Salem AlKetbi: Biden’s priorities and the battle of slogans


The address to the Union is an annual event where the world learns what direction the White House is taking. It is of international interest because of the importance of the US and its role and influence in decision-making on “most” international and regional affairs and issues.

That is why many watched President Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address, in which he made some important points, especially regarding US domestic affairs.

It seemed clear that the biggest concern of policymakers in Washington is the deep political and partisan divide that is beginning to affect the economic management of the country after its influence was initially limited to the political aspect.

“Liars,” chanted GOP lawmakers when the US president spoke about some Republican Party members who supported eliminating Social Security and health care programs. But this reaction seems to be common and has been repeated on similar occasions. It is not as violent as the reaction of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she tore into former President Trump after his speech.

Overall, Biden’s speech this year was more upbeat and responsive after his first speech last year was inarticulate and lacked highlights, perhaps because there were no accomplishments or even goals to speak of. Unlike this time, the speech contained important points, some of which are controversial.

These relate mainly to the upcoming announcement of the candidates who will run in the upcoming presidential elections. The indications are that Biden, despite his advanced age, is increasingly inclined to enter the next round of elections. The highlight of the State of the Union address is the strong emphasis on the idea of “America First,” a slogan promoted by former President Trump.

Biden tried to capture the attention of the American people by focusing on domestic issues in his speech and giving them top priority, so pressing international issues like Russia’s war in Ukraine did not get the attention they deserved in the speech, even though they are among the powerful factors affecting the US economy.

By focusing so heavily on domestic issues, Washington has lost one of the pillars of its soft power as a humanitarian aid donor. In his speech, Biden did not address the earthquake in Syria and Turkey, or what the US has to offer in that regard, having already provided some assistance to both countries.

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But the failure to mention this event in this important speech reflects the White House’s inability to use events to score additional points to bolster the power and international influence of the US, which has been steadily declining in recent years.

The disregard for the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the earthquake may be due to a misjudgment of the impact, the extent of loss of life, and the destruction. It may be due to focusing too much on the feelings of American voters without distracting from or addressing the foreign aid dossier.

Biden also did not talk about the expected new aid to Ukraine, but only touched on the Ukrainian issue in passing for a minute or two, with most of the time devoted to greeting the Ukrainian ambassador who was present.

Thus, the assessment was likely aimed at boosting the president’s popularity, regardless of the expected political benefits in dividing interests and priorities between domestic and foreign policy issues, because much of the explanation for ignoring the new aid to Ukraine is Biden’s desire to avoid addressing many controversial Republican issues and to confine himself to the domestic front that most influences US public opinion—health and welfare issues.

Remarkably, all of this interest in domestic issues is completely inconsistent with Biden’s introductory slogan with which he began his presidential term, “America is Back,” as the man talked about no accomplishments or even a hint of implementing his slogan, instead clearly leaning on Trump’s “America First” slogan and populist language.

Biden’s political interest should undoubtedly be to exploit the divisions in the Republican Party and achieve a rapprochement with the pro-reconciliation wing in order to bridge the gap between the country’s two major parties. That is exactly what he is trying to do with the new GOP Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, who came to power after 15 rounds of voting to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

This tactic is aimed at limiting the influence of the pro-Trump wing and winning some Republican votes in the fight over the national debt. Here, Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling. Conservative Republicans are waiting for a new battle with Democrats on this issue, although there is a current among Republicans that fears another government shutdown.

What is also remarkable about the speech is that Biden used it as a declaration speech for his candidacy in the next presidential election. This is not just a review of the president’s accomplishments, especially on the economic and social fronts.

Rather, Biden focused on one phrase he kept repeating, “Let’s finish the job,” which occurred more than 10 times in the speech. This reflected a strong desire to stay home for a second term, and may have been closely related to his ignoring foreign policy issues that do not normally attract the attention of the American people and turning the State of the Union address into a speech about the domestic state of the Union.

Biden’s enthusiasm and the recovery of his mental shape in the State of the Union address would be a wake-up call for Republicans to mobilize and find a way out of the divide to oppose Biden’s bid for a second term. We expect more party infighting in the House of Representatives, at least through the end of the current US president’s term.

UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate. He can be found on twitter at @salemalketbieng

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