Biden’s SOTU was rare focus on foreign policy, opportunity for unity


(NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden’s State of the Union, heavily focused on foreign policy, provided the president a rare foreign policy opportunity and a moment of unity in a highly contentious Capitol, NewsNation’s Leland Vittert said on “Morning in America.”

Biden’s 62-minute speech, which was split between attention to war abroad and worries at home — reflected the same balancing act he now faces in his presidency. Biden vowed to check Russian aggression amid its invasion of Ukraine, tame soaring U.S. inflation and deal with a fading pandemic.

The timing of the speech came as the commander-in-chief and his party are losing voter support to the GOP during a critical election year, according to a new NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll.

“It’s really rare for a president to start a State of the Union, which is typically a domestic speech, heavy on foreign policy,” Vittert said in part. “Those first 10 minutes heavy on Ukraine was an opportunity for President Biden to highlight what has been widely considered the best three weeks of his presidency here. So the question going forward is, how does President Biden capitalize on that?”

Biden’s speech comes as Russia escalated its attacks against Ukraine. Russia assaulted Ukraine’s second-largest city Wednesday in a pounding that lit up the skyline with balls of fire over populated areas, even as both sides said they were ready to resume talks aimed at stopping the new, devastating conflict in Europe.

“Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson – when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said. “They keep moving. And, the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising.”

“There’s a lot of questions in Washington of why there wasn’t more time spent on Ukraine, more time spent highlighting foreign policy and how President Biden was going to leverage so far bringing the world together on Ukraine in less time on the reinvention of Build Back Better, which has now been called build back sort of,” Vittert said.

Biden is set to head to Wisconsin on Wednesday in an effort to show Americans that his domestic agenda is working. His vice president and Cabinet members will fan out around the country to further amplify his domestic message.

Nearly 88 percent of respondents in the new NewsNation poll said they were concerned about inflation, with 55 percent saying it is a bigger concern than COVID-19 and unemployment. This is a stark upending of sentiment since January, when respondents of the NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic remained top of mind.

“Too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills,” Biden said. “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.”

Vittert said the balancing act between addressing potential global war concerns and the raging inflation issue at home will be difficult for Biden.

“Inflation and economic timelines do not match political timelines, and that’s difficult for the president. The one thing that was the same between the president’s speech and the Republican response, after the State of the Union, was personal stories about how the president or the governor of Iowa in the case of the Republicans had dealt with inflation themselves,” Vittert said. “There’s this idea that Joe Biden is out of touch with Americans, he was the one who said inflation was transitory. This was a chance for President Biden to say, I feel your pain. I understand what America is going through and why you feel uneasy.”

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer said that Biden provided moments of unity within the chamber when talking about Ukraine and surprisingly —  police and immigration.

“He did say in his references to immigration reform, he said, secure the border. Those are words we thought we’d never hear from a Democratic president again,” Cramer said on “Morning in America.” “And, again, I think there’s an opportunity and he pushed hard on immigration. I think that there is some opportunity there, as long as both sides are willing to give a little to get what they want. I’ve often thought that we could be close to getting something on immigration if you know if everybody would listen to each other and find a balancing point,”

You can read the full NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll here.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

Watch “On Balance with Leland Vittert” weeknights at 7/6C.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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