(CNN)President Joe Biden began his first State of the Union address Tuesday night with a cutting condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, using his biggest platform of the year to call on the world’s democracies to stand with Ukraine.
Speaking to political leaders in Washington, Biden started his speech by sending a resounding message to the world: The West is united in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and condemns the Russian leader for his aggression. Near the beginning of the speech, Biden encouraged all in the chamber to show that support with a resounding standing ovation and said the US and its allies have “an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.”
“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,” Biden said. “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.”
He added, “Let each of us here tonight in this chamber send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world. Please rise if you are able and show that, yes, we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people.”
The President also touted the West’s unanimity in the face of Russia’s aggression.
“Putin’s latest attack on Ukraine was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected repeated, repeated, efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. He thought he could divide us at home, in this chamber and in this nation,” Biden said. “Putin was wrong. We were ready.”
Putin, for his part, was not expected to watch the speech, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. “The President usually does not watch TV addresses,” Peskov said in response to a question from CNN.
The speech has evolved in recent days as a result of invasion of Ukraine. The annual speech also marks an opportunity for Biden to speak directly to the American people about his vision to build a better country, demonstrating how he’ll lead America out of the Covid-19 pandemic, into an economic recovery and through the ramifications of a war between Ukraine and Russia. A source tells CNN Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is the designated survivor for Tuesday’s address, meaning she’s the member of the Cabinet assigned to remain outside the House chamber during the State of the Union in case disaster strikes.
In response to Russia’s provocations, the US will join a number of countries in banning Russian aircraft from its airspace, two sources familiar with the decision told CNN.
Biden is expected to tout his administration’s major accomplishments, including the nomination of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and the passage of his first two major legislative priorities in his first year in office. He’ll discuss the prospect of a return to normalcy as Covid cases wane inside a full room where masks are optional — a marked departure from his joint address to Congress last year, when masks were required and seating was limited. And he will seek to recalibrate an economic message that acknowledges the hardships many Americans are facing amid higher prices, launching a new plan to lower costs for American families.
During the speech, Biden is expected to lay out a plan to fight inflation, saying in excerpts released by the White House ahead of time that the nation has “a choice. One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation.”
“Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let’s make it in America,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “Economists call it ‘increasing the productive capacity of our economy.’ I call it building a better America. My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit.”
Biden is expected to announce new efforts to combat identity theft and criminal fraud in pandemic relief programs, including the appointment of a Justice Department prosecutor tasked with identifying and prosecuting pandemic fraud. He’ll also announce higher penalties and more resources to prosecute fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Unemployment Insurance (UI). Biden, the White House says, will sign an executive order in the coming weeks tasking federal agencies to address fraud and theft in their respective purviews.
The President plans to call on Congress to send him legislation combating climate change, arguing that some of the tax credits he has petitioned for would lower costs for families.
Biden is also expected to highlight efforts his administration has taken to reduce gun violence, reiterate his call on Congress to pass “common-sense gun violence legislation that will save lives,” and urge Congress to pass his proposed budget, which includes hundreds of millions in funding for community violence intervention programs and community policing, according to a White House official.
“He’ll make clear that the answer is not to defund the police, it’s to put more police — with better training and more accountability — out to take back our streets and make our neighborhoods safer. And he’ll talk about the steps his administration has taken — and will continue to take — to advance that accountability and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” the official told CNN.
As is tradition, first lady Jill Biden has invited guests that represent policies and themes the President will talk about during the speech, her office said. This year’s invitations includes Ukraine Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova, according to the Office of the First Lady. Educators, a union representative, members of the tech community, an organizer of Native American causes, a health care worker and a military spouse have also been invited to sit with the first lady in her box above the dais.
Biden’s primetime speech about the state of the nation and where the country is headed comes after a sharp decline in the President’s’ approval rating since he last spoke in front of the joint session of Congress last year. With all eyes on Biden Tuesday night, the White House has made clear that they’re keenly aware of the pressure on him to deliver a successful message — especially as Democrats head into the 2022 midterm elections.
Polling shows Americans don’t trust Biden when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden also has one of the worst approval ratings going into his first inaugural address of any American president in the polling era.
Democrats have relayed in recent weeks that the White House appears hopeful that the address will boost the President’s polling by demonstrating leadership on national security and by showing empathy for Americans frustrated with Covid-19 and inflation.
As Tuesday unfolded, the President, his administration and its allies have made it clear that Ukraine has been top of mind.
The US and its allies announced early Tuesday that they have agreed to a release of 60 million barrels from their reserves, the White House and International Energy Agency, as leaders seek to dampen the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on gas prices at home. Vice President Kamala Harris held five separate calls with European leaders and Biden held a half-hour call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In a rare interview with CNN and Reuters ahead of Biden’s speech, Zelensky urged the President to impress upon Americans the urgency and implications of Russia’s invasion.
“He is one of the leaders of the world and it is very important that the people of the United States understand (that) despite the fact that the war is in Ukraine … it is [a] war for the values of democracy, freedom,” Zelensky said.
It’s an example of the diplomacy that Biden intends to show off during the address.
“Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson — when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos. They keep moving. And, the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “That’s why the NATO Alliance was created to secure peace and stability in Europe after World War 2. The United States is a member along with 29 other nations.”
White House officials are mindful that the speech would reflect a figurative — and likely literal — split-screen with continued violence in Ukraine. The start time of the speech was around the same time that shelling and strikes typically begin in the early morning hours in Ukraine. Biden officials are bracing for the prospect of renewed violence in Ukraine happening at the same time he is speaking, and believe they have written a speech that can reflect those realities.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
CNN’s Kate Bennett, Kevin Liptak, Jake Tapper, Donald Judd and Harry Enten contributed to this report.