Ahead of State of the Union, White House projects positive outlook for Black America

During a press call, senior members of the Biden-Harris administration previewed the state of Black America.

As President Joe Biden prepares to deliver his second State of the Union address to Congress and the American people, the White House is also proclaiming a positive outlook on the state of Black America.

During a Tuesday press call, senior members of the Biden-Harris administration previewed aspects of the president’s hourlong address (scheduled for 9 p.m. ET), emphasizing in particular how his policies have improved the lives of African Americans.

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address on March 1, 2022 as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., look on during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol House Chamber in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images)

While White House officials on the call were reluctant to get too much ahead of Biden’s speech, they stressed that the 46th president will touch on key issues that directly impact Black Americans.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, White House senior advisor and the director of the Office of Public Engagement, said the president will tout his administration’s achievements, like getting Americans back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic, his historic $6 billion investments in HBCUs as well as the record number of African-American judges appointed to the federal bench, including the first Black female Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

Notably, Biden will discuss the state of American policing in the aftermath of the deadly Memphis police beating of Tyre Nichols, which has renewed calls for federal police reforms and accountability. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who attended Nichols’ funeral service last week, have called on Congress to pass the long-stalled George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. 

Lance Bottoms told reporters: “The president is keeping top of mind the importance of having these very difficult conversations about what more can be done to make sure that the lives of innocent people like Tyre Nichols aren’t lost because of police officers who are not honoring their commitment to protect and serve our communities.”

White House Public Engagement Advisor and former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks on Jan. 13, 2023 during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

On the economy, Shalanda Young, White House director of the Office of Management and Budget, lauded the new unemployment rate for Black Americans, which hit its lowest level since 1969 at 5.4% in January. 

“We have to remember where this president started. Black unemployment was over 9% when he became president. So he is presiding over one of the largest job increases, not just the economy overall,” said Young, who is the first Black woman ever to manage the government’s budget. “[It’s] a strong sign in this country that when the president talks about growing the economy, that [he’s also] brings along people who have historically been left behind in this economy.”

After Tuesday night’s address, several Biden-Harris administration officials will crisscross the country to promote the economic rollouts of landmark legislation that the president signed into law during his first two years in office, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which will lower prescription drugs and invest in environmental justice initiatives, among other improvements. 

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will figure in both the president’s speech and on the cross-country agenda. It will rebuild city bridges, roads, transit systems, airports and water pipes, as well as create more jobs to complete those projects. Senior advisor Mitch Landrieu noted that so far there are 20,000 projects underway and that African-American communities are “at the top of [Biden’s] mind” as investment projects are approved and rolled out. 

Young noted that Biden will also preview his presidential budget for 2023, which will be released on March 9. “The budget will show his plan to continue investing in the American people, continue in lowering costs for families, protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare and ensuring the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share,” said Young.

But as Biden officials project a message of prosperity and accomplishment, recent public polling indicates that a majority of Americans feels they are worse off economically since the president took office. Further, they have indicated that they would like to see someone else run for president in 2024. This is in sharp contrast to the White House’s current messaging and is ill-timed as Biden is expected to soon announce his plan to run for reelection.

In an interview with theGrio last month ahead of the State of the Union, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a Biden confidant whose 2020 endorsement helped save Biden’s presidential campaign, said the president deserves a Grade A for his first two years in office.

Shalanda Young, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), speaks on March 29, 2022 during a House Committee on the Budget hearing on President Joe Biden’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Rod Lamkey – Pool/Getty Images)

“This administration passed more progressive legislation than any administration since [President] Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society back in 1965,” said the Democratic House assistant leader. “He deserves reelection.”

Landrieu said on Tuesday’s White House press call that despite the fact that administration officials highlighted legislative and policy wins, “We know we have more to do. The president’s ready to get to work and he’s going to talk a little bit more about that tonight.”

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