In Wisconsin, Biden touts 'deal' with Republicans on Social Security

By and

DEFOREST, Wis., Feb 8 (Reuters) - Fresh off a State of the Union speech to Congress that challenged opposition Republicans to help unite the country, President Joe Biden embarked on a tour of U.S. states crucial to his expected 2024 re-election bid.

In Wisconsin, the Democratic president told workers at a union training facility "it looks like we negotiated a deal last night" on Social Security.

He was referring to a moment in the 73-minute speech when Republicans who had jeered him for saying they wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, stood up and clapped to show they support these benefits instead.

Deal or no, Biden reasserted that Republicans want to cut the popular old-age and healthcare programs in Wisconsin, pointing to statements by some Republican lawmakers.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called the State of the Union "one of the most partisan" he had ever heard.

Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who backs a plan to have federal social safety net programs lapse unless they are reauthorized, said on Wednesday that Biden was intentionally misinterpreting his proposal.

Biden vowed Wednesday to use his "veto pen" to make their dream to cut the programs a nightmare.

Biden is reviving U.S. presidents' tradition of taking their State of the Union message on the road, and will travel to Florida on Thursday, a state that at one time could favor either party but which Democrats have not won in a presidential election since 2012.

Democrats hope Biden can turn the economy - a perceived weakness among some independent voters despite record-setting job creation - into a selling point during his expected re-election campaign. In Wisconsin, he told workers at a union training facility that his policies are building "an economy that works for working people."

President Joe Biden talks with people after the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

The president's public approval rating was 41% in a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll that closed on Sunday, close to the lowest level of his presidency, a possible hurdle to any re-election bid. White House aides have cast doubt on the relevance of the figures more than a year before any ballots are cast.

Biden's travel in coming months will focus heavily on the handful of competitive states that his political aides believe will determine whether he can win a second four-year term.

Wisconsin is a closely contested state that flipped from supporting Republican former President Donald Trump in 2016 to favoring Biden in 2020.

Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, spent Wednesday in Georgia, another state that flipped to Democrats in 2020 and also delivered the party narrow control of the Senate.

Biden is expected to address Social Security and Medicare in Florida, a state where more than 20% of the population is 65 years and older.

In Arizona, where Biden in 2020 pulled off Democrats' first victory in a presidential race in more than two decades, his wife Jill Biden is expected to appear at the National Football League Super Bowl on Sunday.

It is not yet clear whether Biden will engage in another presidential tradition of sitting down for a television interview during the game. His spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre, declined to comment.

The State of the Union tour will test the endurance of Biden, 80, who would be expected to travel more intensively in a re-election campaign after conducting most events remotely from his Wilmington, Delaware, home during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden has signaled that he plans to run and an announcement is expected in coming weeks.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons, Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.