay out the path ahead."

Trump and Biden nailed down a repeat of the 2020 election with their sweeping wins in this week's Super Tuesday primaries – but it is a rematch that polls show many US voters do not actually want.

Biden is set to paint the election as an existential clash, warning that US democracy and its global standing would be at risk if Trump makes a sensational comeback to the White House.

Scandal-plagued and facing multiple criminal indictments – including for trying to overturn his loss four years ago – Trump again appears to have the Republican nomination on lock, thanks to his base of working-class, white voters.

Biden's mental fitness in the spotlight

President Joe Biden hopes to make the case for his reelection to voters during the State of the Union address.
President Joe Biden hopes to make the case for his reelection to voters during the State of the Union address.  © REUTERS

But while Biden trails Trump in recent polls, he hopes his State of the Union speech will remind Americans why they voted for him four years ago and why they should give him a second term.

For three days over the weekend, Biden huddled with aides at the Camp David retreat crafting the speech, and he plans to "continue to fine tune" it on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Biden was already well prepared for a repeat of last year's heckling by hardline Trump allies during his State of the Union speech, the White House added – but that is not the only risk.

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Observers will also be on the lookout for signs of frailty after Biden suffered a series of trips and verbal slips in recent years.

"For every president, whether or not Biden, stumbling in some way, not necessarily physically, but over their words, that can often have an impact overshadowing what the president is saying," Sarada Peri, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, told AFP.

Biden's key issues in State of the Union address

Biden is facing growing frustration from growing numbers of Americans over his continued support for Israel's assault on Gaza.
Biden is facing growing frustration from growing numbers of Americans over his continued support for Israel's assault on Gaza.  © REUTERS

Biden said his speech's key issues also included reproductive rights, which Democrats view as a major vote winner against Republicans.

The world will also be watching, with the assault on Gaza and war in Ukraine meaning the stakes of the November 5 election could hardly be higher.

Biden is expected to urge Republicans to stop blocking military aid for Ukraine's fight against Russia's invasion.

The US president invited Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska and the widow of the late Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny to be his guests at the US Capitol for the speech, but both were unable to attend, the White House said.

Biden has also faced intense pushback from large swaths of his base over his ongoing military and diplomatic support to Israel. In an effort to curb criticism, he may mention his administration's efforts to broker a temporary six-week pause to the attacks on Gaza, falling well short of demands for a permanent ceasefire.

Remarks on border and immigration policy are expected after Trump pushed allies in Congress to block a bipartisan deal, promoted by Biden, that would have instituted drastic new anti-migrant measures.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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