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Biden delivers State of the Union as Russia-Ukraine conflict intensifies

MSNBC live coverage, updates, analysis and opinions on Biden's first State of the Union speech.

President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union speech Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET. He focused in part on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Covid pandemic, inflation and infrastructure.

Follow along as we break down the night's key moments. Tonight's contributors are Symone D. Sanders, political strategist and former Biden White House official; Noah Rothman, associate editor of Commentary magazine; former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance; and Kevin Kruse, professor of history at Princeton University. We'll also hear from MSNBC's own Hayes Brown, Ja'han Jones and Zeeshan Aleem.

283d ago / 4:56 AM UTC

As a Biden foil, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ wrap wasn’t very fresh

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds pulled the short straw this year and was tapped to give the GOP’s response to the State of the Union. And, well, she gave a speech without any major errors, which is more than can be said about some of the past sacrificial lambs. (See: Marco Rubio; Bobby Jindal, etc.)

Reynolds took a page from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's playbook in her response, calmly reciting a litany of half-truths and mildly bonkers policy proposals. She talked about “parental rights” even as parents of trans kids in Texas are being persecuted, and how an “an elite few tell everyone else what they can and cannot believe” even as conservatives move to ban books around the country.

Reynolds lamented how inflation is cutting into people’s wages, even as she and her party opposes raising the minimum wage, which has been frozen since 2009 both federally and in Iowa. She essentially blamed Biden for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even as his strategy has united Europe and America in crippling the Russian economy. And she blamed the president for “focusing on political correctness rather than military readiness,” even though it was President Donald Trump who wanted to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and American forces from Germany entirely. 

In the end, though, as MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out, Reynolds agrees with Biden: the state of our union is strong. Everything else was just reheated leftovers from other GOP rants.

283d ago / 4:55 AM UTC

Swalwell condemns Marjorie Taylor Greene for heckling Biden

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell tore into GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Twitter after she and fellow Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert heckled Biden while he was speaking about his late son, Beau, and the U.S. service members who have been exposed to toxic burn pits in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“No one on her side will condemn her indecency,” Swalwell said of Greene, who faced tepid backlash from Republican leaders for speaking at a white nationalist conference on Friday.

Boebert yelled out as Biden mentioned Beau, an Army veteran who died from brain cancer in 2015. Despite their breach of etiquette, history suggests they are unlikely to face much condemnation from their own party. On the other hand, Greene and Boebert have both staked their careers on brazen provocation, not policy. 

283d ago / 4:08 AM UTC

Progressive response shows Biden’s left flank is safe

When Biden took office, there was wide speculation that the expansion of the left-leaning congressional bloc, commonly called The Squad, could be a thorn in the president’s side.

But Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s State of the Union response, on behalf of the progressive Working Families Party, highlighted how much Biden has managed to satisfy and disarm that contingent of lawmakers with his policy agenda and engagement. 

“No one fought harder for President Biden’s agenda than progressives,” Tlaib said. “We rallied with our supporters, held town halls in our communities, engaged new people and we even played hardball in Congress.”

Much of Tlaib’s remarks were spent praising Biden’s agenda as effective, boosting his stalled Build Back Better bill, and criticizing the GOP for obstructing further progress. And when she proposed ideas to deal with “unfinished” work of progress, the policies she proposed like new anti-poverty legislation were not strikingly more progressive than the plans one could imagine Biden proposing if there were more Democrats in the Senate. Some of the progressive ideas she proposed were simply policies Biden has already lobbied for, like bringing down the price of life-saving drugs.

All in all, Tlaib’s speech was a reminder that Biden seems to have won over many progressive lawmakers. Some critics on the left would argue that along the way he has successfully defanged them and their power as a bloc to demand bolder policies.

283d ago / 4:00 AM UTC

Acknowledging abortion rights, without using the word 'abortion'

​​As the Supreme Court seems poised to roll back 50 years of abortion rights in America, President Joe Biden acknowledged — somewhat demurely — the ongoing attacks on the constitutional right affirmed in Roe v. Wade. 

Although Biden did not use the word “abortion,” he did reference the need to protect a woman's right to choose if we are going to continue moving forward as a society, and not backwards. American leaders in the executive, congressional and judicial branches must all defend our access to health care and bodily autonomy. We’ll see if the men and women in robes were listening.

283d ago / 3:51 AM UTC

Save the world? How about saving the American economy?

Biden didn’t frame his pitch to Congress on combating climate change about saving the planet or the existential threat to humanity it presents. Instead, he talked about it in terms of things he hoped more Americans would vibe with: more jobs and reducing inflation.

“We’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans, modernizing roads, airports, ports, and waterways all across America,” Biden said of the infrastructure funding Congress passed last year. That includes a pledge to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. “And we’ll do it all to withstand the devastating effects of the climate crisis and promote environmental justice,” he added.

And investing in more resilience against climate change will save Americans money even in the short run, Biden argued, cutting energy costs for families an average of $500 a year.

“Let’s provide investments and tax credits to weatherize your homes and businesses to be energy efficient and you get a tax credit,” he said. “Double America’s clean energy production in solar, wind and so much more. Lower the price of electric vehicles, saving you another $80 a month because you’ll never have to pay at the gas pump again.”

Look, $1,460 in savings a year is pretty impressive for most American families. Arguing that Republicans want to keep people from having that cash in their wallets might be more effective than giving them the latest grim news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

283d ago / 3:45 AM UTC

​​DOJ will name a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud

It may not have been an earth-shattering part of SOTU, but Biden’s announcement that the Department of Justice will appoint a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud signifies that DOJ, the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices nationwide and the investigators they work with will be prioritizing prosecutions in this area. “We’re going after the criminals who stole billions in relief money meant for small businesses and millions of Americans,” the president said.

Fraud in national programs is an epidemic all its own. Following Hurricane Katrina, the GAO estimated $1.4 billion in fraud occurred. Fraud in these situations takes aid away from people who desperately need it. And the criminals who commit it deserve to be prosecuted.

And yet, it’s one thing to say these cases will be prosecuted; it’s quite another when a president so prominently calls it out. With this kind of focus, and a designated point person, we can expect the results to be robust.

Following Katrina, I prosecuted people who fraudulently obtained aid even though they were not impacted by the storm, including one woman who used the money she got to purchase a Mercedes-Benz. Setting a strong example here can simultaneously punish fraudsters, deter future crime and return stolen funds to the treasury.

283d ago / 3:38 AM UTC

Biden mentions voting rights, but leaves much to be desired

Ultimately, President Biden’s speech did acknowledge the voting rights we’ve seen over the past year — but he didn’t mention the fact that conservatives are the ones waging the attack

“The most fundamental right in America is the right to vote — and to have it counted,” he said. “And it’s under assault.” He noted that in several states, “new laws have been passed, not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert entire elections,” adding, “we cannot let this happen.” 

These are important points to make, but they would have resonated more deeply if they’d been more prominent in the speech. None of the policies he promoted today will survive America’s anti-democratic downturn.

283d ago / 3:27 AM UTC

Biden announces new Covid initiatives

After being mocked heavily for how few at-home Covid tests were being made available for households, Biden said that starting next week Americans can order a second round. (A bit late, but at least they’re being made available.)

He also announced a “Test to Treat” initiative, making it “so people can get tested at a pharmacy and if they’re positive receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost.” Pfizer is providing 1 million antiviral treatment pills this month to make that possible and “more than double that next month,” Biden said. That would be a major shift given how difficult it's been to get antiviral medicines thus far, a common attack from Republicans who have opposed vaccination mandates.

283d ago / 3:26 AM UTC

Sometimes you gotta play the classics

President Joe Biden has informed Americans that the state of our union is, in fact, “strong — because you, the American people, are strong.”

Every president since Bill Clinton has said as much in every State of the Union address delivered to Congress. President Ronald Reagan first used the phrase in 1983.

Not sure I agree with Biden’s analysis, but…sometimes you gotta play the classics.

283d ago / 3:21 AM UTC

Biden talked up his historic SCOTUS nominee

President Biden touted his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, listing her accomplishments and her broad range of support. He noted she previously served as a federal public defender (she’d become the first to ever sit on the Supreme Court if confirmed by the Senate). Biden also noted that she received support from the Fraternal Order of Police. 

“She’s a consensus-builder,” Biden said, after guaranteeing she’d continue Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s “legacy of excellence” if and when she’s appointed.

Image; Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court reacts to applause.
MSNBC
283d ago / 3:21 AM UTC

Biden falls into the same ol’ trap on immigration

“If we are to advance liberty and justice, we need to secure the border and fix the immigration system,” Biden said to bipartisan applause. But moments later, Republicans made clear that they were only clapping for the first half of that statement — which is why immigration reform has been intractable for the last 40 years.

“We can do both,” Biden continued, to silence from the GOP. Along with adding new tech to watch the border, Congress should “provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers” and “revise our laws so businesses have the workers they need, and families don’t wait decades to reunite,” he said.

But Republicans have spent decades demanding a totally impervious southern border before any new legal immigration is allowed. Any “amnesty” for people already here is tantamount to treason according to their base. Democrats have bought into this idea, constantly linking the two ideas together. It’s a shame that Biden is following that same failed strategy.

283d ago / 3:13 AM UTC

The authoritarian elephant in the SOTU room

Biden opened tonight’s State the Union by noting that the country has an “unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.” He was, of course, talking about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the unified coalition of countries that are pushing back, as Ukrainians fight for their freedom.

But it’s hard to not see another parallel. The free world stands up to an authoritarian in Russia, while an authoritarian at home in the United States has still not been held accountable for his misconduct. The fact that America cannot muster the collective will to do this is an unspoken elephant in the chamber tonight, even as members of Congress broke into bipartisan applause when the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. was introduced.

As Ukrainians fight for the right to live in a free and democratic country, there’s no doubt that the future of elections in our own country is still at risk. In the 2022 elections, there are election deniers — candidates who still contest the results of the 2020 election — running for governor in at least 24 states, for attorney general in 10, and for secretary of state, a key post for administering elections, in 18 states. States have adopted laws that make it more difficult to vote, for instance, by cutting back on early voting days and absentee voting. All of these deniers, as well as some of the elected officials present tonight, continue to pledge their allegiance to Trump, even if that means undermining the will of American voters.

283d ago / 3:08 AM UTC

Biden has no inflation plan

With rising rates of inflation overtaking Covid as Americans’ primary concern, voters who tuned into Biden’s speech were probably listening closely for the president’s plan to reduce the pressure on their wallets. They didn’t hear one.

The president capably detailed the fiendish nature of inflation, the causes of which are in many ways out of this administration’s control. To address those causes, though, the president spent much of his time expressing his support for the failed policies of the mid-20th century and pitching his moribund legislative agenda.

Biden paid special attention to drug prices, using the high cost of insulin as his primary example. His solution to rising prices was to simply cap them at an arbitrary level ($35). For the rest of the productive economy, Biden touted his administration’s efforts to repatriate industry so that more goods will be made in America (at higher wage costs, which will be passed onto the consumer). Who wouldn’t want to whip inflation now by relying on protectionism and price controls? It’s a politically appealing idea; it’s too bad it doesn’t work.

When he wasn’t pledging his support for Richard Nixon’s first term agenda, Biden was pitching the Build Back Better bill’s constituent features as a cure-all for our economic woes. Let Medicare negotiate drug prices. Lower the cost of college. Improve the conditions in nursing homes. Make daycare and pre-K education more affordable. And pass the so-called “Pro Act,” which would make it more difficult to hire and retain contract labor.

How all this combats inflation is the subject of much debate — a debate that has been had for months. Indeed, that debate has been definitively settled in favor of the Build Back Better bill’s opponents. By exhuming BBB from its legislative grave merely to prop up the corps, Americans who desperately wanted to hear how Biden will help address inflation got their answer: He can’t. 

283d ago / 3:00 AM UTC

Why Sen. Elizabeth Warren likely loved this Biden remark

Okay!! Earlier in the evening, I made the point that inflation is bad because of Covid but also price gouging by companies. After my comments, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., texted me to say that was a point the senator has been emphatic about. Well, I am sure then she was glad to hear this from President Biden tonight: "Tonight, I’m announcing a crackdown on these companies overcharging American businesses and consumers." 

Will folks appreciate that President Biden sees the problem of inflation from all sides? Paging Sen. Warren! Wondering if the Working Families Party edits their response to the State of the Union to include this? We will be watching.

283d ago / 2:53 AM UTC

Feed the Fed

For all the talk from Republicans about the need to fight inflation, Senate Republicans have been holding up Biden’s five nominees for the Federal Reserve, the government body that’s best suited for fighting inflation.

Biden just turned to the Republican side of the aisle and called them out.

283d ago / 2:51 AM UTC

Happy birthday, Joshua!

Biden proposed lowering the cost of prescription drugs, including insulin, as his first method to fight inflation. One of First Lady Jill Biden’s guests at the address is Joshua Davis, who has Type 1 diabetes. The president recognized Joshua — who turned 13 on Monday — when he spoke about the high cost of insulin for diabetics. Even though insulin costs only $10 a vial to make, Joshua’s family pays nearly 30 times as much, Biden said.

Image: Joshua Davis stands for applause at the State of the Union.
Joshua Davis stands for applause at the State of the Union address.J. Scott Applewhite / Pool via Reuters

Biden proposed to “cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month.” Even at that reduced rate, “drug companies will do very, very well,” he said, while also calling again for allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. (Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, didn’t look impressed with the idea.)

283d ago / 2:50 AM UTC

Why the fight over Russian energy is just beginning

Biden began tonight’s address with a powerful expression of his White House and the country’s resolve to confront the Russian threat bearing down on Ukraine today and, perhaps, beyond it tomorrow.

He detailed the administration’s actions, along with the actions of America’s allies, to impose severe economic restrictions on Russia, close Western airspace to Russian commercial jets, hunt down the “ill begotten” assets of Russian oligarchs and provide aid and material support to Ukraine’s soldiers. But when it came to Moscow’s Achilles heel — its energy sector — Biden only issued another veiled warning. 

The president may regret not being franker with Americans about how he plans to spare them undue financial hardships. Just before the president arrived in the Capitol, Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg revealed that sanctions against the Russian energy sector are “on the table.” Indeed, the White House’s hand may be forced by Western energy producers themselves. In the last 72 hours, fossil fuel giants like British Petroleum, Shell, Exxon Mobil, and Equinor announced they would voluntarily divest from their Russian holdings. This isn’t a response to Western sanctions; it’s an entirely organic reaction to both a volatile Russian economic environment and mounting social pressure to meet the measure of this historic moment.

That’s a near-miraculous display of commitment to preserving civilization and the global peace that has prevailed for decades. But it won’t come without a cost. Sixty million barrels of petroleum from the world’s strategic reserves will blunt that pain, but not for long. Americans are willing to pay the costs of safeguarding freedom at home and abroad. But it would serve this administration well if they trusted the public enough to ask for their participation in this vital crusade. 

283d ago / 2:45 AM UTC

Republicans boo Biden as he criticizes Trump-era tax cuts

Republicans didn’t like when President Biden called out the tax cuts Republicans passed under the Trump administration, which largely favored the wealthy

“Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefited the top 1 percent of Americans, the American Rescue Plan —,” Biden said, before getting cut off by a chorus of conservative boos.

It was unclear whether they were booing Biden’s reference to the bill, or Biden’s reference to conservatives favoring the ultra-wealthy. Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer rallied progressives to applaud as Biden continued.

Image: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer starts a standing ovation too early.
MSNBC
283d ago / 2:37 AM UTC

The GOP’s white nationalist baggage

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was just seen chatting with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., during an applause break in the president’s address. 

McCarthy, of course, has been under pressure recently to denounce Republican House members who spoke at a white nationalist conference and to distance the rest of the party from their racism. McCarthy insisted that “there’s no place in our party for any of this.”

Which brings us back to Scalise, who allegedly described himself as“David Duke without the baggage” and later came under fire for giving a speech to a white nationalist group himself in 2002.   

And despite that past, Scalise is the House minority whip — the second-ranking Republican behind McCarthy. Apparently, there is a place in their party for this.

283d ago / 2:35 AM UTC

Biden drags Putin — and gets standing ovations

President Biden started his State of the Union address by ticking through the steps his administration has taken to combat Russia’s war on Ukraine, while dragging — as the streets would say — Russian President Vladimir Putin. And the president is getting standing ovations because of this, as he should. After all, helping Ukraine defend itself from the unprovoked aggression of the Russian president should be a bipartisan issue. 

My favorite part of Biden’s speech so far has been his honest leveling with the American people about “the pain of our action is targeted at the Russian economy.” The president is on strong footing here. Because he isn’t bragging — he’s just telling it like it is!

283d ago / 2:32 AM UTC

Biden has a not-so-secret plan to fight inflation

Biden described America as having a “choice” in how to fight inflation, which increased more between February 2021 and February 2022 than it has during any other year in the last four decades. “One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer,” Biden said. "I have a better plan to fight inflation.”

Instead, Biden wants to “lower [Americans’] costs, not your wages.” That will involve reducing dependence on foreign supply chains, making more products like cars and semiconductors in the U.S. and adding “jobs where you can earn a good living,” Biden said.

That’s all great in theory, especially since Republicans have been hammering Biden’s administration on rising costs at home. But history shows that there’s not much Congress or the White House can really do to get businesses — including many that are struggling to meet increased demand — to accept lower profits instead of passing on those costs to consumers. Instead, it’s mostly up to the Federal Reserve to tackle inflation — but that doesn’t sound as good to voters, especially if it means higher interest rates.

283d ago / 2:24 AM UTC

Ukraine's ambassador to U.S. gets bipartisan applause

As expected, Biden recognized Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., early in his speech. As she stood to be recognized, she got a huge wave of bipartisan applause. In fact, several of Biden’s lines about America’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine got standing ovations from both sides of the aisle, including his observation that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "more isolated in the world than he has ever been.”

IMage: First lady Dr. Jill Biden applauds the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova.
First lady Jill Biden applauds the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova.Evelyn Hockstein / Getty Images
283d ago / 2:17 AM UTC

Biden announces U.S. will join allies in closing skies to Russian aircraft

Biden just unveiled a noteworthy policy announcement: The U.S. will ban Russian aircraft from entering U.S. airspace. It’s something U.S. officials have contemplated rolling out for days, and it means the U.S. is joining European allies in yet another measure to further isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 

As NBC News reported, the European Union on Sunday closed its skies to Russian aircraft “owned, chartered or otherwise controlled by a Russian legal or natural person.” Canada has also enacted a ban. U.S. officials have indicated that they believe Americans can get out of Russia by other means, such as taking trains.

The move adds yet another tool that the West is using to quite literally cut Russia off from the outside world as punishment.

283d ago / 2:15 AM UTC

3 Covid answers Biden owes us in his State of the Union speech

As President Joe Biden's State of the Union gets underway, here are three points MSNBC Daily columnist Dr. Kavita Patel says Biden's State of the Union needs to deliver on to keep us even-keeled and hopeful as we continue to fight Covid in America:

Normal is within reach, thanks to a smarter, more effective government.

We will adopt a zero tolerance policy for lies and the deceit of the American public.

The systems that failed you at the start of the pandemic will not be ignored again.

283d ago / 2:13 AM UTC

It was all yellow

Many lawmakers are wearing yellow tonight, likely a show of support for Ukraine as Russia continues its invasion. Several other lawmakers are showing their support by donning royal blue shawls and waving miniature Ukrainian flags.

It's just another sign of the ubiquity of the Russia-Ukraine conversation and a reminder of how quickly a news cycle can change. In just two weeks, a story that was in the recesses of many Americans’ minds has moved to center stage. 

Image: Brenda Lawrence, Terri Sewell, Lisa Blunt Rochester
Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., Terri Sewell, D-Ala., and Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., arrive ahead of President Joe Biden's first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol.Sarahbeth Maney / The New York Times via AP
283d ago / 2:07 AM UTC

Biden takes the podium

Biden has taken the podium after being announced by the House's sergeant at arms. Here we go!

283d ago / 2:01 AM UTC

The state of our union is _____.

I asked people on Twitter this afternoon how they would answer this prompt if they were President Joe Biden. 

The state of our union is _____. 

The answers ranged from meh, to “resilient” (my personal favorite, from former MSNBC anchor Kendis Gibson), to complicated, to perilous. They’re all true. Most people agreed we were far better off this year than last year. Still, this year’s State of the Union address will feature a wide and conflicting range of emotions, befitting 2021-2022.

Mark Cianca had this diplomatic suggestion for the president: 

 

And of course, the danger the Ukrainian people are facing with such bravery right now certainly puts our own problems in context. The hopeful note in this tweet rang especially strong. 

SOTU is a time for aspiration and hope, which we all need right now. As Jane Moore tweeted:

And at least on my Twitter feed, there’s a decided thread of optimism.

283d ago / 1:58 AM UTC

Biden's Cabinet will be in the audience

In keeping with custom, almost all of the Biden Cabinet will be in the audience for the State of the Union tonight. (Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, selected as the “designated survivor,” will likely be the lone absence.)

Traditionally, the Cabinet accompanies the president to show their support for him and provide an image of unity and strength. But unlike past presidents — most notably Donald Trump — the members of Biden’s Cabinet have taken a fairly low profile over the administration’s first year. (They’re likely taking cues from their boss, who has apparently taken a low profile to provide a contrast with his predecessor’s constant preening. While a welcome move, this decision might well be backfiring.)

The State of the Union presents an opportunity to promote the president’s policies and brag about his successes, so Biden’s Cabinet is there in force. But this should mark the start of that promotional work, not the end. The Cabinet can be effective surrogates for their respective fields of responsibility, and the administration would be wise not to put them back in storage after the night’s pageantry.  

283d ago / 1:53 AM UTC

Dem congresswoman wears traditional Ukrainian dress

Some members of Congress have been wearing yellow ribbons this week in support of Ukraine, but Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., showed up to the State of the Union taking things to another level.

Maloney, the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, opted to wear traditional Ukrainian dress to really hammer home her solidarity with Ukraine. (She is not, to my knowledge, Ukrainian but does represent Manhattan’s Little Ukraine neighborhood in Congress.)

Image: US-POLITICS-BIDEN
Evelyn Hockstein / AFP - Getty Images

Her outfit tonight clearly comes from a good place, but I can’t help but be reminded of a previous time Maloney donned national garb for effect. In 2001, during the debate in Congress over authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda, Maloney wore a full burqa to highlight the mistreatment of women under Taliban rule. It was a choice then and a choice now.

Image: Rep. Carolyn Maloney wore a burqa on the House floor in 2001.
C-SPAN
283d ago / 1:39 AM UTC

Reader question: Will Biden cancel student debt?

One readers asks how Biden might address student loans:

Great question! To answer in reverse order, it seems unlikely given his past statements that Biden will outright cancel student debt on his own. He’s said repeatedly that he’d sign legislation that would cancel up to $10,000 of student loan debt — emphasis on “legislation.” But some progressive members of Congress argue he could cancel up to $50,000 worth of debt on his own through executive action. Biden hasn’t been swayed so far but stranger things have happened.

As for the pause, no idea! The White House thankfully realized back in December that letting the pause lapse without a long-term plan would be an easily avoidable mistake and extended it until May 1. Now, are they willing to take that political hit in a midterm year where things are already shaky for Democrats? As the kids say: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

283d ago / 1:29 AM UTC

Biden will champion the power of NATO

We can tell from a pre-released excerpt of the speech that Biden will emphasize the unity of the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a sign of strength and pride.

“Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy,” Biden will say, according to the excerpt. “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.”

The key point here is that the U.S. and its allies are coordinating their responses with extraordinary speed and with a level of consensus that Putin wasn’t expecting. Countries which were reluctant to take action against Moscow before the invasion like Germany have shed any ambivalence. NATO has unleashed punishing sanctions that are crippling Russia’s economy with an intensity and swiftness that few ever anticipated. This unity gives the Western countries more leverage in any potential future negotiations with Russia — and Biden is flexing about it.  

283d ago / 1:23 AM UTC

The state of our union is meh

Biden’s first State of the Union address comes at a weird time for the country. His speech should reflect that, ditching the usual pablum about bipartisanship to really highlight the dangers of the GOP winning back Congress. He should also take a big risk by telling the truth: the state of our union is not strong.

283d ago / 1:16 AM UTC

Will Biden’s unity ‘moonshot’ be more than an applause line?

In his address tonight, Biden will reportedly advance a “unity agenda” around which he hopes the nation will rally. One aspect of this platform will be the revitalization of the Obama-era program deemed the “Cancer Moonshot.” The president will attempt tonight to galvanize Americans behind a plan to “end cancer as we know it.”

As expressions of aspirational sentiment go, you could do worse than being firmly opposed to cancer. In the fine print, the program’s more reasonable objective of seeking to cut death rates attributable to cancer in half over the next quarter century is hardly unachievable. After all, deaths from cancer reached their apex in 1991 and have declined steadily ever since.

But if you’re looking to unify the country, aspirational sentiments alone won’t cut it. Obama touted Biden’s very same “moonshot” in his own State of the Union address in 2016 (a year we all remember for its copious national unity). But the tools Obama applied to this epochal task in his final year in office included giving the National Institutes of Health its already congressionally approved budget and providing the FDA with another $75 million to boost “data sharing initiatives.”

Given this disparity, the Obama White House probably liked the “moonshot” more as an applause line than a policy. That is perhaps why both the initiative and the speech in which it was announced are forgettable. 

283d ago / 12:48 AM UTC

Reader question: Why is the U.S. scared of Putin?

One reader asks:

It’s true that American military and economic might are unmatched in the global arena — but that doesn’t mean that other countries can’t do serious damage to the United States.

Russia is a former superpower and, at the very least, a regional great power that has vast natural resources, robust and sophisticated military capabilities, and, most critically, a serious nuclear arsenal

The are many reasons the Biden administration and most national security analysts are wary of any kind of direct clash with Moscow. Ukraine is a far more vital interest for Russia, meaning it could cost the U.S. dearly to fight for something that isn’t of existential importance to the U.S. What’s more, in terms of conventional warfare, Russia has a massive home field advantage. And most importantly, the possibility of serious escalation with a nuclear power is incredibly high-stakes and dangerous. One misjudgment or misunderstanding of the other party and a nuclear confrontation is a real possibility.

283d ago / 12:42 AM UTC

Rubio’s over-the-top Covid protest

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he won’t be squeezing the State of the Union address into his schedule because he’s a very busy man. “I don’t have time to go take a Covid test today. I only take a test if I’m sick,” the senator told reporters Monday. 

Of course, what Rubio really meant to do was suggest that he considers the Covid testing requirement for attendees an intolerable demand. In fact, Rubio seems to think taking simple measures to prevent a gathering of the country’s most powerful politicians from becoming a superspreader event is a sign of creeping totalitarianism. During his speech Friday at CPAC, Rubio said the SOTU requirements are “what happens after 20 years of infusing this Marxist thought process into every aspect of our lives, and now we’ve come face-to-face with it."   

This protest is probably foreshadowing. Even though the U.S. is dropping a whole host of Covid-related requirements at breakneck speed, expect more Republican politicians to make a show of objecting theatrically to the requirements that remain.

Image: Marco Rubio speaking on stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
283d ago / 12:19 AM UTC

Facebook whistleblower also invited as FLOTUS guest

First lady Jill Biden invited as one of her guests Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower who accused the social media company of manipulating users and allowing hateful content to fester online. It’s a powerful acknowledgment from the first lady about the central role social media plays in modern life. And like a true Philadelphian, it shows she’s not afraid to let the world know where she stands on the issue!

283d ago / 12:13 AM UTC

First lady invites Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. as guest

First lady Jill Biden invited several special guests to join her viewing box for the president’s speech, including Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States. 

Since Ronald Reagan began the practice during his presidency in 1982, most presidents have given shoutouts to invited guests attending during their State of the Union addresses. We can guess that President Biden will refer to Markarova’s presence at some point tonight — and there’s probably a note to hold for applause loaded into his teleprompter. While the first lady’s box is often filled with guests that highlight various areas of a president’s domestic policy, Markarova is the rare guest so clearly linked to foreign policy.

283d ago / 12:03 AM UTC

Fence reinstalled around U.S. Capitol building ahead of SOTU

Police erected a fence around the U.S. Capitol ahead of Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday. The security fence was initially installed after the Jan. 6 attack and remained in place until July 2021. It was briefly erected again in January around the anniversary of the Capitol riot.

Authorities were expecting a possible protest by commercial truck drivers in the area, inspired by recent demonstrations in Canada to protest Covid vaccine mandates. But the event appears to have been a flop, according to at least one reporter on the scene.

283d ago / 12:01 AM UTC

Reader question: Will Biden get real about inflation?

One reader asks whether President Biden will address price gouging:

It’s a good question. Inflation is sure to get several mentions tonight. But I hope the president pulls no punches and calls out corporations that are taking advantage of the inflation issue by raising prices to widen their profit margins.

If Americans are as angry about price increases as we’re told they are, they should know that money-hungry companies are largely responsible for them. A bunch of company leaders have openly boasted about raising their prices, all while allowing pundits and their allies in Congress to blame Americans’ woes on overzealous government spending.

283d ago / 12:01 AM UTC

Biden needs to make Americans feel hopeful. Here’s how.

Today is the day! Mardi Gras is back, Texas primaries are underway, and President Biden is delivering his first State of the Union address to a maskless audience at the U.S. Capitol. Every word has been carefully crafted, every line vetted, every issue debated among policy gurus. I’m looking forward to President Biden giving us hope because it’s what he does well and it’s what the American people need. 

Folks need to feel hopeful about their personal economic situations. I will be looking for the roadmap President Biden will lay out on when the supply chain will get back to normal and when prices at the grocery store are going to go down.

Folks need to feel hopeful about American leadership and our future, so President Biden should speak to the battle between democracy (Ukraine, Zambia, U.S. and the West) and autocracy (Russia, China, etc.). He needs to make a forceful case for his handling of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in the face of Republican criticism. 

And folks need to feel hopeful that participation in the democratic process has made a difference. There are some promises the administration still needs to make good on for sure but President Biden should talk about what he’s already accomplished. The last president was a disaster for our country. Now adults are in the room and life is better – not perfect, but it is better! If you want folks to participate in the democratic process, they must believe it works. 

The world seems in shambles, but tonight I expect President Biden will declare the state of our union is resilient and strong. There’s a lot to get through, so I also am looking forward to a very long speech

283d ago / 12:01 AM UTC

Will Russia scuttle Biden’s inflation plans?

Biden’s speechwriters reportedly spent the last several days redrafting the president’s State of the Union address so that it devotes proper focus to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Earlier iterations of the president’s speech reportedly focused on Biden’s efforts to reduce inflation, which polling suggests is rapidly supplanting Covid-19 as voters’ foremost concern.

If Biden is honest about the crisis in Europe, he will concede that a campaign to isolate Russia economically will reduce domestic energy supplies — raising consumer costs and contributing to Americans’ reduced purchasing power. In the absence of a comprehensive energy policy dedicated to the exploration and exploitation of new domestic fossil fuel deposits (and their export to our Russia-dependent allies), it’s unclear how Biden will thread this needle.

A speech that simultaneously warns Americans to prepare for economic pain while also touting the administration’s successful efforts to lower the energy costs borne by every American household risks sounding wildly out of touch.