Joe Biden prepares careful State of the Union address to divided nation

Joe Biden will make his second State of the Union address on Tuesday. Credit: AP

As President Biden reviewed the carefully calibrated words of his second State of the Union address, he posted a series of photos from Camp David: cookies and coffee accompanying the weighing of each paragraph, huddling with his core team of advisors, marking up his speech ahead of his address to a special joint session of both houses.

He overcame a stammer as a child and still annotates his notes to help him to pause and deliver the words smoothly.

The subjects he is likely to tackle have been widely trailed in the United States, but it is perhaps the tone, body language and reception that will be more telling.

Among those in the audience will be new lawmakers, elected in the midterms, and now settled into their offices.

And there will of course be a new Speaker wielding the gavel, Kevin McCarthy, who was finally confirmed after an astonishing 15 votes in the House of Representatives exactly one month ago.

A meeting between the president and speaker was interesting, but there are fears about whether the US government will raise America’s debt ceiling - in short, how much government can borrow.

Failure to do so could send the US into default, plunging the global economy into a tailspin.

The Republicans are determined to force through spending cuts, but the president says raising the spending cap is non-negotiable.

It sets up a classic Washington legislative show-down, with the size and scope of the state once again at its heart.

President Biden posted a picture of himself preparing for his State of the Union address alongside his advisors. Credit: Instagram/potus

Some of the politicians seated before Biden will be election-deniers - those who wrongly claim he didn’t win in 2020.

Expect him to go on the attack against so-called MAGA republicans - those who subscribe to Donald Trump’s 'Make America Great Again' agenda.

Biden might seek to marginalise them with rhetoric designed to portray them as extremists and anti-democratic forces, who pose a danger to the State.

It is rumoured former president Trump will conduct a 'rapid response operation' to counter Biden’s State of the Union, with a video to be released immediately afterwards.

The vitriol of 2020 hasn’t passed. If anything, it has deepened, and this week we will once again see two main protagonists set out their contrasting arguments to a divided nation.

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Both vying to win over the slim swing voters in key states, which will decide who occupies the White House after 2024.

And yet recent polls show a significant majority would prefer to see candidates other than Biden and Trump contest the next election.

It will also be worth watching the Representative for New York’s Third congressional district, George Santos, whose lies to get elected have been gradually uncovered by the US media.

Despite fabricating much of his CV, Santos has refused to step down and will probably be present at the State of the Union. Biden may reference him or his morally dubious means of gaining office.

The Chinese Balloon saga may also be mentioned. President Biden insists he ordered it to be shot down as soon as it was safe to do so, but Republicans have accused him of dither and delay.

He may even face heckling as he seeks to justify his actions, as he did last year from MAGA hardliner Lauren Boebert.

There will also be lines on Ukraine - the US has pledged tanks and the president is likely to reaffirm America’s commitment to military support, which is already running into tens of billions of dollars.

On domestic issues, policing reform and gun control are two hot-button issues which dominate US politics.

The parents of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by police and later died, will be in the audience.

It’s likely the president will again reiterate the need for reform, unity and calm. Healing words are inevitable, but effective action remains elusive.

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Looming over all of his address will be 2024 and Biden’s bid for a second term. He hasn’t yet formally announced he is running, but this will be a golden opportunity to speak directly to tens of millions of Americans who are expected to tune in.

Making the case for how their lives have improved will be a central part of his message, emphasising the falling cost of fuel, growing investment from the Inflation Reduction Act and stellar jobs numbers, which have many wondering if the US economy is on the verge of a new surge forward after the difficult years of Covid.

While Reagan’s 1984 campaign slogan famously proclaimed "It’s Morning again in America" - portraying a country getting back to work and recovering its economic mojo - Biden is also pitching the idea that America is a country facing a bright new dawn of optimism.

He will likely contrast his tenure, with what he’ll claim were the dark days of the Trump years.

He might cite falling unemployment and petrol prices, easing inflation and a strong dollar, giving American’s better buying power aboard.

We can’t of course say yet whether this idea of a new dawn, translates into a second term for Biden.

But this will be the moment for the president to start the argument that Americans’ lives are getting better and he should be trusted to continue that path.