By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden will face Republicans who question his legitimacy and a public concerned about the country's direction in Tuesday's State of the Union speech that is expected to serve as a blueprint for a 2024 re-election bid.
In what will be his first address to a joint session of Congress since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, Biden is expected to explain how he is trying to reshape the post-pandemic economy, highlight massive infrastructure and inflation bills passed in 2022, and stress that a bitterly-divided Congress can still make laws in the year ahead.
"I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs... what I'm looking forward to working on from this point on, what we've done," Biden told reporters on Monday after returning from presidential retreat Camp David, where he spent the weekend working on the speech.
Aides to Biden say the primetime speech, which will draw millions of viewers and perhaps the president's largest television audience of the year, is a key milestone ahead of the second presidential campaign he is expected to launch in the coming weeks.
Biden turned 80 in November and, if re-elected, would be 82 at the start of a second term, a fact that concerns many Democratic voters, recent polls show.
One area he will ask Congress to work together on is to toughen regulations on the technology sector - including what the administration perceives as a need for stronger privacy protections, one aide said.
NOT NEGOTIATING ON DEBT
Biden will face a rambunctious and splintered gathering of Republican lawmakers, eager to put their conservative mark on U.S. policy following four years of Democratic control of the House.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy will sit behind Biden for the address for the first time. The two are at loggerheads over the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, which must raised in the coming months to avoid a default.
Some House Republican lawmakers have questioned Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential race against former President Donald Trump and have indicated they plan to investigate his Cabinet and family. But with a razor-thin majority and intraparty divisions, Republicans had a difficult time electing a speaker and are expected to continue to struggle to unite their far-right and more moderate members on legislation.
Biden will insist during his speech that raising the debt limit is not negotiable and should not be used as a "bargaining chip" by lawmakers, National Economic Council director Brian Deese said Monday.
McCarthy on Monday called on Biden to agree to compromises and spending cuts, adding that "finding compromise is exactly how governing in America is supposed to work and exactly what the American people voted for."
While the U.S. economy continues to outperform expectations, faith in Biden is undermined by entrenched political divisions, high prices and concerns over his age, polls show.
Just four in 10 Americans say the state of the union is strong, according to a Monmouth University poll published this week, in which many respondents blamed Washington's problems on a lack of compromise.
Biden's senior aides plan to use the speech to build an argument that Biden's policies have helped to stabilize the U.S. economy following the COVID-19 pandemic and are the way to go to bring down inflation and boost good-paying jobs.
Biden plans to explain how his strategies "makes a clear contrast to the trickle-down economic philosophy that has pervaded thinking for years and decades in the past," Deese said.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons and Rosalba O'Brien)