WASHINGTON (CN) — Marking a pivotal moment in his presidency, President Joe Biden delivered the State of the Union Tuesday night, asserting the United States as a stalwart of democracy on the world's stage and pushing for legislative compromise in Washington.
The address came at a pivotal moment for Biden, with Russia's invasion of Ukraine placing his international leadership under the microscope, and stalled portions of his domestic agenda and low approval ratings at home creating a difficult environment for forging American unity.
Biden began the address speaking solemnly on Ukraine while looking out over a sea of lawmakers, many wearing yellow and blue in a nod to the Ukrainian flag.
"Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people," Biden said, leading to the first unified standing ovation of the night.
The president said the Kremlin miscalculated the resolve of the U.S. and its allies when Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine and announced that the U.S. will ban Russian aircrafts from U.S. airspace, following suit with recent flight bans laid out by the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And, he thought he could divide us here at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready,” Biden said.
While reiterating that no U.S. troops would set foot on the ground in Ukraine, Biden noted that ensuring Ukraine had support was a matter of the very thing core to America itself — democracy.
"In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security," Biden said.
This messaging comes as congressional Democrats and Republicans have shown signs of bipartisan support for providing $6.4 billion in aid to Ukraine and neighboring countries as Russia continues to bear down it’s military might on Ukraine.
Lawmakers have toyed with tagging humanitarian and economic aid for Ukraine onto the government funding bill Congress needs to pass next week in order to keep the lights on in Washington.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, told reporters Tuesday they had “hit a snag” on negotiations over how to include the Ukrainian aid. McConnell said Democrats wanted to take the defense aid for Ukraine out of the defense department’s budget.
While his orations on Ukraine garnered bipartisan cheers and multiple full-chambered standing ovations, Biden's pivot to the economy exposed the deep political divides that remain in Washington.
Biden celebrated the impressively low unemployment rate and economic growth of the past year and touted his American Rescue Plan, which distributed stimulus checks and extended the child tax credit as Americans were dealt an economic blow by Covid-19.
"We needed to act, and we did. Few pieces of legislation have done more in a critical moment in our history to lift us out of crisis," Biden said.
It was this assertion that garnered the first round of "boos" from Republicans and cut through Biden's calls for unity as a reminder of the partisan schisms that persist.
While he lauded his economic achievements, the president acknowledged the toll the pandemic and decades-high consumer prices have had on Americans.
"But with all the bright spots in our economy, record job growth and higher wages, too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills. Inflation is robbing them of the gains they might otherwise feel. I get it. That’s why my top priority is getting prices under control," Biden said.