Biden delivers his State of the Union address with the ‘world on edge’

More than a year in office, as President Biden delivers his first official State of the Union address Tuesday, he is facing an array of challenges, including pandemic recovery, record inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and his domestic agenda stalled in Congress. Amna Nawaz, Geoff Bennett and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss what's at stake for the president.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In his State of the Union address tonight, President Biden is expected to speak about a list of topics, particularly the situation in Ukraine and the cost of inflation hitting American pocketbooks.

    Amna Nawaz is back to begin our coverage with a look at what's at stake for the president.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Madam Speaker…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    April of 2021, 100 days into office, President Biden hopeful in his first speech to Congress.

  • President Joe Biden:

    After just 100 days, I can report to the nation, America is on the move again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now more than a year in office, as he prepares to deliver his first official State of the Union address, Biden faces many of the same challenges and some new ones too, pandemic recovery, record inflation, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and his domestic agenda stalled in Congress.

  • Woman:

    Hi. My name is Hannah. I'm a student calling from Marist College.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's all taking a toll on how Americans view the president, according to the latest "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll. More than half of Americans, 56 percent, say Biden's first year has been a failure, roughly the same grade his predecessor, Donald Trump, received after his first year in office.

    Just 39 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing, the lowest approval rating of his presidency.

    Lee Miringoff Director, Marist Institute for Public Opinion,: I think this is both a big challenge and a great opportunity for him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lee Miringoff is the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

  • Lee Miringoff:

    Here, you have got a lot on the plate if you're Joe Biden, because you have got the international and the domestic and his role as the president and the division of the country. The confluence of factors is just enormous. But isn't that what our politics has been about the last few years? Every day, it's another borderline or realistic crisis.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's something Biden can tackle head on tonight.

  • Lee Miringoff:

    When you're low, there's a good opportunity to go up. And that's really where he has right now. The bounce potential is there for him, should he take advantage of it in the State of the Union.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The State of the Union has become the speech for presidents to take a victory lap for accomplishments in the previous year.

    But in the "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist survey, just 40 percent of Americans say Biden has been fulfilling his campaign promises. Nearly a quarter of Democrats say he has fallen short.

  • President Joe Biden:

    My nominee for the United States Supreme Court is Judge Ketanji Jackson.

  • Lee Miringoff:

    One big campaign promise he will likely tout, his selection of Ketanji Brown Jackson to join the Supreme Court, the first Black woman to be nominated to the bench.

    Getting her confirmed will be a top priority in coming weeks. And in his speech, Biden is expected to outline his other priorities for the year. For the American people, there's one issue they overwhelmingly say should be Biden's top priority: rising inflation.

    Nearly four in 10 Americans agree. After that, a quartet of issues are fighting for attention, coronavirus, voting laws, foreign policy and violent crime, all with about 10 percent of Americans listing them as the top priority.

    Policy priorities break down largely along political lines. For Republicans and independents, it's inflation. For Democrats, it's voting laws.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The notion of the nation coming together is probably beyond the expectations, realistically, that can be done by a speech or even by a good six months in office. But he needs to chart a new path for the country.

    Clearly, where we have been in the last few years and where he's continued to go in his first year is a path of division, a path of polarization.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is something President Biden will likely address too. He campaigned on his ability to bring people together.

    But more than half of Americans say he has done more to divide the nation than to unite it. As Biden makes the case for his agenda, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe it's more important for lawmakers to compromise to find solutions than to stand on principle and cause gridlock.

    It's an appeal Biden can make directly to the members of Congress sitting in the House chamber tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Amna joins me now from Capitol Hill for more, and also there, our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, while Geoff Bennett is at the White House.

    Hello to all three of you.

    Geoff, I'm going to start with you.

    What more have you been able to learn about what we can expect to hear tonight from the president and how he's been preparing for this?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, Judy, I can tell you, I have been speaking to Democratic aides and White House officials all day about this very thing.

    And I'm told that, tonight, President Biden will confront head on the multiple challenges that sit before him, a stalled legislative agenda, trying to help navigate the country out of this now-three-year pandemic, and confronting a global crisis spurred by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    And given the gravity, the severity of the Ukraine crisis, I'm told that we can expect foreign policy to be a major focus of the speech, not just because of the events unfolding in real time, but also because President Biden ran for office touting his ability to build global coalitions, his ability to rally the allies.

    And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says that, tonight, the president will highlight the fact that the U.S. has been the leader in bringing together a global coalition to sanction Russia and to help mitigate the fallout from Putin's bloody, aggressive act in Ukraine.

    That said, though, I'm told the White House doesn't want to shortchange the domestic issues, given the reasons that have been sort of brought out to the fore by the latest poll that Amna mentioned in that piece.

    So the president will talk up his ability, the record and job creation, his plans to spur U.S. manufacturing, the steps his administration took over the past summer to ease supply chain issues. And included in that will be his plan to confront inflation, namely, his Build Back Better agenda, which is now stalled on Capitol Hill.

    But I'm told the president won't refer to that package of policy proposals by name. I'm told that the name matters less than the ideas contained in it. So he will talk about his plan to lower prescription drugs and to help people pay for child care and eldercare.

    And add to all of that his plan to address the COVID pandemic. He won't declare that the pandemic is over, because it's not. But I have talked to Democrats who want the president tonight to declare a transition away from some of the toughest measures that were in place to deal with the COVID crisis.

    So this will be an opportunity for the president to speak to millions of Americans. Many of them, if the polls are accurate and to be believed, are dissatisfied with his performance so far. So, I'm told this speech, in many ways, will be a reset, but also will be a road map for the next six months or so headed into the midterm elections, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hearing from Geoff Bennett, as we also hear from some protesters apparently right outside the White House as well.

    So, Lisa Desjardins, you have been talking to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. What are they saying they look to hear from the president?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, tonight, for the first time in two years, every member of Congress is invited to watch this speech.

    And I have to say, for one side more than the other, there are more pointed expectations and hopes. Those are Democrats. They know that they are at risk for losing one or both chambers in the fall, and they are very sober about the president's low approval ratings at the moment.

    What do they want? They want him to tout the highs and also acknowledge the lows. So what are we talking about? Some of those things that Geoff mentioned, for example, the 6.6 million jobs that the president has added to the economy. You will hear that tonight, the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill. Those are the highs.

    But also on the lows on Democrats' minds here, of course, is the stalled agenda when it comes to child care, family, health care, and climate change, and, in addition, Afghanistan.

    Judy, what Democrats want is a very sober reckoning about inflation, essentially understanding Americans are not happy at this moment.

    Republicans, on the other hand Judy, they are looking forward to their response from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a fiscal and social conservative, first woman governor of that state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot on the plate there.

    And finally, back to you, Amna. We heard you interviewing the ambassador from the U.K. We know the world is going to be paying attention tonight to what the president says. How is it thought that that's going to affect everything?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Judy, of course, the president's not just speaking to the lawmakers in the room, the American public. He is speaking to the world tonight. And it's a world on edge. Remember that Russian assault on Ukraine continues tonight as the president is speaking.

    And we know from released excerpts from the White House the president will speak directly to that and note specifically the unity among NATO and Western allies, and among those watching tonight, a few I have been talking to, including a senior European official who I asked what they would like to see the president reference tonight. The official says they're going to be watching for resolve, unity and statesmanship from the president.

    Also, everyday Ukrainians I have been messaging with, Judy, they say they want to hear the president say this is also their fight, the U.S.' fight. Otherwise, they say, the international alliances mean nothing.

    Another Ukrainian I spoke to said they'd like to see President Biden go further, even invite Ukraine into the NATO alliance. Of course, Judy, I will also tell you these are Ukrainians who have been spending their time running between their homes and shelters every time the air raid siren goes off.

    For them, it's a very real reality. And they're staying up. They're going to stay up tonight and watch the president's speech because that's how much it matters to them.

    So, Judy, the world is absolutely watching tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure. And we will hear more from all of you just a little later tonight.

    Our live special coverage of the State of the Union begins online at 7:00 p.m. Eastern and at 8:00 p.m. here on PBS.

    Thank you.

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