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Biden Makes His 2024 Pitch: What to Watch in State of the Union

(Bloomberg) -- Stalled Ukraine aid. A deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The looming November rematch with Donald Trump.

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Those are just some of the challenges President Joe Biden is facing as he prepares to deliver his annual State of the Union address Thursday night.

The speech to Supreme Court justices and a joint session of Congress will offer clues to Biden’s legislative priorities — including sweeping tax hikes — should he win a second term in November.

Here’s what to watch:

It’s the Economy

Biden is seeking reelection against the backdrop of an economy that — by some measures — any incumbent would salivate over: Unemployment under 4%, markets near record highs, inflation that’s broadly trending downward and recession forecasts that have yet to materialize.

Expect Biden to tout all of that.

But voters have given him little credit, consistently rating Trump’s handling of the economy higher in polls.

Look for Biden to highlight steps his administration has taken to curb so-called junk fees, eliminate student debt, and break up corporate profiteering, which the president has blamed for contributing to inflation.

He’s also expected to talk about his push to lower health care and insulin costs. He’ll remind viewers at home about his signature infrastructure law, as well as a bipartisan measure pouring billions into subsidies for semiconductor manufacturing.

‘Finish The Job’

The president — who made “Let’s finish the job” the mantra of his speech last year — will offer insight into what a second-term agenda would look like. That will include making the case to increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

A series of new taxes on businesses — including raising the corporate rate to 28%, expanded minimum taxes designed to hit large pharmaceutical and technology companies, and a sharp increase on stock buybacks — will be at the center of Biden’s message Thursday. He will also call for a new plan to tax billionaires that would prohibit many of the tools the wealthy currently use to defer or minimize their IRS bills.

Biden also wants to codify abortion rights and ban assault weapons in a second term, but both goals will hinge on whether Democrats regain control of the House and significantly increase their Senate margin in November.

Read more: Billionaire, Corporate Tax Hikes Will Be Focus of Biden Speech

Contrast With Trump

Look for Biden to use his platform to paint a sharp contrast with Trump, whose parade of wins in Super Tuesday states forced his last remaining GOP rival, Nikki Haley, out of the race Wednesday.

Warnings about the threat Trump would pose to democracy and to women’s reproductive rights have already been a central theme of Biden’s reelection bid.

Biden is also likely to draw a contrast on funding for Ukraine. The president has demanded — so far unsuccessfully — that Congress provide fresh money to support Kyiv two years into Russia’s invasion. Trump, meanwhile, opposes funneling aid to the country and wants to pursue an end to the war if elected.

Also look for him to implore lawmakers to take another stab at a bipartisan border bill that collapsed under pressure from Trump.

In the Gallery

The choices of guests to watch the speech from the gallery above the House floor provide an opportunity to highlight the effect that policies have on real people.

Kate Cox — a woman who was denied an abortion in Texas despite life-threatening pregnancy complications — is among this year’s White House guests.

Families of hostages held by Hamas, the US and European Union-designated terrorist group behind the deadly Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, will attend as guests of a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The wife of Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died last month in prison, declined a White House invitation to attend.

Ukraine’s first lady was also invited but declined, likely out of concern that her attendance could further politicize her country’s effort to defend itself without fresh US aid.

The Age Factor

The speech, typically lasting about an hour, will once again put Biden’s age — along with his physical and mental stamina — under a microscope.

At 81, Biden is already the oldest US president in history, and polls show voter concern has grown.

Read more: Biden Is Too Old But Trump Is Dangerous, Swing-State Voters Say

A Justice Department report last month that described Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory” was met with sharp criticism from the White House and Biden himself. But it came amid a string of high-profile gaffes, in which he confused leaders of foreign countries and countries themselves.

Biden’s delivery and his ability to respond artfully to any lawmaker disruptions will be on full display during the prime-time event. His ad-libbing and skewering of Republicans in last year’s speech delighted Democrats.

Biden has been dogged by protesters unhappy with his support for Israel’s campaign in Gaza. Watch to see if progressive Democrats who’ve expressed support for a cease-fire react Thursday night and how Biden responds.

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