WASHINGTON — President Biden vowed on Tuesday to make Russian President Vladimir V. Putin “pay the price” for invading Ukraine, seeking to rally the world as Moscow’s forces rained missiles on Ukrainian cities and were preparing to besiege the capital of Kiev.
Appearing before a joint session of Congress at a difficult time in modern history, Mr. Biden planned to call on lawmakers to approve more weapons and humanitarian aid for Ukraine while calling on Americans to prepare for the economic difficulties resulting from the conflict.
“Throughout our history we have learned this lesson – when dictators don’t pay the price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said in excerpts from the speech released in advance by the White House. “They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world continue to mount.
No president has delivered his State of the Union address with such a large and consequential ground war underway in Europe since 1945 and Mr Biden has faced the challenge of holding multinational and bipartisan alliances together to counter Mr. . Putin. But even as he prepared his speech, congressional negotiations over an aid package were bogged down in a partisan squabble.
Mr Biden moved to ban Russian planes from US airspace and agreed with his foreign counterparts to release 60 million barrels of oil from strategic oil reserves to try to limit price increases wartime gasoline as private companies continued to flee the Russian market. Apple halted sales of its products while Universal and Paramount joined other Hollywood studios in suspending movie releases there. For its part, Mr. Putin’s government has tried to stifle internal dissent by taking the largest remaining independent radio station off the air.
The president’s annual address, set to begin just after 9 p.m. in Washington, will take place in the middle of the night in Ukraine at a time when some of the most devastating Russian attacks have taken place, raising the prospect of a screen moment. share. juxtaposing images of explosions and gunfire against the president from the Capitol podium.
Mr. Biden, who has joined with European leaders to sanction not only Russian institutions but Mr. Putin personally, stressed the unified response to Russia’s invasion. “Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked,” he said in the excerpts. “He rejected diplomatic efforts. He thought the West and NATO would not respond. And he thought he could divide us here at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready.
To salute the heroism of the Ukrainian resistance, Jill Biden invited Oksana Markarova, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, to join her in the first lady’s box for the address.
But the speech was originally meant to be an opportunity for Mr Biden to reset his presidency after months of political and economic difficulties at home and the White House was loath to let the foreign crisis completely overwhelm its domestic agenda.
Hoping to highlight its progress in containing the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding the economy, the White House sent mostly national officials to make television appearances ahead of the speech and released fact sheets focused on initiatives on issues such as clean energy, aid for veterans, supply chains and mental health programs.
Stuck in his efforts to pass a sweeping $1.8 trillion social spending initiative, Mr. Biden planned to urge Congress to approve at least some of its components aimed at reducing the cost of childcare, elderly care and prescription drugs. And he intended to draw attention to his nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
In particular, Mr Biden wanted to reassure Americans feeling the pinch of rising inflation, which has also weighed on his policy stance, promising to lower prices by increasing output.
“Cut your costs, not your salaries,” he said in the excerpts. “Making 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 make a good living in America And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains, let’s do it in America.
In a sign of the times, the speech will take place in a Capitol again surrounded by security fencing and National Guard troops, nearly 14 months after the building was stormed by a violent mob encouraged by President Donald J Trump in an effort to stop the Electoral College vote count sealing Mr Biden’s victory.
But in a more optimistic indicator, the room will be full again, or closer, as all members of the House and Senate have been invited, rather than limiting the audience to a fraction of its usual size as it was. the case last year on concern over Covid-19. And while testing is necessary, masks are optional.
The speech comes at a politically fragile time for Mr. Biden and the country. After two years of battling the pandemic and related economic turmoil, the state of the union is sour. At least 70% of Americans polled by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said the country was heading in the wrong direction, the kind of number that usually creates problems in an election year. half term for the ruling party.
Mr. Biden has lost the trust of many Americans in the year since taking office. His approval rating in recent days has been measured between 44% by the AP and NORC and 37% by the Washington Post and ABC News. Judging by Gallup’s numbers, no modern-day president-elect has been so low at this point in his term other than Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden has struggled to garner public support at a time of intense polarization, with Republicans staunchly resisting his legislative agenda and a former President of Mr. Trump still relentlessly refusing to accept defeat and spreading lies about the 2020 elections that have been accepted by many. Americans.
Moreover, the tradition of rallying around the president during a crisis has long faded, and many Americans view the conflict with Russia through a partisan lens. According to a Yahoo News and YouGov poll, only 3% of voters who supported Mr. Trump in 2020 say Mr. Biden is doing a better job leading his country than Mr. Putin is leading his, while 47 % think the Russian leader is doing better than his own president.
While Mr Biden addressed a joint session of Congress last year shortly after taking office, this will be his first official State of the Union as president. The Russian invasion forced White House aides to rewrite the speech to focus more on the crisis and America’s place in defending the global order.
While some have urged him to be even tougher, Mr Biden has received bipartisan support from lawmakers as he imposes economic sanctions on Russia and sends US troops to NATO allies near the Ukraine to reassure them. Any comment castigating Moscow could trigger the rarest scene at a State of the Union: both sides of the aisle rise to applaud.
“I think there’s broad support for the president in what he’s doing now,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Republican Minority Leader, told reporters several hours before the speech. “Our biggest complaint is, what took him so long?”
Yet talks of a $6.4 billion humanitarian and security package for Ukraine have bogged down in the Senate over whether the money should come from the same total military spending allocation previously. agreed upon or be considered emergency money on top of that. “We ran into a problem,” McConnell reported.
Otherwise, Mr. Biden will face a divided chamber of Democrats anxious to regain political traction before heading to the polls this fall and Republicans eager to translate public discontent into control of one or both houses of Congress.
A sign of the complicated political landscape, Mr. Biden will be followed not only by the traditional Republican response, which will be delivered by Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa, but by separate responses from several members of his own party: Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan for the progressive Working Families Party, Rep. Colin Allred of Texas for the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey for the bipartisan group No Labels.
The president returns to the same chamber where he unveiled his ambitious $1.8 trillion social spending plan to much fanfare a year ago only to see it go nowhere amid Republican opposition and defection from two moderate Democratic senators.
Despite his setbacks on his legislative priorities last year, Mr. Biden planned to highlight his success by passing a $1 trillion plan with Republican backing to rebuild and expand highways, bridges, airports, railroads, the internet broadband and other infrastructure in the country.
He planned to speak about progress in the fight against Covid as the Omicron wave recedes and governments roll back pandemic restrictions, claiming credit for partially or fully vaccinating around three-quarters of the population while warning that future variants could still threaten the Americans.
The average number of new coronavirus cases has fallen by more than 90% since its peak in January and deaths have fallen by 23% in the past two weeks. But even so, more than 1,800 people still die on average from Covid each day in the United States and Mr Biden wants to be careful not to look too rosy as many thought last summer.
One of Mr Biden’s challenges on Tuesday night will be to convince Americans that the economy is in fact doing better than the polls show they think. The economy grew 5.7% last year, the biggest boom since 1984, and created 6.7 million jobs while unemployment fell to 4%. But inflation hit 7.5%, the highest in four decades, and dominated the national conversation.
“My inflation-fighting plan will lower your costs and lower the deficit,” Biden said in excerpts from his speech.