State of the Union 2024: Biden to pitch a sceptical America that he deserves a second term

The stalled efforts to broker a ceasefire in Gaza will also loom over the President's speech

US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address last year to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol. EPA
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President Joe Biden is set to deliver a crucial speech on Thursday night as he tries to convince a sceptical America that the country is on the right track and that he deserves a second term in the White House.

During the annual State of the Union address, presidents give a primetime address to the US Congress to outline priorities and tout achievements.

With the presidential election looming in November, an unpopular Mr Biden will try to shift public opinion on his presidency and address domestic and global issues, as well as lay out what his second term might look like.

“It's a major address, it's an important speech,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday.

“He's going to be delivering it to millions of Americans who are going to be tuning in and we appreciate that. And the President takes that very, very seriously.”

Mr Biden, 81, is already the oldest president in US history. He faces low approval ratings and questions about his age as well as his cognitive acuity.

His agenda on Russia's war on Ukraine has faced significant pushback from Republicans, and he has drawn criticism – even within his own Democratic Party – over his handling of the Israel-Gaza war and immigration along the US-Mexico border.

A new poll by the Associated Press-Norc Centre for Public Affairs Research showed that only 38 per cent of Americans approve of Mr Biden's handling of his job and 63 per cent say they are not very or not at all confident in the President’s mental capability to serve effectively.

The White House said Mr Biden spent the weekend at Camp David, where he prepared for the speech with the help of senior aides.

“He's going to continue to fine tune the speech – this is something that he was personally involved in,” Ms Jean-Pierre said.

“This is something that comes straight from having conversations with the American people that he's had over the past year leading to the process.”

One of the top issues for US voters this year is the economy, which a majority of Americans are unhappy with even though unemployment is down and inflation is under control.

A CBS poll released on Sunday found that 57 per cent of voters believe that the US economy is currently either bad or fairly bad.

While Mr Biden has credited his administration's economic revival plan – Bidenomics – for dampening inflation, Republican officials have still blamed the White House for high prices faced by consumers.

Voters also say they are increasingly concerned over the growing number of migrants arriving at the US border with Mexico, with many citing it as their number one issue.

Donald Trump, who has essentially locked in the Republican nomination, has seized on this issue to make a case that he will do a better job of securing the border.

Most polls in recent weeks have shown Mr Biden trailing Mr Trump by a small margin in a head-to-head contest.

While the speech is typically focused on domestic issues, Mr Biden will take the podium on Thursday, for the third time as president, amid stalled efforts to get a ceasefire in Gaza and get much-needed humanitarian aid into the besieged strip.

His unequivocal military, political and diplomatic support for Israel since October 7, as well as his refusal to back a permanent ceasefire in Gaza has sparked widespread criticism among Arab and Muslim-American communities as well as progressive and young voters.

Not only have his policies caused disenchantment among those voting blocs that were critical in his 2020 victory, they have also led to campaigns aimed at ensuring he is not re-elected.

A poll by Data for Progress found that 67 per cent of Americans support a ceasefire in Gaza.

The discontent came into sharp focus in recent weeks when hundreds of thousands of voters in Michigan and Minnesota – states that are home to sizeable Arab and Muslim populations – and elsewhere cast “uncommitted” protest votes in their primary elections, citing their disapproval of Mr Biden's handling of the war.

Mr Biden has also sought to continue to support the Ukrainian military's ability to defend itself against Russia's invasion.

But his efforts have been challenged by Trump-aligned Republican officials who question the continued US involvement in that conflict.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 3:55 AM