Politics

Biden's leadership on Russia will be a bright spot in a gloomy State of the Union

Key Points
  • The U.S.-led response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine could breathe new life into President Joe Biden's State of the Union address.
  • The other major theme of the speech: Biden's economic agenda. 
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Biden to talk about Ukraine, inflation in State of the Union

WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden delivers his first official State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, the unified global response to Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine is poised to overshadow the other major theme of the speech: Biden's economic agenda. 

Biden and his team spent months working on the economic agenda portion of the hourlong speech, according to White House aides. The result is a "strong case" for Biden to make about how well the U.S. economy has rebounded in the past year, they said.

By contrast, aides had just days to pull together his comments on Russia and Ukraine — a war that is changing by the minute. 

If this were any other year, a presidential speech on the nationwide economic recovery and his future domestic agenda would be more likely to resonate with American voters than a speech about a foreign war thousands of miles away. 

But this year is different. 

Voters still don't see the economic recovery

Biden will be addressing an electorate that polls show consistently feels disconnected from the economic recovery that Biden has overseen in his first year in office.

The numbers are clear: Since Biden took office last January, the U.S. economy has achieved the fastest job growth on record and the fastest economic growth in nearly 40 years. 

A Washington Post ABC poll released last week found that 75% of Americans believed the economy is in either "poor" or "not so good" shape.

This disconnect is not new. For months, Biden has insisted — and the numbers have shown — that America is undergoing a period of historic economic growth. 

But this has nonetheless failed to resonate with voters, a majority of whom feel pessimistic about the economy and frustrated by high inflation. 

Biden's speech will acknowledge these anxieties Tuesday, a White House official said. But the president will not be unveiling any novel approaches to the problem. 

Instead, Biden will "call on Congress" to pass various elements of his "Build Back Better" bill without referring to the doomed bill by name. 

Biden's hope of passing the once-in-a-generation social safety net expansion collided late last year with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's alarm over rising inflation. Manchin cited inflation as the reason he pulled his support for the bill after it had already passed the House. 

Biden will "call on Congress" at least 10 times in Tuesday's address to pass various proposals, according to a White House fact sheet on the speech. They include everything from increased funding for Pell grants to a $15 minimum wage to paid family leave. 

Still, the fact that Biden is resorting to public pressure on the Democratically controlled Senate and House, asking them to take action, only serves to highlight the hurdles Biden faces to fully enacting his legislative agenda. 

A decisive response 

While Biden's domestic policy agenda appears to be mired in intraparty squabbles, it is a very different story 6,000 miles away in Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden walks from Marine One upon his return to the White House in Washington, U.S., February 28, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

On Ukraine, Biden and his foreign policy team are leading the rest of the world, revitalizing the NATO alliance and stepping up to the challenge that Russian President Vladimir Putin poses to the rules-based international order — one that has maintained relative peace in Europe for nearly 80 years. 

On Tuesday morning, tens of thousands of Russian troops were surrounding the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Farther to the east, Russian forces shelled a public square in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killing hundreds.

In response to the invasion, a loose coalition of large and small democracies around the world has banded together to impose severe restrictions on Russia's central bank and sanctioned its richest citizens, its airlines and its state-run media. 

The goal of the effort is to isolate Moscow and force the Kremlin to pay a high price economically for launching a war of choice.

Biden and the United States have been at the forefront of this coalition, which includes G-7 members, NATO allies, rich countries such as Japan and developing countries such as Ghana and even traditionally neutral countries such as Switzerland and Monaco. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will "talk about the steps we've taken to not only support the Ukrainian people with military and economic assistance, but also the steps he's taken to build a global coalition imposing crippling financial sanctions on President Putin, his inner circle and the Russian economy." 

Biden will also address "the importance of the United States as a leader in the world — standing up for values and standing up for global norms," she told reporters Monday.

In just the past week, Biden has held scores of leader-to-leader calls with U.S. and NATO allies to coordinate both U.S. support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia. 

He has also deployed thousands of U.S. troops to help shore up the defenses of NATO member states to whom Russia poses the most immediate threat. 

At the same time, Biden's secretaries of state and defense have requested and distributed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional weapons to Ukrainian troops and humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing the front lines. 

This combined U.S. military, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian response has earned praise for Biden from both Democrats and Republicans. 

"President Biden's leadership in the Ukraine crisis has been truly impressive," conservative intellectual Bill Kristol tweeted Monday. 

Even more importantly, early polls show that average Americans of all parties are coalescing around support for Ukraine and opposition to Russia's invasion.

For Republican voters to back Biden's position on anything is exceedingly rare, and all the more so because the most recent Republican president, Donald Trump, was such an ardent supporter and defender of Putin. 

Biden is scheduled to deliver the annual speech at 9 p.m. in person at the Capitol to both chambers of Congress as well as several Supreme Court justices and his Cabinet.