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Biden's State of the Union to Spotlight Past, Future

FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 1, 2022.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers on Tuesday evening his Constitutionally-mandated State of the Union Speech to a joint session of Congress. His speech will cover a number of topic areas and highlight his accomplishments as well as set forth his coming priorities.

When Biden takes the podium Tuesday evening before Congress, he, like his predecessors in the White House, will laud his administration's accomplishments in the previous year.

Biden will also outline the challenges facing the United States — both foreign and domestic — and what his administration plans to do to address each issue.

A century ago, the address was a written document sent to Capitol Hill before President Woodrow Wilson decided to give it in person to a joint session. Aside from Herbert Hoover, it has been given at the House podium ever since.

The presidential speech was broadcast on radio then televised when that medium became prevalent. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan began using the event to spotlight and salute ordinary Americans.

For tonight's speech, Biden is expected to punctuate elements and topic areas of his speech by calling attention to those people.

When he speaks of the public call for police reform, which gained considerable volume with the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, he will call attention to the presence of the parents of Memphis resident Tyre Nichols, who suffered a beating death while engaged with the police.

Biden, who called the incident "horrific" has already stated his perspective:" Let’s come together to protect our communities, restore trust and hold law enforcement accountable. ... We should all agree: the answer is not to defund the police," he has said, adding "The answer is to FUND the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities."

The president will also recognize 26-year-old Brandon Tsay, who went after a California mass shooter in January and disarmed the assailant.

Biden has already gone on record on guns, saying "I ask Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence. Pass universal background checks, ... ban assault weapons with high-capacity magazines, ... repeal the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can’t be sued."Biden's speech will have words of support for Ukraine, whose ambassador, Oksana Markarova, will be present at First Lady Jill Biden's invitation.

Showing continued and unwavering backing for Ukraine's struggle to eject the Russian and mercenary forces that invaded will be a major part of the address, not only for the benefit of Kyiv, but also, to maintain popular U.S. support for the massive transfer of weapons and cash from Washington.

The U.S. has already sent some $2.7 billion in military aid to Kyiv. This, as some in the States say, is the time to spend money on Americans, not foreigners. To that, Biden has a clear response:

"The world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security. This is the real test. It is going to take time. So let’s continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people."

A senior advisor to the president told reporters hours before the address that Biden will focus his address on progress made during the last two years, while he makes a case that the ''best days lie ahead," casting an optimistic outlook.

The president has the opportunity in his speech tonight to pound the podium over his latest unemployment figures, which show only a 3.4% jobless rate, the lowest in more than 50 years.

Another economic bright spot sure to be spotlighted is the downward inflation slope. "My top priority is getting prices under control. ... My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit," Biden has said.

The 9.1% inflation rate recorded in June 2022 is now sitting at 6.5%.

In simple terms, fuel that costed over $6 for just under four liters in June is now down to roughly half that price. Grocery prices are still higher than pre-2022 levels, but a gentle easing has been underway.

Another Biden boast will be his push to rebuild infrastructure across the United States. It has been a year since Congress passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Biden can boast, as he did in November, that his administration has "launched 2,800 bridge repair and replacement projects across the country," among many other projects.

As for other infrastructure projects, the president has already announced "We’ll build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, begin to replace poisonous lead pipes — so every child — and every American — has clean water to drink at home and at school, provide affordable high-speed internet for every American — urban, suburban, rural and tribal communities."

With the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill now in opposition Republican hands, Biden is expected to use his speech to call on them not to use the "debt ceiling" — a Congressional limit on spending already done by the government — as a means of either threatening a government default or as a lever to demand major cuts in domestic programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

The House Speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, has told Fox News, "One of the greatest threats we have to this nation is our debt," adding "It makes us weak in every place that we can."

"By the end of this year, the deficit will be down to less than half of what it was before I took office, the only president ever to cut the deficit by more than $1 trillion in a single year," the Biden has said, a point he will likely highlight in his speech.

In fiscal 2020, the budget deficit was $3.1 trillion. In 2021, it was $2.8 trillion. The 2022 deficit was $1.4 trillion. Economists have said that the deficit drop reflects a recovering economy that generates higher tax revenue.

The foreign policy arena holds more than the Russian attack upon Ukraine. It also includes a resurgent and strengthened NATO, the situation left by the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan enabling a Taliban return, heightened engagement with Africa and greater attention toward the Pacific rim.

In the wake of a brazen China surveillance operation over the United States using a balloon, Biden is expected to set forth America's determination not to be pushed out of the South China Sea, continued backing of its relationship with Taiwan and trade policies that enable U.S. trade on a competitive basis.

With China very much in mind, Biden has already stated: "To compete for the jobs of the future, we also need a level playing field with China and other competitors. That is why it is so important to pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act sitting in Congress that will make record investments in emerging technologies and American manufacturing."

After the December 2022 Washington-hosted U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which drew many of the continent's heads of state, Biden is expected to use his speech before Congress to support the growth and protection of democracy in Africa, to call for African nations to join the States in suppressing insurgents and Islamic extremists and, to call for the African Union to have a seat on the G20 group of nations.

Soufan Center terrorism expert Colin Clarke says the White House has a challenge on its hands with African insurgency.

"While the President and his administration may seek to tout their attention to sub-Saharan Africa," he told VOA, the fact remains, the U.S. currently lacks a comprehensive strategy to deal with the proliferation of private military contractors like the Wagner Group throughout Africa.

He added: "The Biden Administration recently designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization, which while a good initial step, does not go far enough in putting together an aggressive response to deal with the mercenaries' destabilizing role in the Sahel and other critical regions in sub-Saharan Africa."

In the celebrity guest category for Biden's speech is music legend Bono of the Irish rockers U2, who has lent his name and efforts to a number of peace and humanitarian causes.

After Biden delivers his 2023 State of the Union speech, the opposition party will, as before, speak in response. This year's Republican responder is Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, an ex-press office aide in former President Donald Trump's administration.

In a dismissive tone, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said: "The state of the union is weaker and American families are suffering because of Joe Biden."

McDaniel added, "But all they'll [the public] hear from Biden are excuses."

Former White House aide to Republican President George W. Bush says the ball is under Biden's control tonight.

"I think he’s got a pretty easy hand in terms of what you try and do with a State of the Union," Peter Wehner said to CNN. "One is you portray your case and your agenda as reasonable and responsible. And then what you try and do is put your opponents in a box, which is to portray them as extreme, as reckless, as irresponsible and radical if they oppose you."