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Biden touts economic record in Chicago speech, hoping to convince skeptical public

Funflation? Summer spending driving up prices
Funflation? Summer spending driving up prices 04:14

President Biden made his pitch Wednesday to a skeptical public that the U.S. economy is thriving under what he now touts as "Bidenomics" — even as a new poll showed that could be a hard sell as the foundation for his 2024 reelection campaign.

In a major economic speech in Chicago, Mr. Biden said his administration's efforts were sparking recovery after Republican policies had crushed America's middle class. But the poll said only one in three U.S. adults approve of his economic leadership.

That 34% figure is even lower than his overall approval rating of 41%, according to the survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Mr. Biden's approval figures have barely moved for the past year and a half, a source of concern for a president pursuing a second term on his ability to govern and focus on workers. He wants voters to connect local roads and bridge projects, factory construction and the rise of electric vehicles and renewable energy to the millions of dollars in initiatives he signed into law during the first two years of his administration.

"Bidenomics is about the future," he declared in his Wednesday speech to cheering supporters. "Bidenomics is just another way of saying: Restore the American dream."

President Biden unveils his economic plan during an event in the lobby of the Old Post Office Building on June 28, 2023, in Chicago.
President Biden unveils his economic plan during an event in the lobby of the Old Post Office Building on June 28, 2023, in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images

At the same time, he sought to paint previous Republican tax cuts as deeply flawed, saying they helped the rich but failed the middle class for decades as the promised "trickle down" benefits never seemed to come to the less wealthy.

"The trickle down approach failed the middle class," he said. "It failed America. It blew up the deficit. It increased inequity. And it weakened our infrastructure. It stripped the dignity, pride and hope out of communities, one after another."

As he was departing Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Biden said he believes the U.S. will avoid the recession that many economic analysts have been expecting. Republican leaders such as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said last year that the high inflation under Mr. Biden's watch meant that "we are in a recession," but that is not the case under economic definitions.

GOP officials say their tax cuts have encouraged business investments and profits that have improved pay for workers and bolstered the stock market, while greater government spending would cause prices to keep rising and waste money.

Indeed, the economy has steadily improved over the past year of Mr. Biden's term in the White House. Unemployment stands near a historic low at 3.7%. The inflation that has plagued Mr. Biden's presidency has fallen to 4% from a peak of 9.1% last June. But prices are still rising significantly faster than the Federal Reserve's target of 2%, a worry for voters and a line of attack for Republican lawmakers and other presidential candidates.

And smoke from Canadian wildfires, evident in Chicago on Wednesday, has added a new cloud for workers and shoppers in the U.S. The White House said it's monitoring the air quality in Chicago but would not cancel the president's scheduled events, which included a campaign reception in addition to the speech on the economy.

In this aerial view, Marine One carries President Biden over a hazy Chicago on June 28, 2023.
In this aerial view, Marine One carries President Biden over a hazy Chicago on June 28, 2023. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The new poll identifies a weakness within Mr. Biden's own base. Many of the Democrats he needs to marshal in 2024 are comparatively unenthusiastic about his economic record. Seventy-two percent within his party say they approve of his handling of his job overall, but just 60% say they approve of his handling of the economy. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

By comparison, during the depths of the pandemic as unemployment spiked, Republicans approved by overwhelming numbers of then-President Donald Trump's economic leadership. Only about 1 in 10 Republicans now approve of Mr. Biden overall or on the economy, a testament to the polarization that defines modern U.S. politics.

Overall, 30% of U.S. adults say they think the national economy is good, up slightly from the 25% who said that last month, when the president and congressional Republicans were in the midst of negotiations over raising the nation's debt limit and a historic government default was a risk. No more than about a third have called the economy good since 2021.

The administration is making a data-driven argument in addition to Mr. Biden's speech. The Treasury Department released an analysis showing that spending on factory-related construction has doubled since 2021 after adjusting for inflation. White House economists issued a report that shows inflation is lower in the U.S. than the rest of industrialized nations in the Group of Seven.

White House aides believe that Mr. Biden's speech on Wednesday can generate greater awareness of his policies and increase Democratic voters' appreciation of the economy. While the president's allies acknowledge that many Americans still hold dim views of the economy, they note that the actual economic data was far worse last November, when Democrats mounted a stronger-than-expected showing in the midterm elections.

Biden aides say they are encouraged by data showing Americans' views can be changed by a consistent message reinforced on multiple fronts, which is what the president and his Cabinet are setting out to do by touring the U.S. over the next three weeks. Their hope is that repetition of Mr. Biden's accomplishments, coupled with a contrast to GOP proposals to undo those initiatives, will stick with voters for 2024.

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