Democrats see hope for reset from Biden: The Note

Rallying the country behind a broad cause could mark its own achievement.

March 01, 2022, 6:05 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The crisis of the moment represents terrible timing for a president already facing a raft of challenges -- unless it brings fresh opportunity.

President Joe Biden was always going to have a tough go in declaring the State of the Union strong given cascading challenges being felt in everyday lives as well as his own abysmal polling. With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there's no use avoiding the crises -- just as there's no avoiding the contrasts.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden gives remarks at a Black History Month celebration event in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 28, 2022, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden gives remarks at a Black History Month celebration event in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 28, 2022, in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

For Biden, the contrasts include one that now pits Russia against much if not most of the civilized world. It's a large-scale version of the fight for democracy Biden has pinned his presidency on -- one where his predecessor is among the few prominent voices saying nice things about the other side.

Inside his own party, the combination of forces including inflation, the Ukraine crisis and the brutal realities of midterm math could free the president to change Democrats' course. The hope at least among some party strategists is that Biden uses the setting of his State of the Union address on Tuesday less for sweep than for a renewed focus.

The crisis in Ukraine gives the president the responsibility to "rally the world" against Russian President Vladimir Putin, as White House press secretary Jen Psaki put it Monday.

Previews of the speech have made clear that there will be plenty of instances when the president calls on Congress to deliver specific bills to his desk. For this moment, though, rallying the country behind a broad cause could mark its own achievement.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

The Republican Party will look outside of Washington to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for its response to Biden's State of the Union address.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called Reynolds "exactly the right messenger to contrast Joe Biden" on a call with reporters Monday. The RNC plans to hit on issues like inflation, immigration, the pandemic, crime and foreign policy. But it's Reynolds adherence to GOP positions on various culture war issues that make her a fitting choice to deliver the rebuttal on behalf of this Republican party.

PHOTO: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference at Iowa Spring Manufacturing, Oct. 20, 2021, in Adel, Iowa.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference at Iowa Spring Manufacturing, Oct. 20, 2021, in Adel, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP, FILE

"She kept her schools open, her economy is booming," McDaniel said.

Reynolds, who is up for reelection, didn't just keep her schools open. She also signed a host of pandemic-related legislation: banning mask mandates, penalizing businesses that require customers show proof of vaccination, broadening eligibility to claim medical and religious exemptions to the vaccine and allowing people fired for vaccine noncompliance to file for unemployment.

And Reynolds' fidelity to the conservative side of the culture wars doesn't stop at the pandemic. She also signed a law prohibiting so-called "critical race theory" and has urged Iowa lawmakers to pass legislation to ban transgender athletes in women's sports.

It remains to be seen how much of the aforementioned cultural issues will make it into Reynolds' remarks. If the freshly concluded CPAC is any evidence, weaving in cultural flashpoints could help Reynolds raise her national profile with a base eager to rally around them.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

The first primary of the 2022 midterm election cycle is getting underway Tuesday, putting campaign politics back in the spotlight for the first time since 2020. The outcome of several races will likely set the tone for how the next few months of the primary cycle could play out nationwide, and both parties are keenly aware of intraparty dynamics that will unfold as voters cast their ballots.

PHOTO: A voter passes by a voting booth after voting, July 14, 2020, in Houston.
A voter passes by a voting booth after voting, July 14, 2020, in Houston.
David J. Phillip/AP, FILE

The power of Trump's endorsement will be put to the test for longtime Republican allies in two high-profile statewide races as both incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton fend off Republican challenges. Abbott is more likely to avoid heading to a May runoff, but Tuesday's election could present an uphill battle for Paxton.

Paxton faces challenges from Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who has been pursuing Trump-adjacent campaign messaging despite his family's public rejection of the former president. Bush, Rep. Louie Gohmert and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman are also challenging Paxton's professional record, which includes legal woes like an indictment on securities fraud charges.

Meanwhile, Democrats will be watching the faceoff between progressive Jessica Cisneros and incumbent Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas' 28th congressional district. In 2020, Cuellar won the primary over Cisneros by fewer than 3,000 votes, but the political landscape could look different after this year's redistricting process left their district slightly bluer. If Cisneros is successful on Tuesday, her victory would be akin to that of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 and could inspire similar ripple effects for progressives ahead of November.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

25. That's the percentage of requests presidents have made during State of Union addresses that Congress has moved to enact since former President Lyndon Johnson's address in 1965. Far more requests, 62%, have been unsuccessful. As FiveThirtyEight's Jean Yi writes, if history is any indication, it's likely Biden will experience a similar outcome Tuesday. His approval rating is unlikely to budge much either. Read more from Jean on what State of the Union addresses can -- and can't -- do for presidents.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here begins Tuesday morning with how global sanctions are affecting Russia so far with ABC's James Longman in Moscow. Then, ABC's Cecilia Vega previews President Biden's State of the Union address. And, ABC's Sony Salzman breaks down a new study showing Pfizer's COVID vaccine is less effective in kids 5 to 11. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • Voters head to the polls in Texas' primary election. Polls open at 8 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. ET.
  • ABC News Live will begin coverage of President Biden's State of the Union address at 8 p.m. ET.
  • New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker appears on GMA3: What You Need to Know.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

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