The president’s speech, where he’s expected to detail a six-pronged strategy, comes amid a surge this summer in COVID-19 cases due to the swift spread across the U.S. of the highly infectious delta variant.
Biden’s speech will also take place as his administration works to convince more Americans to get vaccinated against the virus, and with pressure increasing for vaccines to be authorized for children younger than 12 following outbreaks in schools. The U.S. has recorded roughly 650,000 COVID-19 deaths since early last year, with the nation last week topping 40 million coronavirus cases. The U.S. leads the world in both COVID-19 cases and deaths.
"On Thursday the president will speak to the American people about his robust plan to stop the spread of the delta variant and boost vaccinations. As the president has said since day 1, his administration will pull every lever to get the pandemic under control," a White House official said on Tuesday. "On Thursday, the president will lay out a six pronged strategy that will help us do just that, working across the public and private sectors."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, said more details about the plan would be forthcoming. Asked about more mandates from the administration, Psaki acknowledged that the federal government cannot mandate that Americans take COVID-19 vaccination shots.
But she added, "We need to continue to take more steps to make sure school districts are prepared and make sure communities across the country are prepared."
The president’s COVID-19 address also comes as Biden’s standing among Americans is taking a hit, partially because of his handling of last month’s rocky U.S. withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan, but also due to his efforts to combat the coronavirus.
Biden’s approval rating hovered in the low- to mid-50s after taking office in late January. But his numbers started sliding last month, as the crisis in Afghanistan dominated media coverage and mask mandates started returning in certain spots across the country as coronavirus cases rose. The president’s approval ratings are now underwater, according to averages of the latest surveys compiled by RealClearPolitics and by the polling and analysis website FiveThirtyEight.
The coronavirus was one of the key of the issues that vaulted Biden to the presidency last year. Biden vowed to do what then-President Trump seemingly couldn’t do – get COVID-19 cases under control, bring back a sense of normalcy to Americans and boost an economy that was severely battered by the pandemic.
But the late-summer surge due to the delta variant is another gut punch to the president. Biden’s approval rating on handling the coronavirus in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1 stood at 52%-41%. But the president’s approval on combating COVID-19 was down 10 points from June, when Biden stood at 62%-31%.
"The stakes are very high for President Biden leading into his Thursday COVID speech," veteran political scientist Wayne Lesperance told Fox News.
"In the midst of a flurry of bad news around Afghanistan and surging delta variant cases, the President is returning to an issue that helped him in the 2020 election: COVID-19. It remains to be seen how receptive Americans will be to his going back to the well. But, at a time when schoolchildren are heading back to classes, there’s no doubt an opportunity for real leadership," noted Lesperance, vice president of academic affairs at New England College.