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State of the Union speech is a chance for Biden to show he's got a handle on crises

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Spillover from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, inflation, the pandemic - President Biden is juggling a lot. And he'll need to get into all these things tonight during his State of the Union address. He'll need to prove that he also has it all under control. And polling shows that that'll take some convincing. Here to discuss, we go now to NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Let's start with Russia and Ukraine, Franco. How much should we expect the president to get into that tonight?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: It's going to be a significant part of the speech. I mean, this is one of the biggest television audiences that he'll get all year. So he's going to take the opportunity to explain to Americans what he's doing about the crisis. Here's White House press secretary Jen Psaki talking about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEN PSAKI: He will talk about the steps we've taken to not only support the Ukrainian people with military and economic assistance but also the steps he's taken to build a global coalition imposing crippling financial sanctions on President Putin, his inner circle and the Russian economy.

ORDOÑEZ: And Psaki says Biden will talk about U.S. leadership and its importance in the world, also the strength of the West when democracies rally together like they have. You know, but this situation is having a big impact on oil prices because Russia is such a big producer and exporter. So Biden's also expected to talk about steps to mitigate those price spikes.

MARTINEZ: What can he do, though, about gas prices? And how important is this issue of price inflation for him politically, actually?

ORDOÑEZ: It's big. I mean, polls show Americans are very concerned about rising prices and don't think he's doing enough about it. And the fact is that inflation is largely beyond his control. But he is going to try to show what he is doing what he can about it. You know, he's expected to outline a four-point plan to lower prices, including making more things in America and strengthening supply chains. And you can expect to hear him talk about infrastructure. Passing that law last year was a highlight of the year and is expected to create a bunch of jobs. And he'll try again, as he usually does, to make the case that his White House has overseen the fastest economic growth in 40 years. He's also expected to talk about his ideas for lowering costs for child care and prescription drug prices, although his big social safety net plan, the Build Back Better plan, has stalled in Congress.

MARTINEZ: The president's approval rating's very poor right now. In fact, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows 56% of respondents saw his first year in office as a failure. So what does that mean for this speech tonight?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it means the stakes are really high, given that this is one of the political events of the year where people really tend to tune in and pay attention, and also because we're getting so close to the midterm elections. So he'll need to make a compelling case that he's doing something about the issues voters care about. And inflation is for one. But he'll also try to showcase that he's accomplished some things that he promised to do. One of those things is his nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she'll be the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the nation. And after a long winter and a long two years of COVID-19, there some optimism about the pandemic that he can point to. So there could be some tangible signs of things to get back to normal, a thing that he's expected to talk about.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks a lot.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.