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The state of Biden’s union

Few traditions in U.S. politics have endured like the State of the Union.

Tens of millions of Americans will tune in tonight to see President Joe Biden address a divided Congress and nation just months before the general election. Biden has made clear — most recently in a lengthy profile in The New Yorker — that he thinks he’s the only Democrat who can beat former President Donald Trump. And Biden believes he has more work to do to build on his legislative record.

Tonight he’ll have the chance to lay out what that looks like.

This is Biden’s final State of the Union before Election Day, and he’ll deliver it against a rough political backdrop.

Biden’s approval rating is 38%. A New York Times/Siena poll has him trailing Trump by five points. A majority of Biden’s 2020 voters say he’s too old to be an effective president. The U.S. economy is strong — Biden’s biggest plus — but he’s not getting credit for that.

The geopolitical landscape is a mess. Israel’s brutal military campaign in Gaza continues even as the threat of a wider conflict grows. White House officials and Democratic lawmakers are increasingly upset over the scale of Palestinian casualties. Ukraine is losing ground in its war with Russia. Congress hasn’t passed aid to either Israel or Ukraine.

Even though inflation is abating, prices are uncomfortably high. The migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border is ongoing. China continues to dramatically boost its military spending, posing a threat to Taiwan and other U.S. allies.

State of the Union addresses always have some element of surprise to them, an announcement we didn’t see coming or a guest we didn’t expect. But the White House has widely telegraphed the themes of this year’s speech.

Here’s White House Communications Director Ben LaBolt:

In one major respect, the State of the Union has changed drastically during the last decade. This used to be a formal, very staid affair. Not anymore. Now it’s akin to a sporting event with each side loudly applauding for its priorities. Some Republicans stand on their chairs and howl at Biden. Lots of members of the GOP will opt out of attending. This is definitely not your parents’ State of the Union address.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.