President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle of oligarchs that harsh punishments are still coming in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the President also used his first State of the Union address to renew his pitch for a domestic agenda recently overshadowed by that international crisis.
Speaking to political leaders in Washington, Biden started his State of the Union address by sending a resounding message to the world: The West is united in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and condemns the Russian leader for his aggression. Near the beginning of the speech, Biden encouraged all in the chamber to show that support with a resounding standing ovation and said the US and its allies have “an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.”
Biden noted that Putin’s aggression had only made the world’s democracies strengthen their resolve to counter rising autocracies.
“Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated,” Biden said. “He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.”
He added, “Let each of us here tonight in this chamber send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world. Please rise if you are able and show that, yes, we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people.”
The President also touted the West’s unanimity in the face of Russia’s aggression, saying their united front is “inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine” and “choking off Russia’s access to technology that will sap its economic strength and weaken its military for years to come.”
“Putin’s latest attack on Ukraine was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected repeated, repeated, efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. He thought he could divide us at home, in this chamber and in this nation. Putin was wrong. We were ready,” Biden said.
“We spent months building a coalition of other freedom-loving nations from Europe and the Americas to Asia and Africa to confront Putin. I spent countless hours unifying our European allies. We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning and precisely how he would try to falsely justify his aggression. We countered Russia’s lies with truth. And now that he has acted the free world is holding him accountable.”
The President celebrated the impact actions will have on “Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who have bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime no more.”
“We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” he said.
He also asserted that “Russia’s economy is reeling and Putin alone is to blame.”
Putin, for his part, was not expected to watch the speech, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. “The President usually does not watch TV addresses,” Peskov said in response to a question from CNN.
As Tuesday unfolded, the President, his administration and its allies have made it clear that Ukraine has been top of mind.
The US and its allies announced early Tuesday that they have agreed to a release of 60 million barrels from their reserves, the White House and International Energy Agency, as leaders seek to dampen the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on gas prices at home. Vice President Kamala Harris held five separate calls with European leaders and Biden held a half-hour call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Biden acknowledged that many Americans are worried about how gas prices are being affected by the war.
“I know the news about what’s happening can seem alarming. But I want you to know that we are going to be OK,” he said. “When the history of this era is written Putin’s war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.”
A return to domestic concerns
The speech has evolved in recent days as a result of invasion of Ukraine. The annual speech also marked an opportunity for Biden to speak directly to the American people about his vision to build a better country, demonstrating how he’ll lead America out of the Covid-19 pandemic, into an economic recovery and through the ramifications of a war between Ukraine and Russia. A source tells CNN Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is the designated survivor for Tuesday’s address, meaning she’s the member of the Cabinet assigned to remain outside the House chamber during the State of the Union in case disaster strikes.
Despite the initial focus on the war in Ukraine, Biden pivoted for much of the rest of the speech to a more traditional State of the Union address — pitching his domestic agenda for the upcoming year and renewing his call for economic fairness for all Americans.
The President outlined his plan to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, calling for a bipartisan “reset” from the polarization of the last two years as the nation begins the return to normal.
“We have lost so much to Covid-19. Time with one another. And worst of all, much loss of life. Let’s use this moment to reset, stop looking at Covid-19 as a partisan dividing line. See it for what it is: A God-awful disease. Let’s stop seeing each other as enemies, and start seeing each other for who we are: Fellow Americans,” he said.
Biden conceded that Covid-19 “has impacted every decision in our lives and the life of the nation” over the past two years, acknowledging the frustration and exhaustion as he said that the US is now “moving forward safely, back to — more normal routines.” He said the US is in a “new moment” in the pandemic with cases coming down, touting new masking guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week.
In another area that has affected everyday life, Biden laid out a plan to fight inflation, saying in excerpts released by the White House ahead of time that the nation has “a choice. One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation.”
“Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let’s make it in America,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “Economists call it ‘increasing the productive capacity of our economy.’ I call it building a better America. My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit.”
Biden announced new efforts to combat identity theft and criminal fraud in pandemic relief programs, including the appointment of a Justice Department prosecutor tasked with identifying and prosecuting pandemic fraud. He’ll also announce higher penalties and more resources to prosecute fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Unemployment Insurance (UI). Biden, the White House says, will sign an executive order in the coming weeks tasking federal agencies to address fraud and theft in their respective purviews.
The President also called on Congress to send him legislation combating climate change, arguing that some of the tax credits he has petitioned for would lower costs for families.
Biden is also expected to highlight efforts his administration has taken to reduce gun violence, reiterate his call on Congress to pass “common-sense gun violence legislation that will save lives,” and urge Congress to pass his proposed budget, which includes hundreds of millions in funding for community violence intervention programs and community policing, according to a White House official.
As is tradition, first lady Jill Biden has invited guests that represent policies and themes the President will talk about during the speech, her office said. This year’s invitations included Ukraine Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova, along with educators, a union representative, members of the tech community, an organizer of Native American causes, a health care worker and a military spouse have also been invited to sit with the first lady in her box above the dais.
Biden’s primetime speech about the state of the nation and where the country is headed comes after a sharp decline in the President’s’ approval rating since he last spoke in front of the joint session of Congress last year. With all eyes on Biden Tuesday night, the White House has made clear that they’re keenly aware of the pressure on him to deliver a successful message — especially as Democrats head into the 2022 midterm elections.
Polling shows Americans don’t trust Biden when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden also has one of the worst approval ratings going into his first inaugural address of any American president in the polling era.
Democrats have relayed in recent weeks that the White House appears hopeful that the address will boost the President’s polling by demonstrating leadership on national security and by showing empathy for Americans frustrated with Covid-19 and inflation.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
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