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The text and the subtext of Biden’s SOTU

There’s one thing we know for sure about this year’s State of the Union address. You’re going to hear President Joe Biden say a lot of things.

And while POTUS is known for gaffes — whether that’s a head of state switcheroo or something more revealing — the State of the Union is always one of the White House’s most carefully scripted pieces of political rhetoric.

We have a pretty good idea of what Biden will say tonight. Let’s unpack what he actually means.

The economy:

What Biden says: The president is working hard to embrace the economy. At the February dinner with the National Governors Association, Biden said: “It’s clear we have the strongest economy in the world.” Biden loves highlighting the latest jobs numbers, improvements in wage growth and progress made against inflation.

Translation: The White House is hoping voters will start to feel these good numbers and respond with something resembling electoral support. It hasn’t happened yet. Inflation has taken a real toll on Americans.

But consumer sentiment has been picking up since November. “Folks are starting to feel it,” Biden said. “Positive consumer sentiment surged 30 percent in the last three months, the biggest jump in 30 years.”

The border:

What Biden says: Biden traveled to the border last week and hammered congressional Republicans for killing the bipartisan border security deal. The president implored Republicans to “put politics aside” and “show a little spine” to address an issue they have long complained about. Biden will undoubtedly touch on the same themes tonight.

Translation: Biden is talking about former President Donald Trump here. After Trump came out against the bipartisan deal, GOP lawmakers quickly followed suit. Republicans, as expected, say Biden could use executive orders to start to stem the flow of migrants at the border.

Biden is also nodding to voters’ broader concerns about immigration and the border. The president is limited in what he can do without Congress, so this is his effort to convey to voters that he’s at least trying.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he hopes Biden “knocks Republicans in the teeth,” adding Democrats should go on offense over the border.

“They just can’t continue to get away with claiming they care about the border and then refusing to vote for tough bipartisan compromises,” Murphy said. “Democrats have been way too defensive in our positioning on immigration.”

Foreign aid:

What Biden says: Biden recently said Israel’s military operations in Gaza have been “over the top.” This was the furthest he had gone publicly in criticizing Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas in Gaza. And this past weekend, Vice President Kamala Harris called for an “immediate ceasefire” for the next six weeks, citing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Translation: The Biden administration has made no secret of its concerns with Israel’s actions in Gaza but until recently, was only communicating this privately. Lately, this pressure campaign has spilled out into the open, with Biden and Harris stepping up their rhetoric.

The politics here are inescapable for Biden: A significant bloc of the Democratic voter base — including Arab-Americans and young voters — have been criticizing the president for not doing more to limit Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza. And at nearly every public event, Biden has been heckled by protesters demanding a ceasefire.

So Biden’s more aggressive posture on this issue is as political as it is strategic — putting pressure on Israel to accept a hostage-for-ceasefire deal, while also trying to cool the temperature among progressives.

Brendan Pedersen and Andrew Desiderio

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

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