President Biden headed into his State of the Union address in deep political trouble. His inept handling of mounting crises has left his approval rating struggling to stay above 40 percent — a number that sets Democrats up for potentially devastating losses in November’s midterm elections. Yet given the major stage of a joint session of Congress and a national audience, Biden made no effort to significantly change the trajectory of his presidency. Instead, he acted as if his first year in office was a smashing success and desperately tried to resell a dead agenda.

Biden opened his speech with words of support for Ukraine and tough talk directed at Vladimir Putin that was mostly well-received by members of both parties (though it came as nearly six out of ten Americans say that Putin’s decision to invade was triggered by sensing weakness in Biden).

Biden launched into a long defense of the trillions of dollars in spending programs he passed last year as part of the “Covid-relief” package and the infrastructure law.

Instead of outlining a legislative strategy to move beyond the Build Back Better bill, which Senator Joe Manchin killed late last year, Biden simply rebranded the bill. He didn’t mention the actual name of the bill, and then absurdly described it as his “plan to fight inflation” and claimed it would lower costs and reduce deficits. In reality, government subsidies do not reduce actual prices, and the CBO found that his plan would add $160 billion to the deficit. As ridiculous as it was to brand a multitrillion-dollar spending plan as an inflation-fighting measure, Biden outdid himself a few moments later when he called for a $15 minimum wage.

To the extent that Biden attempted any pivot, it came on the issue of Covid. Last week, the CDC completely overhauled its guidance for masking right in time for the State of the Union. Without any underlying change in the number of infections in the country, the CDC went from declaring 95 percent of the U.S. to be at significant enough risk to continue imposing mask mandates, to saying that 70 percent of the country was at low enough risk to rip off the masks. Biden — who pushed masking and supported the teachers’ unions in their fight to delay school reopenings — touted the ability of the country to remove masks and the importance of in-person school. “Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, Covid-19 need no longer control our lives,” Biden said. But in the past year, hundreds of thousands of people died of Covid, and there were multiple major surges. His change in tone has nothing to do with “progress,” but the fact that Democrats lost an election in Virginia and polling continued to show endless restrictions hurting Democrats.

If this speech was any indication of how Biden intends to make the case for himself and his party in the run-up to the election, Republicans are being handed an incalculable political gift.

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