Biden set to use first State of the Union to condemn Putin for ‘premeditated and unprovoked’ war

According to excerpts provided ahead of the speech by the White House, Biden is set to tout the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and condemn the Russian leader for his aggression. Biden will also announce that the US will ban Russian aircraft from US airspace, joining a growing number of countries who are closing their skies to Russia, two sources familiar with the decision told CNN.

“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,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “Putin was wrong. We were ready.”

Putin, for his part, is 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 initial excerpts provided by the White House showed how the speech has evolved in recent days as a result of invasion of Ukraine. The annual speech also marks an opportunity for him 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.

Biden will recognize 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 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.

The President’s public schedule ahead of the address on Tuesday was largely blank, with the President expected to continue rehearsing and fine-tuning his remarks. But as the day has 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.

According to the White House, the two leaders discussed “the United States’ continued backing for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression.”

In a rare interview with CNN and Reuters ahead of 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.

Biden also told news anchors during a lunch ahead of Tuesday’s address that America and its allies will remain united in their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Asked to characterize Tuesday night’s speech, especially as it pertains to Ukraine, Biden told the anchors that he felt it was important to talk about his “determination to see to it that the (European Union), NATO, all of our allies are on the same exact page, in terms of sanctions against Russia and how we deal with the invasion — and it is an invasion — of Ukraine. “

“Because that’s the one thing that gives us power to impose severe consequences on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin for what he’s done. And one of the few things that I’m confident he’s going to have think twice about, long term, as this continues to bite. So, it’s the unity of NATO and the West,” he continued.

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 will reflect a figurative — and likely literal — split-screen with continued violence in Ukraine. The start time will take place around the same time that shelling and strikes typically begin in the early morning hours in Ukraine. Biden officcials 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.

The President has rehearsed portions of his speech over the past few days and is expected to continue through Tuesday. As is typical, Biden and his team have been tweaking elements and wording of the speech through the day. Events on the ground in Ukraine could prompt further changes in the hours and moments before he delivers it, according to one official.

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.

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