Busy Biden schedule ignites US election's phony war

For a man who's not formally said he's seeking reelection, President Joe Biden is doing an excellent impression this week of a man seeking reelection.

Donald Trump is already at it: the default Republican frontrunner declared in typically bombastic fashion this weekend that 2024 was the "one shot to save our country."

Some in the former president's own camp, including at the very top, have begun to write off Trump -- after a messy campaign rollout in November and an underwhelming attempt to reset with several speeches in recent days.

But Biden, winner of the extraordinarily tense 2020 election, clearly believes he may end up in a rematch -- and that his mission to stop Trump's far-right movement is unfinished.

So, while he hasn't yet said the magic words, the 80-year-old Democrat's official schedule this week, leading up to the State of the Union speech next on February 7, leaves little doubt.

Monday: Biden gave a speech celebrating work to replace a 150-year-old rail tunnel under Baltimore -- paid by money from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill he got Congress to pass.

"It's about making investments in America's cities, towns, the heartland of America," he said.

Tuesday: it's another infrastructure spending speech, this time at a notoriously creaky New York City rail tunnel.

Wednesday: Biden convenes a White House meeting touting his economic record over the last two years in office.

Thursday: he speaks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, celebrating the very American blend of religion and politics, before giving a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the law protecting workers' right to family and sick leave.

Then Friday, in a rare joint trip -- just don't call it a reelection campaign event -- Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Philadelphia to "discuss the progress we have made."

Throw in fundraising events to fill the Democratic National Committee coffers, including Friday in Philadelphia, and it would be hard to design a more typical 2024 presidential campaign week.

Although Biden is expected to wait some weeks before announcing his bid, the phony war period gives him a chance to hone his message.

Speeches this week will serve as dress rehearsals for the following Tuesday's State of the Union, where Biden will showcase his accomplishments and lay out his vision before Congress and a guaranteed huge television audience.

It's a narrative centering on sunny rhetoric, including repeated declarations that he has "never been more optimistic," while highlighting undeniable wins like the infrastructure package and its splurge of job creating projects.

The dark flip side of the message is that Republicans -- and not just Trump -- have been taken over by extremists, threatening democracy itself.

Which is why another item on Biden's schedule this week will be important to watch -- his meeting Wednesday with Kevin McCarthy, the new Republican speaker in the House of Representatives.

McCarthy has embarked on a dangerous test of political muscle, essentially threatening to push the United States into debt default if the Democrats refuse to slash the federal government's spending.

The Republican plan is to paint the Democrats as spendthrifts and Biden as a president who doesn't care about the enormous annual budget deficit.

Biden, however, believes McCarthy and the far-right faction controlling his party's narrow majority in the House have overreached by taking the economy "hostage" -- and that voters will see through the stunt.

That leaves him seeking to seize the high ground, as in his final rhetorical flourish Monday, where he told the audience that his message was one of "pride, pride in our country. Pride in what we can do when we do it together."