In his first State of the Union address since becoming president, Joe Biden said the American people are feeling down after two years of significant events, including the coronavirus pandemic and the rising cost of gasoline. However, he noted that a recession wasn't inevitable and that the country could still get back on track.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the president said the country's economy is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic and the psychological scars it has caused. Biden also disputed the claims made by Republican members of Congress that last year's COVID-19 aid plan was partly responsible for the rising cost of inflation.
According to Biden, the country's overall mindset is not in a hopeful state. He noted that the number of people seeking mental health care has increased due to the various events that have affected the country.
The rising cost of gasoline and persistent inflation have affected the country's economy, threatening the Democrats' chances of holding onto their Senate and House majority. Biden cited warnings from economists that the country could be headed for a recession if it fights against rising prices.
Heading the wrong way
Despite the rising cost of gas, the president noted that it's not inevitable for the country to go into recession. Biden also pointed out that the country's relative strength in the world and its 3.6% unemployment rate are reasons for optimism. He also dismissed the claims made by Republican members of Congress that the government's COVID-19 aid plan was partly to blame for the rising prices.
"Be confident, because I am confident we're better positioned than any country in the world to own the second quarter of the 21st century," Biden said. "That's not hyperbole, that's a fact."
The president's gloomy assessment of the country's psyche comes as voters have shown dissatisfaction with his performance. Only 39 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, a drop from negative numbers a month earlier.
Only 2 out of 10 Americans think the country is heading in the right direction, down from about 3 in 10 in April. The drop was most pronounced among Democrats. Only 33% of Democrats think the country is headed in the right direction, down from 49% in April.
Hard choices on oil price, Russia's sanctions
The president highlighted his various hard choices during his address to the nation. Although the sanctions imposed on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine have caused gas prices to spike, Biden still faced a political risk because of the rising cost of gas.
Despite the high prices, Biden noted that major oil companies have not increased their production. He had urged them to think of the long term instead of just their short-term profits.
Biden said he decided to be the country's commander in chief instead of a politician running for re-election.
"I'm the president of the United States," Biden said. "It's what's best in the country. No kidding. No kidding. So what happens? What happens if the strongest power in NATO, the organizational structure we put together, walked away from Russian aggression?"
If Russia continued to expand its reach into Europe, Biden warned that the region would become unstable. China could also take over Taiwan, and North Korea would become more aggressive.