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State of the Union will give Biden a chance to reset the White House agenda

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tonight, President Biden stands before Congress.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

He performs his constitutional duty to update lawmakers on the State of the Union. And the cameras at the back of the chamber mean the event will be seen by more voters than any other speech he gives this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yeah, I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs, what's going on and what I'm looking forward to working on from this point on, what we've done and just have a conversation with the American people.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith will now have a conversation with us. Tam, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the president's challenge tonight?

KEITH: Well, any president would like to stand up and say the State of the Union is strong. And they all more or less do say that.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KEITH: But there are a lot of Americans who aren't so sure right now. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found 40% of Americans say that they are worse off now than they were when President Biden took office. Inflation is no doubt a big driver of that feeling. And it's been falling recently. But it's still uncomfortably high. So Biden has to show Americans that he feels their pain while also talking about what he feels are very real accomplishments. Brian Deese, a top economic adviser at the White House, said the president's message will be that there is more work to do, but there has been progress. And that's a reason to, quote, "continue down the path of progress that we have made."

INSKEEP: When you hear continue down the path, people will perceive - point toward reelection there.

KEITH: Yes, it does sound like a reelection pitch. And in many ways, this speech is an unofficial launch for a message that we can expect to hear a lot of. If President Biden follows through on his stated plan to run for reelection, this is a primetime preview, if you will, of the campaign we're expecting. So that's why he was hunkered down over the weekend with his top advisers at Camp David. And he ended up returning to the White House yesterday afternoon hours later than originally planned.

INSKEEP: Tam, as you know very well, it's a tradition going back at least to Ronald Reagan that presidents bring in guests to point out during the speech. It's almost like casting for a play because the people are there to illustrate different themes. So who's invited for this speech?

KEITH: Yeah, and we have some news on this. On the list of invitees are the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols. That's the man who was fatally beaten by police in Memphis. So it is a safe bet that Biden is going to call on Congress to pass policing reform. There's a man who disarmed the shooter in Monterey Park, Calif. We know Biden wants a ban on assault weapons. There's a woman who nearly died because of a delay in getting abortion care due to the Texas abortion ban. There's a New Hampshire dad who lost one of his daughters to a fentanyl overdose, several people who have had cancer touch their lives.

There are also people benefiting from the big spending bills on infrastructure and semiconductors, a Holocaust survivor, a DACA program participant who was brought to the U.S. by her parents when she was 3. As you can tell, these speeches often take on something of a list form because there are so many different stories and different things that the president is calling for - also, famous people like Bono from the band U2, who's been involved with work on HIV and AIDS, and Paul Pelosi, the husband of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was the victim of politically motivated violence.

INSKEEP: Quite a list of casting credits. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with some news on who will appear at the State of the Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.