THE STATE OF THE UNION. New York Times: “President Biden vowed on Tuesday to make President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “pay a price” for invading Ukraine, seeking to rally the world as Moscow’s forces rained down missiles on Ukrainian cities and prepared to lay siege to the capital of Kyiv.
Appearing before a joint session of Congress at a fraught moment in modern history, Mr. Biden called for a united resistance to defend the international order endangered by Russian aggression and warned the oligarchs who bolster Mr. Putin’s regime that he would seize their luxury yachts and private jets.
“Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways,” Mr. Biden said. “But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.”
NBC News: “Biden sought to strike a tricky balance between touting his successes on Covid-19 and the economy while emphasizing the pain many Americans are still feeling because of rising costs and anxieties that Russia’s war against Ukraine could spiral into a larger global conflict.
He also made a plea for Congress to pass his stalled domestic plans.
“The State of the Union is strong because you, the American people, are strong,” Biden said. “We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we’ll be stronger a year from now than we are today. This is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time.”
Biden announed that the “U.S. government is expected to ban Russian aircraft from American airspace, broadening aviation restrictions as the West expands sanctions over the war in Ukraine,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Hill: Biden condemns Putin, projects unity in State of the Union address.
The Associated Press: Biden in speech vows to check Russia, tame inflation.
The Hill: Biden praises Ukrainians as “wall of strength” against Putin.
TEXT of the president’s speech.
This was a speech that was heavy on bipartisanship and unity, which might work to make Republicans look even worse when they don’t do it. His opening on Ukraine was extremely strong. His closing was strong—the middle was pretty much laundry list. But, in the end, I agree with Hillary Clinton:
Dan Pfeiffer: “Biden will give an excellent speech that is well-received by the public and the pundits. The post-speech flash polls will be overwhelmingly favorable. There will be a renewed sense of momentum. Some reporters will even write stories about the President’s ‘comeback.’ And then, a week or so later, a new poll will not show a dramatic gain in the President’s approval. The same pundits touting the comeback will immediately pivot and declare the speech a failure.”
“Those folks will simply be revealing themselves to be ignorant of how modern politics works.”
“Presidential approval is a lagging indicator. The political goal of the speech is to strengthen a number of attributes and character traits that will serve as the foundation for winning back the voters Biden has lost in the last year. I will be watching to see if the speech improves public perception of Biden as a ‘strong leader’ and someone who ‘fights for people like me.’ Biden won in 2020 because the public overwhelmingly believed he had the experience and strength to handle the crisis Trump fumbled and, as the son of Scranton, would be an advocate for middle and working-class people. Those impressions have eroded amidst the neverending run of crises and the rise in inflation. This speech is an opportunity to begin the path back.”
“Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., will be among the guests joining first lady Jill Biden in her viewing box at Tuesday’s State of the Union address,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
A new CBS News poll finds most Americans who watched President Biden’s first State of the Union address approved of what they heard, and many said it made them feel optimistic and proud.
THE UKRAINE WAR. “Russian forces bombarded the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and hit the capital’s TV tower as Moscow, frustrated in its plans for a quick victory, shifted to a new strategy of pummeling civilian areas in an attempt to demoralize Ukrainian resistance and reignite its slowing military advance,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
A senior U.S. defense official said that the 40-mile-long column of Russian tanks and combat vehicles outside of Kyiv had “stalled,” the Washington Post reports.
The convoy effectively has not moved in a day and the Russians “appeared to be regrouping six days into their invasion while dealing with fierce resistance and fuel and food shortages.”
“The United States has seen signs that Russian soldiers, especially young conscripts, did not know they were being sent into combat.”
Wall Street Journal: “U.S. officials fear that Russian forces could begin targeting civilians, particularly as Moscow’s original military plan appears to falter.”
President Biden spoke Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for more than 30 minutes, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The initial stage of the war in Ukraine has confounded expectations. Russia’s military invasion failed in key objectives, upending predictions of a rout of Ukraine. Then, after years of avoiding direct confrontations with Moscow, Western nations are now directly punishing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies with truly devastating economic sanctions while openly supplying arms to Ukraine,” the Washington Post reports.
“But after five days of fighting, there is little sign that this conflict will end soon. Instead, the conflict appears to be moving to another phase, more unpredictable and dangerous than the first. Fighting in Ukraine is escalating, not scaling back, while the rhetoric between Russia and the West has reached levels of aggression not seen since the height of the Cold War.”
The Economist: “Russia’s biggest problem appears to be logistics. A Western official says that Russia has particular problems with engineering units. Ukraine has blown up many bridges, and Russia has been unable to get bridging units through congested roads. Russian tanks and other vehicles lie abandoned on the roadside, either broken-down or out of fuel, suggesting supply lines are overstretched, and support units are unable to keep up. Marooned units are prime targets for ambushes. Ukrainian forces have no shortage of arms with which to strike them—in recent days, Denmark, Luxembourg and Finland became the latest European countries to say they would supply thousands of anti-tank missiles.”
“Nor has Russia secured the skies. Western officials thought that Russian missiles would wipe out Ukraine’s air defences—a network of radars and surface-to-air missiles—in the first hours of a war. In fact, the strikes were lighter than expected, possibly to conserve low stocks of precision munitions.”
CNN: “Stiffer than expected Ukrainian resistance and Russia’s own logistical missteps have bogged down Russia’s advance, sparking a fragile optimism. The US has also continued sharing downgraded intelligence with the Ukrainians, including about Russian military moves, in an attempt to help Ukraine on the battlefield.”
“But intelligence and defense officials closely tracking the Russian campaign say that Putin still holds a number of moves in reserve that could devastate the Ukrainian resistance.”
“China signaled it was ready to play a role in finding a ceasefire in Ukraine as it ‘deplored’ the outbreak of conflict in its strongest comments yet on the war,” the Financial Times reports.
“The statement marked a change in tone from Beijing.”
“With Ukraine holding Russia off longer than many U.S. officials had expected, President Biden now faces a great unanswered question — how to give Vladimir Putin an off-ramp to avoid even greater calamity,” Axios reports.
“A cornered, humiliated Putin could unleash untold pain on the world, from cyberattacks to nuclear threats. After enacting brutal sanctions, the White House now must consider how the invasion can end without a new catastrophe.”
“Every square today, no matter what it’s called, is going to be called Freedom Square, in every city of our country. No one is going to break us.” — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, quoted by Axios, speaking to the European Parliament as his translator began to choke up.
PUTINSANE. Associated Press: “For the second day in a row, the Kremlin raised the specter of nuclear war, announcing that its nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and long-range bombers had all been put on high alert, following President Vladimir Putin’s orders over the weekend.”
“Stepping up his rhetoric, Putin denounced the U.S. and its allies as an ‘empire of lies.’”
“U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin is growing increasingly frustrated by his military struggles in Ukraine, and may see his only option as doubling down on violence,” NBC News reports.
“As the Russian economy teeters under unprecedented global sanctions and his purportedly superior military force appears bogged down, Putin has lashed out in anger at underlings, even as he remains largely isolated from the Kremlin due in part to concerns about Covid.”
“Yes, he would.” — Former national security council official Fiona Hill, quoted by Politico, on whether Vladimir Putin would use nuclear weapons.
“The US intelligence community has made evaluating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state of mind a top priority in recent days as it seeks to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis,“ CNN reports.
“The efforts come as longtime Putin-watchers have publicly speculated that his behavior has become increasingly erratic and irrational.”
“Putin has been stripped of his honorary taekwondo black belt over his country’s invasion of Ukraine, a personal rebuke heaped on top of international economic and sporting sanctions,” Reuters reports.
A granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev told The Independent she is “embarrassed” by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and believes the late Soviet leader would think it “despicable” that a city he rebuilt after the Second World War was being attacked by Russian troops.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addressed his security council with a map explicitly showing troop movements through Ukraine. The map also divided Ukraine into four sectors.
THE SANCTION WAR. Former Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev responded with an ominous warning to a French comment that Europe was going to wage “total economic and financial war” against Russia. Said Medvedev: “Don’t forget that in human history, economic wars quite often turned into real ones.”
“The invasion of Ukraine is causing a mass exodus of companies from Russia, reversing three decades of investment by Western and other foreign businesses there following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,” Bloomberg reports.
“The list of those cutting ties or reviewing their operations is growing by the hour as foreign governments ratchet up sanctions against Russia, close airspace to its aircraft and lock some banks out of the SWIFT money messaging system. With the ruble plunging and the U.S. banning transactions with the Russian central bank, operating in Russia has become deeply problematic. Some companies have concluded that the risks, both reputational and financial, are too great to continue.”
A new Twitter account is tracking the private jets of Russian oligarchs around the world.
“Faced with a request by Ukrainian leadership to freeze the accounts of all people in Russia and Belarus, major crypto exchanges are steadfastly refusing, saying the tactic would unfairly harm civilians and ‘fly in the face’ of the crypto community’s libertarian ideology,” Vice News reports.
“YouTube is blocking channels connected to Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik across Europe effective immediately, due to the situation in Ukraine,” Reuters reports.
“Fissures appear to be forming between Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of the oligarch class who made billions of dollars while showing fealty to the autocratic leader but now see their fortunes threatened by Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine,” the Washington Post reports.
“The cracks are faint and fall short of suggesting any groundswell of oligarchic opposition to Putin… But expressions of unease that weeks ago seemed unthinkable have surfaced repeatedly in recent days.”
“Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska have broken ranks with the Kremlin and called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine,” CNN reports.
“European Union ambassadors agreed on Tuesday to call for an initial assessment of Ukraine’s chances of joining the 27-nation bloc,” Bloomberg reports.
New York Times: “Zelensky’s E.U. aspirations aren’t likely to be satisfied any time soon: Joining the bloc is a painstaking and arduous process that can take as long as a decade.”
“Finland’s Parliament is meeting Tuesday to discuss a petition calling for a vote on NATO membership, a move that comes amid a dramatic shift in public sentiment,” the Washington Post reports. “Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, is a close NATO partner but not a member. Support for formally joining the military alliance has been low — until now.”
TRUMP GASLIGHTING. Greg Sargent reviews “five vile things Trump did to Zelensky and Ukraine that you forgot about.”
Former national security adviser John Bolton pushed back on Newsmax host who claimed that President Donald Trump deterred the Russians from invading Ukraine. Said Bolton: “He barely knew where Ukraine was… It’s just not accurate to say that Trump’s behavior somehow deterred the Russians.”
CONVOY FIZZLED. Only a handful of protesters inspired by anti-vaccine mandate trucker convoys in Canada showed up in the nation’s capital Tuesday afternoon for the “Stage of Freedom” event near the Washington Monument.
Despite the initial hefty estimate that upwards of 3,000 attendees would show, only 12 rally-goers had actually assembled for the gathering just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening.
THE REPUBLICANS LOVE THEM SOME NAZISM. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) refused an on-camera chance to condemn a pair of far-right lawmakers — Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) — for their weekend participation in a white supremacist conference, where Russian President Vladimir Putin was a celebrated figure, The Hill reports.
Earlier, McCarthy said that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) appearance at a white supremacist rally was “unacceptable” and he plans to meet with her this week to discuss the situation, Punchbowl News reports.
Said McCarthy: “For me it was appalling and wrong. And there’s no place in our party for any of this… The party should not be associated any time, any place with somebody who is anti-Semitic.”
NEVADA GOVERNOR HARASSED BY RACISTS. A video first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal shows Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and his wife Kathy Sisolak being harassed and followed around by a couple of men shouting about racist conspiracy theories at a restaurant on Sunday.
One of the men calls Sisolak a “New World Order traitor piece-of-shit bastard” and repeatedly asks him if he has security with him. The man also screams “you working-for-China piece of shit!” at Sisolak and his wife, who is of Chinese descent, as they leave the restaurant.
The other man says something about Sisolak “hiding the hydroxychloroquine,” right-wingers’ infamous COVID miracle drug, though most of what he says in that moment is inaudible. He also tells Sisolak and his wife that they ought to be hanged for treason.
Sisolak’s office responded to the incident later on Monday saying the matter was being investigated, and that the governor was “deeply disappointed in how this incident unfolded, particularly with the language used to talk about First Lady Kathy Sisolak’s heritage.” Sisolak’s daughter was with him at the restaurant.
KBJ CONFIRMATION. Senate Democrats plan to kick off the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on March 21, a Democratic aide told Politico.
“Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is receiving another major endorsement from a prominent Republican on Tuesday, this time a lawyer who represented President Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald McGahn, among other former Trump White House officials,” CNN reports.
Lawyer William Burck said of Jackson that “no serious person can question her qualifications to the Court and to my mind her judicial philosophy is well within the mainstream.”
THE ECONOMY. “As Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a war against Ukraine, half a world away the U.S. economy appeared to be rebounding from a winter surge of Covid-19 infections,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“A range of U.S. data suggests U.S. economic activity picked up in recent weeks. Many Wall Street analysts expect the Labor Department on Friday to report large job gains in February and a further decline in unemployment.”
“These developments suggest that the U.S. is in a position to withstand the economic shock that might emanate from battlegrounds in Ukraine. Those effects could push U.S. inflation higher from already elevated levels, but the economic expansion appears to be on solid ground.”
INSURRECTION. President Biden will deny the shield of executive privilege for two top advisers to former President Donald Trump — his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and former trade adviser Peter Navarro — in the House select committee’s Jan. 6 investigation, Axios reports.
“Major League Baseball canceled the first two series of the 2022 regular season on Tuesday after the league and the players’ union failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement,” the New York Times reports.
Wall Street Journal: “MLB games haven’t been affected by a work stoppage since the strike of 1994 that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. Following that dispute, attendance didn’t return to its previous levels for more than a decade.”
“Texas officials have begun investigating parents of transgender adolescents for possible child abuse, after Gov. Greg Abbott directed them last week to handle gender-affirming medical treatments as possible crimes,” the New York Times reports.
“Late Monday, the House tried to use fast-track procedures to pass a bill barring race-based discrimination against Black people for how they wear their hair. It prevailed 235-188, but that’s short of the 2/3 margin needed to pass it,” Politico reports.
“Just 15 House Republicans voted yes. That’s despite the fact the bill passed by voice vote in September 2020.”
Politico: “In recent days, Biden has attended morning meetings in the Situation Room as well as evening sessions in the Oval Office; he worked in the Treaty Room last Wednesday when aides believed a Russian invasion was imminent. Blinken, above all others, has emerged as the president’s top confidant, used as a sounding board and consigliare on how to shape U.S. policy and rally global pressure against Russia in light of its invasion. Biden has also leaned on those with vast Russian experience, including Bill Burns, the CIA director who once served as the nation’s ambassador to Moscow, and Victoria Nuland, the under secretary of State who was a top liaison to Ukraine under President Barack Obama.”
“But Biden also prides himself on being something of an expert on Putin himself. And, as with his approach to Afghanistan over the summer, he has stuck closely to his own instincts.”
“House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told Democrats on a private caucus call Tuesday that he plans to tee up a vote on March 8 — a week from today — to pass a catchall spending package to fund the government into the fall,” Politico reports.
“It would be a huge bipartisan win; for Democrats and President Joe Biden because it’s the first spending bill with his stamp on it, and for Republicans as they’ve fought for a massive hike in defense spending.”
Washington Post: “Over the past few days, leaders in European capitals — not Washington — have taken the public lead on many of the most punishing actions designed to persuade Putin to halt his invasion.”
“But Biden administration officials say the latest steps against Russia simply reflect the culmination of what they describe as a months-long, behind-the-scenes strategy to fortify Western unity in the face of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The result, they add, is a testament to the strength of the transatlantic alliance, with who takes the lead — and when — often determined by logistical and regulatory considerations.”
“The U.S. government is concerned that the Russian government may retaliate for recent Ukraine-related sanctions by arresting American citizens in Russia and holding them as pawns in the conflict,” NBC News reports.
“Ukrainian officials are asking a key organization responsible for the operation of the internet to disconnect all Russian sites from the global computer network of networks,” Rolling Stone reports.
“It’s the latest attempt to turn Russia into a pariah state in retaliation for the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Experts call it a massive — and ill-advised — step.”
“About 100 diplomats, many from Western countries, walked out of a speech by Russia’s foreign minister at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday in protest over his country’s invasion of Ukraine,” the New York Times reports.