President Biden to make 'unity agenda' appeal to Congress in State of the Union

WASHINGTON (AP) — Much of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union on Thursday night will focus on comparing his vision for America with that of the Republican Party, setting up an election−year contrast that Biden hopes will pay dividends in November.

But he’ll also focus on areas that he and White House aides believe broadly unify the country — an implicit nod to moderate Republicans and swing voters who the president hopes will find a home in his political coalition.

In his speech, Biden will make an explicit appeal to the divided Congress for his “unity agenda,” which covers broadly popular initiatives such as dealing with the mental health epidemic, curbing opioid abuse, aiding veterans and improving cancer care, according to White House officials who spoke to The Associated Press ahead of the speech. It’ll come under one broad umbrella theme — that Biden is a president for all Americans.

“Stopping fentanyl at the border, passing privacy legislation to protect children online, keeping our sacred obligation to veterans, and ending cancer as we know it are priorities for everyone without regard to party," White House deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed told the AP.

Even in a contentious election year, the White House sees real prospects for progress on Capitol Hill on some of the unity initiatives, such as legislation to bolster online child privacy — which the administration believes goes hand−in−hand with dealing with the mental health crisis.

In tandem with the State of the Union, the White House will showcase several announcements related to his unity agenda.

For one, the Department of Veterans Affairs will open up direct enrollment in health care for a broader population of newly eligible veterans. This is being done years ahead of schedule, one White House official said. The officials were granted anonymity to discuss policy details ahead of a formal White House announcement.

Another is an announcement from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, known as ARPA−H, of a clinical program that will focus on addressing late−stage cancers for which doctors often struggle to find treatment. One White House official described it as a data−driven initiative that would allow doctors to track and treat patients in real time with more success.

Some of the unity agenda issues are deeply personal to Biden, including veterans care and advancements in cancer care. They also fit Biden’s belief that voters want to see bipartisanship and cooperation from politicians, and reflect the issues that are most often raised by the Americans he meets with as he travels the country, officials said. Though tales of gridlock can dominate headlines, the White House points to more than 400 bipartisan bills Biden has signed into law that underpin his unity agenda.

Seung Min Kim, The Associated Press

Photo: AP