President Biden’s address to Congress on Tuesday will be overshadowed by his dreary public approval numbers and new concerns about his leadership after he let a Chinese spy balloon fly freely across the U.S. and gather data from the nation’s most sensitive military bases.
Mr. Biden is slated to deliver his second State of the Union address to House and Senate lawmakers amid criticism and questions about his handling of a Chinese spy balloon that first crossed into U.S. territory on Jan. 28 but was not shot out of the sky by military jets until Saturday, after the balloon flew across the U.S. and exited South Carolina into the Atlantic Ocean.
His prime-time televised address takes place as numerous polls show low job approval ratings and a dire lack of enthusiasm among Democratic voters for a second Biden term.
An AP/NORC poll released Sunday found that only 37% of Democrats want Mr. Biden to run for president again in 2024, down from 52% in October.
Voters are concerned that Mr. Biden’s age is a liability. He turned 80 in November and would finish a second term at age 86. Where Mr. Biden’s age was a factor, the poll found, voters were “focused on his coughing, his gait, his gaffes and the possibility that the world’s most stressful job would be better suited for someone younger.”
Rasmussen Reports found similar concerns among voters, lead pollster Mark Mitchell said. In a new Rasmussen survey, only 32% of voters believed Mr. Biden should run again in 2024.
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“We’ve asked him multiple times, do people think he’s mentally competent to be the president? And a lot of people have doubts,” Mr. Mitchell said.
Mr. Biden also polls poorly with crucial independent voters. A recent YouGov poll showed Mr. Biden’s favorability rating at 36% among independents, an 18-percentage-point drop from the 2020 election.
“Most voters disapprove of his job performance, most are negative toward him personally and most don’t want him to run again,” said Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group, a polling firm. “Also, most voters give him negative marks on a range of specific issues, such as the economy, immigration and foreign policy.”
Despite daunting poll numbers, Mr. Biden said he intends to run for a second term and is set to deliver a State of the Union speech laying out his case for reelection. He is expected to promote legislative victories including a tax increase and green energy measure, and he’ll tout economic gains, including a new jobs report that shows the unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level in more than half a century.
He likely will contrast his administration with the new House Republican majority, which is putting the brakes on his agenda.
Mr. Biden gave a taste of his speech last week at a Democratic National Committee event in Philadelphia.
“Jobs are up, wages are up, inflation is down and COVID no longer controls our lives,” Mr. Biden told the DNC. “But now, the extreme MAGA Republicans in the House of Representatives have made it clear they intend to put it all at risk. They intend to destroy it.”
In addition to blocking any new Biden initiatives, House Republicans plan to investigate Mr. Biden’s response to the Chinese spy balloon, which they say was an embarrassing display of weakness for the U.S.
“Joe Biden was tested on the world stage and abysmally failed,” said House Republican Conference Committee Chair Elise Stefanik, New York Republican. “The Chinese spy balloon should never have been allowed to cross into our sovereign nation gathering intelligence.”
Biden administration officials spent Monday, the day before Mr. Biden’s big speech, answering questions about the president’s handling of the incursion and clarifying claims by the Defense Department that three other Chinese spy balloons crossed into the U.S. airspace during President Trump’s time in the White House.
After a cascade of denials from Mr. Trump and former Trump administration officials, the Biden administration amended the claim and said, without providing details, that the Trump-era spy balloons were not discovered until after Mr. Trump left office.
The walk-back fueled suspicions among Republicans that the Biden administration made the claim to deflect attention from criticism about the way Mr. Biden handled the incursion.
“It didn’t happen under Trump,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, said in a Twitter post. “They’re trying to cover for the foolish Biden administration.”
Mr. Biden may not even mention the spy balloon in his address and he doesn’t need to bring it up, Democratic strategists said.
Mr. Biden’s handling of the incident was largely supported by Democrats, who viewed his decision to wait to shoot it down until the contraption was away from land as calm, effective leadership.
“Biden may not ever make hearts race or eyes tear up, but, there is a lot to be said for having a president who is a good man who knows his job and cares about you,” Democratic strategist Matt Angle said. “That’s Biden‘s secret sauce.”