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Biden to promote allied unity against Russia, economic gains in State of the Union address

Even as much of the world’s attention remains on Ukraine, administration officials said they were looking to use the moment to spotlight domestic issues.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks about the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the White House last week. Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to use his State of the Union address Tuesday to emphasize the united response by the U.S. and its allies against Russia while seeking to promote the condition of the economy and sell an optimistic view of the country’s future, administration officials said ahead of the address. 

The president's team has been reworking his remarks in recent days to more heavily emphasize the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a speech expected to take place amid scenes of a growing assault on Kyiv. But administration officials said Biden’s domestic policy agenda will also be a major focus of his remarks, which are to include a plea to Congress to pass parts of his stalled Build Back Better legislation. 

“Every State of the Union address is an opportunity for the president delivering it to speak directly to the American people about what is happening in that moment, the progress being made and also the challenges we’re facing,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in an interview on MSNBC. “Certainly, what we’re seeing on the ground in Ukraine, the fact that the president has built a coalition of countries around the world to stand up against Russia and Putin and put in crippling sanctions, that is part of what people will hear.”

Psaki compared the moment to the remarks before Congress by President Barack Obama during the financial crisis or the one President George W. Bush gave after the Sept. 11 attacks. It is a much different context than the one White House officials had anticipated several weeks ago for a speech that typically provides presidents with one of their biggest television audiences each year.

But even as much of the world’s attention remains on Ukraine, administration officials said they are still looking to use the moment to address issues at home, particularly around the economy. While a majority of Americans have said in polls they disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy and the direction the country is heading in, the president plans to talk about the successes of the economy over his first year in office.

“He has got to speak to Ukraine, I think in many ways it is a highly momentous moment, but he has got to address domestic concerns — how is this going to affect you, and how am I doing for you here at home,” said Jane Hall, an associate professor of media and politics at American University.

On the economy, Biden will specifically make the case that “entrepreneurship and business investment has rebounded, the economy achieved its fastest job growth in American history, the fastest economic growth in nearly 40 years and a faster recovery than every other advanced economy in the G-7,” said a senior administration official. 

Biden is also expected to praise manufacturing gains that have been made during his first year in office, including $200 billion worth of investments over the last year in production of semiconductors, electric vehicles, batteries and other high-tech products, the official said. 

“The president is proud of the administration’s progress to date. We all look forward to building on this progress by easing price pressures and extending the historic labor market recovery in the months ahead,” said a senior administration official in a preview of the remarks.

At the same time, Biden will address the persistent inflation that Americans have listed as one of their top concerns and outline a plan to make more goods in America, promote fair competition, help small businesses and eliminate barriers to better paying jobs, a second official said.

One specific step Biden plans to announce will be an agreement between the Justice Department and the Federal Maritime Commission designed to make sure that large ocean freight companies can’t overcharge U.S. customers, the White House said. 

Biden will also seek to promote his $500 billion infrastructure bill passed last year and announce plans for governments to work on 65,000 miles of roads and 1,500 bridges along with investments in 600 airport infrastructure projects and spending on 15,000 new buses, ferries and subway cars over the next year, said a second administration official.

Biden is scheduled to announce several new programs, including an effort to improve nursing home staffing, make poorly performing nursing homes accountable for improper and unsafe care, and improve publicly available information about nursing home conditions.

Biden also intends to continue to press Congress to act on programs in his stalled Build Back Better legislation, specifically around lowering prescription drug costs and child care costs. He also plans to ask Congress to act on other ideas he has proposed, including better housing for seniors and the disabled, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and lowering the cost of higher education, like by increasing the maximum Pell Grant award by more than $2,000.