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Biden made the case for his reelection during the State of the Union address

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden laid out an energetic vision for the country last night, one for the remainder of his term, but also potentially for the next four years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I see a future where defending democracy, you don't diminish it. I see a future where we restore the right to choose and protect our freedoms, not take them away.

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: I see a future for the middle class finally has a fair shot and the wealthy have to pay their fair share in taxes.

FADEL: He used the spotlight to illustrate his commitment on a range of issues, from the economy and health care to the border and NATO. But did any of what the president said last night move the needle to convince skeptical voters? Joining us again is Faiz Shakir. He's the chief political adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders and the founder of the pro-labor news site More Perfect Union. Welcome back to the show.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So this really was a campaign speech as much as it was a State of the Union address. Did you hear the president articulate a clear vision for his presidency and make the case that he should be the choice for another four years?

SHAKIR: Yeah. You saw, in some sense, the major project of President Biden has been the great unrigging of America's economy. And he spent a fair amount of time on prescription drugs, on junk fees, on taxes, drawing a contrast on kitchen table issues that he likes to talk about, reconnecting with voters that - on these middle-class issues. I'm on your side. And the other guy, by the way, who he referenced a lot in the speech...

FADEL: But never named...

SHAKIR: ...But never named, is a clear contrast with me. And so he started it on that path, and he gave a lot of people the hope that - and belief - that he's got the energy and the vigor for a rematch and a fight with him.

FADEL: Do you think the president made a compelling case to American voters - I mean, people really struggling to make ends meet - that he's handling the economy well, 'cause that is a big concern?

SHAKIR: Yeah. Well, in addition to just giving people reassurance, he's got a vision on trying to handle the economy. For the first time, he's also positing a contrast. And that's what starts last night - right? - is to say, you know, whatever you might feel about the economy and you might have concerns about where you are with prices, know that I see it, understand it and have a plan for it. So on things like price gouging, he's talking explicitly about it. He's talking about lowering the cost of prescription drugs and what he would do in a second term, not just what he's done. And so he's laying out a choice.

And on taxes is the clearest because in January 2025 - we're literally months away - Congress will have to revisit this issue and decide whether the tax rates for very rich people goes down, as Trump would like it to, or whether we continue to make the rich pay their fair share. And he laid that out pretty cleanly. And I think it posits a choice.

FADEL: Now, going into the speech, there were two other things, really challenges, in the eyes of voters, hurting him in the eyes of voters. It's something I heard a lot while reporting in Michigan - his age and - among would-be Democratic voters, young people, Arab Americans, American Muslims - Gaza. Did he say anything on those issues that could bring people back into the Democratic tent?

SHAKIR: He needs to be able to articulate a policy change, and he's been beating his brains out to try to get a six-week cease-fire, as you know, Leila.

FADEL: On Gaza.

SHAKIR: And it didn't it didn't materialize, right? He hasn't been able to get it yet. And therefore, he wasn't able to go into the speech and show the clear trajectory and arc of a change in policy. Obviously, he was able to say, we're trying to do efforts to address humanitarian aid in the region. He expressed that Israel has a right - has a need to ensure the lives of Palestinian civilians. So he had some rhetoric about expressing more obligation and challenge to the Israeli leadership to do better.

But ultimately, I think, Leila, this doesn't move the needle for him until he's able to secure what needs to be, you know, a cease-fire in the region. He's focused on it. There's been some roadblocks and challenges to him, but that's the main challenge for him at this point.

FADEL: Do you think voters who weren't necessarily sold on Biden - President Biden - walked away feeling any differently?

SHAKIR: I think that they see the president talking about their value set, even while they might disagree with where he is. And you saw that in some of the muted responses of his critics last night. They're expressing concern. However, they saw that the president isn't blind to them, is still trying to do outreach. And that's the president's obligation, is to say, I want you in my tent. Even while you might conscientiously object to some of the things I'm doing, I'm asking you to be part of this coalition because the other guy, by the way, is suggesting even a more dangerous and reckless path in the Middle East, one that would lead to even more slaughter of innocent civilians.

FADEL: And really quickly, before I let you go, was there anything you wanted to hear that he didn't say?

SHAKIR: Well, I mean, not that I didn't want to hear. I was interested in how he addressed age, and he turned it into an asset for a lot of people wondering how he's going to do it. I think he's been engaged in this effort to take on corporate power. He doesn't tend to name his corporate villains all that often. But you are left with the desire and the need that this guy is ready to take on major power in a big way.

FADEL: Faiz Shakir is the chief political adviser to Bernie Sanders. Thanks for your time.

SHAKIR: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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