President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union began with strong rhetoric on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine before quickly pivoting to a pitch for a liberal domestic agenda.
President Joe Biden began his first State of the Union by addressing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, expressing strong support for the Ukrainian people and promising more aid to Ukraine and additional punishments for Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Biden then quickly pivoted to his domestic agenda, which stands little hope of passing Congress.
- The president said Russian dictator Vladimir Putin “badly miscalculated” by invading Ukraine and would “pay a price.” He called for a strong international response to contain Russian aggression and announced he would close US airspace to Russian planes and planned to seize the luxury yachts and jets of Russian oligarchs.
- Biden tried to reassure the American people, saying “we’re going to be OK.” He touted his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the progress made fighting the disease.
- The president never used the words “Build Back Better” but most of his speech was a pitch for his progressive domestic agenda, which stands little chance of passing Congress.
- Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the key vote needed for Biden’s domestic priorities, quickly panned Biden’s domestic agenda. Manchin told reporters “[the Biden administration] just can’t help themselves.” He reminded them that “nothing’s changed” about his opposition to Biden’s domestic plans.
- Most lawmakers were mask-less after the Capitol lifted its mask requirements Monday. Many wore yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
- Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered the Republican response. Reynolds said Biden sent Americans back in time to the late 1970s and early 1980s, as America faced high inflation, surging crime and Russia on the march. She addressed what she called Biden’s foreign and domestic policy failures, emphasized that “parents matter” in education and outlined a Republican agenda for the midterms.
- CNN charted the hits and misses from the State of the Union. The “hits” included recognizing the Ukrainian ambassador, “returning to normal,” Biden’s call to “fund the police” and his moments of bipartisan outreach. CNN didn’t find many “misses” in Biden’s speech, categorizing Boebert’s outburst (see below) and Chuck Schumer standing early to applaud as “misses.” The only Biden miss in their estimation was Biden mistakenly praising the “Iranian people” instead of the Ukrainian people.
- The New York Times praised Biden’s words on Ukraine, but pointed out he left many questions unanswered. Left unsaid: What happens if the combination of destabilizing Russia’s currency, depriving it of access to Western technology and freezing the assets of its oligarchs and their families fails to force Mr. Putin into retreat? And what if Ukraine is just the beginning of Putin’s drive to restore the USSR?
- The Washington Post had its own takeaways, namely: Biden spoke Republicans’ language on COVID, masking and funding the police; had a strong bipartisan moment on Ukraine; and he never uttered the words “Build Back Better” – the tagline of his moribund social and climate policy legislation.
- The Washington Free Beacon founding editor Matthew Continetti called Biden’s speech a failed attempt at a “great reset.” Continetti observed that Biden’s speech had a “dream-like quality:” “Biden outlined an agenda that a popular president with substantial majorities in Congress would have a hard time passing into law, while Biden is an unpopular president with the narrowest congressional majorities in a century.”
- National Review’s Dan McLaughlin called it “bizarre” and “contradictory,” a speech that started strong on Ukraine and “went downhill” after that. McLaughlin argued Biden’s speech was riddled with contradictions, especially on energy, indulged in conspiracy theories about voter suppression and had a series of strange moments. At one point Biden said, “You can’t build a wall high enough to keep out a vaccine.” No context can make that quote make sense.
- Fox News identified five top moments from the speech, including: Biden on Ukraine; “bashful” retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; and Rep. Lauren Boebert’s outburst. Biden mentioned Afghanistan just once– referencing toxic burn pits, not his disastrous withdrawal – and Boebert (R-CO) used the opportunity to shout “you put them in [coffins], 13 of them” referring to the 13 American soldiers killed in the Kabul airport bombing in the last days of the chaotic pullout.
Most of Biden’s state of the union was focused on his domestic agenda. As ex-Trump administration official/ABC News analyst Sarah Isgur put it, “This speech makes perfect sense in an alternate reality in which Biden has a 52% approval rating and 60 percent think the country is on the right track.” Instead, Biden’s approval rating is at historic lows – only Trump had similarly low numbers at this point in his presidency – and barely 1 in 4 Americans believe the country is on the right track.
The Ukraine portion of the speech was Biden’s strongest. If there was no Ukraine crisis, would Biden have mentioned foreign policy at all? Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin had a sharp Twitter thread tracking the foreign policy issues not mentioned in Biden’s speech – his withdrawal from Afghanistan, the long-term threat from China, North Korea missile testing, and the Iran deal his administration has been quietly negotiating.
Biden could have used his State of the Union to change course and tack towards the center. Instead, he spent an hour pitching the same domestic agenda the Senate has already rejected. The fall midterm elections are shaping up to be a Republican landslide, and Biden said nothing last night to change that trajectory.
© Dominic Moore, 2022