IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ukraine presents Biden with challenge ahead of his State of the Union address

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia-Ukraine situation
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his administration's efforts to pursue deterrence and diplomacy in response to Russia's military buildup on the border of Ukraine, from the White House, on Feb. 18, 2022.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... Russian forces advance on Kyiv. ... President Zelenskyy says 137 Ukrainians were killed on first day of invasion. ... President Biden is set to announce his Supreme Court pick today. ... CDC is set to relax indoor masking guidelines. ... Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is retiring. ... And Republicans at CPAC focus more on the culture wars than war in Ukraine.

But first, we’d like to pose a question given the unfolding situation in Ukraine: Should Biden postpone his State of the Union address on Tuesday — and instead give a primetime Oval Office speech on Ukraine that night?

The pros of switching up his Tuesday plans:

  • It would acknowledge how Ukraine has already overshadowed other events (including an upcoming SCOTUS pick and any reset of his legislative agenda).
  • It would give him more time on what was already going to be a difficult State of the Union to deliver (just how strong is the state of our union?).
  • It wouldn’t be unprecedented (remember when Donald Trump had to postpone his during a government shutdown?).
  • And switching to an Oval Office address to discuss Ukraine would give him a primetime opportunity to explain to the American people why they should care what’s taking place there, and how it could affect them in weeks and months ahead.

Now here are the cons of changing his plans:

  • The Biden White House has made it clear it can walk and chew gum at the same time. “It’s important for a president to do both national security and the domestic work at the same time,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain told NBC’s Mike Memoli and Carol E. Lee.
  • The president can still discuss Ukraine’s importance – along with his other planned topics (Covid, the economy, inflation and the rest of Biden’s agenda).
  • A State of the Union — with all of its pomp and circumstance — gives the president a big setting that you don’t want to give up or even delay.
  • And say Biden does delay his State of the Union. What happens if Ukraine is still dominating the headlines weeks from now? What does a postponement really get you?

No matter Biden’s choice — stay the course, or switch things up — the White House faces the challenge of meeting Americans where they are (amid a pandemic, inflation and now war in Europe).

And if they go forward with the State of the Union, they need to be prepared that it could be a speech that gets lost in everything else that’s happening in Europe.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 137

That’s at least how many people were killed (along with another 316 injured) in the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ukraine also says Russia lost 800 of its personnel, while British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News Russia suffered more than 450 casualties.

NBC News hasn’t confirmed any casualty numbers in the fast-moving situation.

Other numbers you need to know today:

1,745: That’s how many Russians were detained protesting their country’s invasion of Ukraine, including at least 957 from Moscow, per the Associated Press.

1: That’s the number of Republican members of Congress contacted by the Washington Post who directly addressed former President Donald Trump’s recent praise of Putin — Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.

$3 million: That’s how much congressional campaigns spent on security-related expenses in 2021, a dramatic 700 percent-increase from security-related expenditures during the entire 2020 election cycle, per a CQ Roll Call analysis.

65.4 percent: The decrease in average daily Covid cases in America over the last two weeks, down to 80,113 as of Thursday afternoon according to an NBC analysis.

25.3 percent: The decrease in average daily Covid deaths in America over the last two weeks, which was at 1,912 as of Thursday afternoon.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup

As war broke out in Europe, Republicans at CPAC were more focused on culture wars at home, per the NBC News team covering the annual conservative gathering.

The first day featured speeches from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Tennessee Marsha Blackburn and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. Hawley did reference the crisis in Ukraine and blamed Biden. But Kirk’s comments may have best summed up the level of interest in the issue, per our team on the ground.

“The U.S. southern border matters a lot more than the Ukrainian border,” Kirk said in his speech. “I’m more worried about how the cartels are trying to deliberately infiltrate our country than a dispute 5,000 miles away in cities that we cannot pronounce, places that most Americans can't find on a map.”

It’s a sentiment we’ve heard a bit from Republicans on the trail too — last week, Ohio Republican Senate hopeful J.D. Vance said during an interview “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine,” and that he cares more about the “Mexican fentanyl that’s coming across the southern border.” (Vance put out a long statement yesterday blaming President Biden, and calling “Russia’s assault on Ukraine” a “tragedy.”)

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., will announce his retirement but will serve out the remainder of this Congress, a source familiar with his intentions told NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell. Inhofe’s exit would trigger a special election to serve out the remainder of his term, meaning there will be two Senate races in Oklahoma this year. GOP Sen. James Lankford is also up for re-election.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., is expected to run for Inhofe’s seat, Politico reports.

North Carolina state Sen. Jeff Jackson, who dropped out of the Democratic Senate primary in December, is considering running for Congress.

Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has set the special election to replace the late GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn for Aug. 9.

A new outside group has emerged in the pricey Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary. “PA for PA” reserved $300,000 worth of airtime for ads supporting attorney George Bochetto, per AdImpact.

Ad watch: The closing primary ads in Texas

Just days ahead of the Texas primary, there’s a flurry of candidates making their last-minute appeals on the airwaves.

Don Huffines, a Republican facing Gov. Greg Abbott in the primary for governor, started running an all-text ad on Wednesday filled with red meat for GOP primary voters.

“Close the border. Stop giving illegals our money. Deport the invaders,” were some of the first slogans featured in the ad, which also included, “No property tax,” as well as “No forced vaccines,” and “No critical race theory.”

In Texas’ 15th district, which will be one of the state’s marquee congressional races in the fall, Republican congressional candidate Monica de la Cruz highlighted her recent endorsement from former President Donald Trump in an ad that started running Wednesday. Joining her and Huffines on the airwaves at the last minute include Republican Nathanial Moran in Texas’ 1st District, Democrat Greg Casar in Texas’ 35th District, Democrat Laura Cisneros in Texas’ 34th District, Republican Pete Sessions in Texas’ 17th District and Democrat Raymond Ramirez in Texas 15th District.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The CDC is expected to relax indoor mask guidance today.

House Democrats want more information about the records recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.

Three former Minneapolis police officers were found guilty of violating George Floyd’s civil rights.

The SWIFT banking system could be used as a sanction against Russia. What is it?

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Elon Musk violated insider trading rules.