They shout “build the wall” during Biden’s speech 1:02
(WABNEWS) — United States President Joe Biden stepped onto his biggest stage of the year Tuesday in the midst of the biggest stretch of his presidency yet.
Facing war in Europe while working to improve his political prospects, Biden sought to rally a tired and divided country behind a revamped domestic agenda and his bid to isolate and punish Russian President Vladimir Putin.RELATED
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Yet the limits of Biden’s approach were apparent even as he spoke. A 60-kilometre long Russian convoy was approaching Kyiv and explosions rocked major cities.
And while he laid out a plan to combat higher prices in the country, the ability of any president to counter inflation is limited.
The stark divisions currently fracturing the country were as clear on Tuesday as they have been since Biden took office. His economic proposals almost failed to win applause from Republicans in the audience.
In the eight months leading up to the critical midterm elections in November, Biden isn’t likely to have a larger audience than he did on Tuesday night; His message will have to resonate if he hopes to speak next year before a Congress still controlled by Democrats.
Here are five takeaways from Biden’s first State of the Union address:
Biden’s pro-democracy message was underscored by international turmoil
Biden did not plan to deliver his first State of the Union address while a European capital was under attack. But the moment imposed on him by the Russian invasion of Ukraine provided an urgent illustration of the theme animating his presidency: that democracies must defend themselves against creeping global authoritarianism.
Biden: The free world is going to hold Putin accountable 5:10
“In the battle between democracy and autocracies, democracies are up for the moment and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security. This is the real test,” Biden said at the conclusion of the first part of his speech he had given on the Ukraine crisis.
Before his speech, Biden spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who in an interview on WABNEWS asked the president to deliver a strong and “helpful” message in his speech. Sitting in the first lady’s box was Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Oksana Markarova.
Biden tried to convey the unity of NATO and the West in his speech, underlining what US officials say has been unprecedented cooperation between allies to inflict economic damage on Putin.
“While it shouldn’t have taken something so terrible for people all over the world to see what was at stake, now the whole world sees it clearly,” he said.
Since even before the invasion began, Biden has tried to underscore why Americans should care about a conflict thousands of miles away. While the majority of Americans, 79%, said in a WABNEWS poll this week that they are following events in Ukraine at least somewhat closely, White House advisers have acknowledged that events abroad are generally not they are on the priority list of Americans.
On Tuesday, Biden made clear the stakes in Ukraine, even as he stressed that US troops would not fight on the ground and reassured Americans of his security.
“I know the news about what’s going on might seem alarming to all Americans. What I want you to know is that we’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay,” Biden said.
But he also tried to prepare Americans for the effects they could have at home, where economic sanctions on Russia could exacerbate already high gasoline prices, among other difficulties.
In a rare moment, members of both parties repeatedly applauded comments on Ukraine.
Biden opened his speech by greeting the Ukrainian people and sending a message to Russia. Calling on the camera to stand and applaud, she also underscored what has become a rare unity among members of Congress to oppose Russia’s invasion.
“Stand up and send an unmistakable signal to the world, to Ukraine,” Biden said to standing applause from both sides of the room. “Brilliant, strong, determined. We, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people.”
The steps Biden has taken so far during the Ukraine crisis — imposing harsh economic sanctions, sending US troops to NATO allies and providing military support to Ukraine — have received mostly bipartisan praise.
That’s not to say that everyone in Washington thinks he’s doing enough. Some Republican lawmakers have called on the United States to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a prospect the White House has rejected. Others have said the administration should share more actionable intelligence with Ukraine. And senior Republicans have blamed Biden for cultivating a weak foreign policy overall.
Still, the US resolution against Putin seemed mostly bipartisan on Tuesday night. As Biden censured the Russian leader, both sides of the chamber applauded:
“He thought he could walk into Ukraine and the world would collapse. Instead, he was met with a wall of resistance that he never anticipated or imagined. The Ukrainian people were found,” Biden said, saying later that he was going after Russian oligarchs while toughening up. their economic punishment: “We join our European allies to find and confiscate their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private planes, we go after their ill-gotten gains.”
For a president who has promised to seek bipartisan unity, the joint support for his condemnation of Putin will have been reassuring. And in his speech, he tried to stress that the Americans were united in their support for Ukraine.
But the divisions became apparent moments later, when Republicans booed as Biden spoke about the economy.
Biden acknowledged concerns about inflation
In what was once planned as the centerpiece of the speech, the president laid out a new four-point plan to cut costs for inflation-anxious Americans.
This is Biden’s plan to fight inflation in the US 2:27
“Too many families are struggling to keep up with their bills. Inflation is robbing them of earnings they thought they might otherwise feel. I get it,” Biden said, reiterating that controlling prices was his top priority.
The plan, which includes things like making more products in the United States and increasing competition in different sectors, was built around an acknowledgment that Biden was not doing enough to show his understanding of Americans’ economic anxieties. The war in Ukraine complicates the approach, since new sanctions can cause the price of gasoline to increase.
In his speech, Biden still tried to make it clear that the US economic recovery remains strong. Citing record job growth and low unemployment, he argued that the country was on track to overcome its pandemic-induced recession.
However, Biden was cautious about appearing to brag too much about an economic recovery that many Americans say they can’t feel. Instead, he sought to exercise his characteristic empathy by validating those concerns.
Biden touted political victories ahead of the midterms
The television hearing will likely be Biden’s best opportunity to spell out what he and the Democrats stand for this year.
He did so from a weakened political position, with approval ratings near record lows and the fate of his domestic agenda in doubt. In his speech, Biden extensively mentioned the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed last year, something he hopes Democrats will tout on the campaign trail this year.
Governor of Iowa: Biden’s international policy, little and behind 2:55
“We’re tired of talking about weeks of infrastructure. Now we’re talking about a decade of infrastructure,” Biden said, a nod to his predecessor’s repeated failures to focus on public works.
Biden also announced his nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the first black woman on the Supreme Court, a landmark selection that could boost voters this year.
And he tried to address a spike in crime by calling for new gun laws while dodging a longtime Republican impeachment: “We should all agree that the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police,” he said. Biden, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night.
What Biden didn’t mention, however, was “Build Back Better,” the sweeping climate and social spending bill that failed to garner enough support to pass last year. Instead, the president asked Congress to send him several provisions included in that bill, most of which are very popular with the American people.
He gave it a new nickname: “Economists call this increasing the productive capacity of our economy. I call it building a better America,” he said.
The messages about the covid-19 gave a remarkable change
The White House once hoped to reveal a new covid-19 strategy ahead of Biden’s State of the Union, aimed at outlining a phase of the pandemic that involves fewer disruptions to daily life while preparing for the unpredictable potential of another variation that changes the game.
The plan, delayed a bit by the Ukraine crisis, will now be unveiled on Wednesday. In his speech, Biden still worked to emphasize the new approach.
“I can say tonight that we are safely moving back into a more normal routine,” Biden said. He said it wasn’t about living with the virus but about continuing to fight it, saying most Americans could now take off their masks and go back to work.
Unlike last year’s speech to a joint session of Congress, lawmakers were not wearing masks. And Biden did not speak to the background of a masked House president and vice president.
Ultimately, White House officials believe Biden’s political prospects are tied almost inextricably to the pandemic. White House officials have spent weeks crafting a new document outlining the administration’s strategy for addressing the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
But what Biden suggested is that more than a strategy, a national reckoning was needed.
“We have lost so much to covid-19. Time with each other. And worst of all, so many lives lost. Let’s use this moment to restart,” he said. “Let’s stop looking at Covid-19 as a partisan dividing line. Let’s look at it for what it is: a terrible disease.”
“Let’s stop seeing each other as enemies and start seeing each other for who we are: fellow Americans,” he said.