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The view from the West Wing

We had the chance to chat with White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients on Wednesday. Zients talked about the White House’s goals for tonight, the Trump factor and the fate of foreign aid in Congress.

Here are the highlights from our conversation:

The SOTU speech: President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders have spent much of the last year touting accomplishments from the 117th Congress when they had full control of the White House and Capitol Hill. But Zients signaled Biden will focus tonight more on what he wants to do — unofficially laying out a plan for a second term.

“The president’s vision for the future is very optimistic and builds on all the progress we’ve made across the last few years,” Zients told us. “I think we just need to get that message out.”

More Zients:

Breaking through to the public: Zients noted that Biden and an array of Cabinet members will all hit the road following the SOTU, which has become standard operating procedure for the White House in recent years.

Biden is heading this week to Pennsylvania and Georgia — two key swing states — while Cabinet officials will make stops in nearly a dozen states over the next few weeks, including Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina.

Vice President Kamala Harris will keep up a busy travel schedule as well. Harris will head to Arizona and Nevada soon, part of her outreach to key demographic groups that she and Biden will need in November.

In addition to Biden’s speech, senior White House officials are planning to do several local TV and radio interviews — an effort to get their message out to swing-state voters — plus meetings with “influencers and digital media publishers.” There will be Hispanic radio programming live from the White House today, too.

On former President Donald Trump: This week, the Biden campaign is targeting Trump as “wounded, dangerous and unpopular.” We asked Zients how much Trump would factor into tonight’s address. Zients was careful in his response, saying he was speaking from the White House and couldn’t engage in campaign activities. Zients still took an indirect shot at Trump, however.

“There is a contrast versus some Republicans in how the president wants to lead the country and will continue to lead the country and that will be evident,” Zients said. “But tomorrow is about governing and the state of our union and the vision for the future.”

Foreign policy: Zients indicated that Biden will push hard for Congress to pass billions of dollars in new aid for Israel and Ukraine.

The Senate approved a $95 billion foreign aid package three weeks ago, but Speaker Mike Johnson and House GOP leaders haven’t taken any action yet. And there’s a growing anti-Ukrainian sentiment inside the Republican Conference, despite the dire situation the embattled U.S. ally is currently facing.

“This needs to come to the floor and let the will of the people express itself,” Zients asserted. “And we will have the aid that Ukraine, Israel and the Palestinian people need.”

— Heather Caygle, John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman

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