While State of the Union speeches tend to concentrate on domestic issues, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine despite Biden’s repeated threats of economic sanctions has brought the U.S. president’s foreign policy agenda into central focus.
Post-Cold War order on verge of collapse
Putin ordered his nuclear forces on high alert Sunday after the U.S. and other Western nations announced that they would remove selected Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial messaging system. It’s the latest measure taken against Russia after initial economic sanctions failed to deter Putin from invading Ukraine as the Biden administration had hoped.
During his speech Tuesday, the president is expected to champion the sanctions and his own efforts in building a “global coalition to fight against the autocracy” of the Kremlin, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday.“If you look back when President [Barack] Obama gave his first State of the Union, it was during the worst financial crisis in a generation,” Psaki said. “When President [George W.] Bush gave his first State of the Union, it was shortly after 9/11. Leaders lead during crises. That’s exactly what President Biden is doing.”
Republican lawmakers mused at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference that the speech likely had to be rewritten.
“I think they’ve probably torn up the draft they had for the State of the Union and are realizing that issues are getting away from them,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox News Digital at CPAC.
“And that they’re going to need to buckle down and do some hard work on these foreign policy issues. We’ve got a lot of countries now that are very upset with the U.S. because we’ve appeared weak and indecisive about how we were going to move forward against aggressors.”
Dr. James Anderson, the former deputy undersecretary for policy at the Department of Defense, told Fox News Digital on Monday that Biden should use his speech to lay out “additional measures” to be taken against Russia, such as expelling more diplomats and banning Aeroflot flights from entering U.S. airspace.
Putin will be “looking closely at what President Biden says,” Anderson said.
Rising inflation, sinking approval ratings
The economy is also a key issue for Biden’s State of the Union address as inflation reaches a 40-year high and gasoline prices hit their highest level in eight years. Biden has warned that his sanctions against Russia could drive up gas prices even more, which could further impact his approval ratings, where the overwhelming majority of voters say skyrocketing grocery and energy prices are causing them financial hardship, according to a new Fox News Poll.
That same poll put Biden’s approval rating at a dismal 43%, the lowest of this presidency, and only 37% approve of his handling of the economy.
When Biden delivered his first joint address to Congress last April, which is different from the State of the Union, he focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke to masked Congress members in a limited-capacity House chamber. This year, the president may declare a victory over the virus as new cases and hospitalizations continue to plunge across the country, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its indoor mask guidance.
In contrast to last year, all Congress members were invited to attend Biden’s address Tuesday and masks are optional.
Biden will also celebrate his new Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court if confirmed.
Stalled legislative agenda
As far as his legislative agenda, Biden is expected to tout his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but his landmark proposals for “Build Back Better” and voting rights bills have failed to make any progress.
Biden is expected to avoid using the phrase “Build Back Better” in his State of the Union address and rather focus on individual programs and “lowering costs” for Americans amid rising inflation.
A guest essay published by David Axelrod called on Biden to show a “little humility” during his speech and to tout his accomplishments but also acknowledge that Americans are “still in the grips of a national trauma” brought on by the pandemic.
“The state of the union is stressed,” Axelrod wrote for The New York Times. “To claim otherwise — to highlight the progress we have made, without fully acknowledging the hard road we have traveled and the distance we need to go — would seem off-key and out of touch. You simply cannot jawbone Americans into believing that things are better than they feel.”