President Joe Biden waves after arriving on the South Lawn of...

President Joe Biden waves after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Monday. Credit: James Carbone

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address before Congress on Tuesday, a primetime address that aides have said will look to ease the economic anxieties facing Americans at home while also addressing the deadly conflict overseas in Ukraine.

Biden, initially set to deliver a speech largely focused on his domestic agenda, also will use the address as an opportunity to speak about building "a global coalition to fight against the autocracy and the efforts of … (Russian President Vladimir Putin) to invade a foreign country," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during a Sunday appearance on ABC’s "This Week."

"He’s also going to speak about his optimism about what's ahead and what we all have to look forward to," Psaki said.

The speech marks the first since 2020 that all members of Congress will be invited to attend because of the pandemic. Seating for Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress last April was capped at 200 lawmakers to allow for social distancing. Lawmakers also will not be required to wear masks under the CDC’s new masking guidelines released last Friday.

Security will be heightened for the event. U.S. Capitol Police on Sunday erected a fence around the perimeter of the Capitol complex in anticipation of potential protests, including the possibility of truck caravans that have been promoted on social media. The D.C. National Guard has activated 400 guard members to assist with security.

After Biden’s speech, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa), will deliver the Republican Party’s response. Reynolds often resisted the federal government’s COVID-19 guidelines, rolling back mask wearing requirements and social distancing requirements last February before the widespread availability of vaccines.

Here are five topics to watch for on Tuesday:

U.S. aid to Ukraine

As Putin continues the invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies have responded with a series of stiff economic sanctions aimed at freezing Russia’s already rocky economy.

White House officials have repeatedly said the Biden administration has so far only tapped into sanctions that would result in the least financial impact on Americans and European allies, but the president has acknowledged that there may be an uptick in gas and oil prices.

Paul Fritz, a political-science professor at Hofstra University, said Biden will likely "have to hammer home that there will be a cost to this for Americans in terms of gas prices, the stock market, and potentially retaliatory attacks through cyber and other things."

"A big focus of the speech is probably going to be selling the administration's stance of why it’s so important that the U.S. needs to be involved," Fritz said. "It's a challenge, because the latest polls show the majority of people saying the U.S. should only play a small role in Ukraine."

The path to post-pandemic

When Biden delivered his first address to Congress last April, about half of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of three federally approved vaccines and the federal government was continuing to ramp up vaccine distribution.

Currently about 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated, but expect Biden to continue to urge more Americans to receive a booster shot and to appeal to parents to vaccinate children over the age of 5 who are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. A January analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 18% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 were fully vaccinated.

Biden, who has faced calls from governors and local leaders to define a path from grappling with a pandemic to living with COVID-19 as an endemic virus that continues to circulate in society, also will likely touch on the CDC’s latest effort to ease restrictions.

The future of Build Back Better

The President had hoped to pass a second sweeping infrastructure package last year focused on so-called human infrastructure needs such as child care, elder care and education. But the $1.75 billion package was met with resistance by two critical swing Democratic senators who essentially blocked the bill’s passage.

Biden in January said he hoped to revive big "chunks" of the package that focused on items with the broadest impact, including universal prekindergarten, reducing the cost of prescription drugs and addressing climate change.

The White House has said Biden remains engaged in discussions with congressional leaders about reworking the Build Back Better Act, but since January there has been little public discussion on what a new plan will look like and when it would come before lawmakers for a vote.

"He has to send some signals if he intends to pursue some variation of Build Back Better — he better tell Americans what he wants to do on Tuesday," said Brad Bannon, a Washington-based Democratic campaign strategist in a phone interview with Newsday.

Addressing inflation

With inflation at a 40-year-high, Biden is expected to speak about policies his administration has rolled out in recent months to address supply shortages and propose future initiatives.

A senior administration official, speaking to reporters by phone on Monday, said Biden will lay out a four-point plan to lower costs.

"The President will make clear that there’s more work to do, that there’s more work to rebuild the economy," the official said.

The White House has argued that soaring prices are tied in large part to global supply chain issues spurred by the pandemic, which preceded Biden, and officials have pointed to other economic data, including record job growth, as a sign that the U.S. economy is improving.

More than 19 million of the 22 million jobs lost at the onset of the pandemic have been regained, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate fell just below 4% in January, faster than most economic forecasters expected.

Despite the strong labor market figures, recent polls show inflation topping the list of concerns among voters.

Midterm elections

Biden’s speech comes eight months before the midterm elections as he and Democrats look to head off the wave of Republican gains made during last year’s off-year local elections.

The president, who in January said he hoped to get out of Washington more often to tout the impact of his agenda, is expected to use the speech as a springboard for hitting the campaign trail.

Biden will head to the battleground state of Wisconsin on Wednesday to tout the passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, which focuses on modernizing the nation’s transportation and communications systems.

As Biden grapples with sagging poll numbers and political headwinds that signal a possible GOP takeover of Congress in the midterms, expect the president to try and lay out in more detail how the infrastructure package and last year’s coronavirus relief package impacted Americans, said Bannon.

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