Election 2024: Joe Biden Makes the Case for Ukraine Aid
from The Water's Edge

Election 2024: Joe Biden Makes the Case for Ukraine Aid

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: President Joe Biden used his State of the Union Address to urge Congress to provide military aid to Ukraine.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024. Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Supporters of U.S. military aid for Ukraine have been urging President Joe Biden for weeks to make the case to the American public. They got their wish last night at the State of the Union. Biden not only pressed Congress to pass the much-delayed Ukrainian aid bill, he led his speech with it.

None of this was expected for a speech that was billed as setting the narrative for the president’s reelection campaign. Foreign policy is far down the list of the public’s priorities. Biden nonetheless looks to have decided that making the case for sending weapons to Ukraine is both good policy and good politics.

Biden pulled no punches in calling for Ukraine aid. He invoked President Franklin Roosevelt’s January 1941 State of the Union address, one of the very few memorable State of the Union addresses. Better known as the Four Freedoms speech and delivered eleven months and one day before Pearl Harbor, FDR used it to argue that the United States should arm Great Britain and other democracies fighting Hitler and Nazi Germany. The speech set the stage for the passage of the Lend-Lease Act, legislation that was bitterly opposed at the time but that Winston Churchill would later call “the most unsordid act in history.”

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Election 2024

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Borrowing FDR’s words from eighty-three years ago, Biden said that Americans today “face an unprecedented moment in the history of the Union.” He painted the stakes in stark terms:

Overseas, Putin of Russia is on the march, invading Ukraine and sowing chaos throughout Europe and beyond. 

If anybody in this room thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you, he will not. 

But Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself. That is all Ukraine is asking.

Biden also made clear that support for Ukraine, opposition to Vladimir Putin, and support for NATO are defining differences that separate him from Donald Trump:

But now assistance for Ukraine is being blocked by those who want us to walk away from our leadership in the world. 

It wasn’t that long ago when a Republican President, Ronald Reagan, thundered, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” 

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Now, my predecessor, a former Republican President, tells Putin, “Do whatever the hell you want.” 

A former American President actually said that, bowing down to a Russian leader. 

It’s outrageous. It’s dangerous. It’s unacceptable. 

America is a founding member of NATO, the military alliance of democratic nations created after World War II to prevent war and keep the peace.  

That line of attack will likely become a staple in Biden’s case for reelection.

Biden punctuated his case for Ukraine aid with a challenge to lawmakers that has few precedents in State of the Union addresses:

I say this to Congress: we must stand up to Putin. Send me the Bipartisan National Security Bill. 

History is watching. 

If the United States walks away now, it will put Ukraine at risk. 

Europe at risk. The free world is at risk, emboldening others who wish to do us harm. 

The question, of course, is whether Biden’s aggressive speech will break the logjam in the House. The president’s problem has never been persuading a majority of House members to support aid to Ukraine. Andy Briggs, a Republican House member from Arizona who opposes the Ukrainian aid package, admitted as much last month, saying about the bill: “If it were to get to the floor, it would pass; let’s just be frank about that.”
Biden’s problem instead is the man who was sitting behind him last night, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. Last October, Johnson sounded much like Biden last night:

We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine, because I don’t believe it would stop there, and it would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan. We have these concerns. We’re not going to abandon them.

Johnson’s substantive view seems not to have changed in the intervening five months. Last night, he nodded and clapped when Biden called for sending weapons to Ukraine.

But the politics of the House Republican Conference have deterred Johnson from making good on his pledge to stand by Ukraine. If he takes an aid package to the floor for a vote, he risks a rebellion by MAGA hardliners in his conference. It was just such a revolt that toppled his predecessor Kevin McCarthy last fall.

So Biden’s address last night will test whether a single speech can change minds. The record on that score is not promising. Meanwhile, as the stalemate on Capitol Hill drags on, Ukraine’s military stocks continue to dwindle in the face of ferocious Russian assaults. The consequences that Biden—and Johnson—have warned of may be nearer than we think.

Campaign Update

And then there were two. Biden won all fifteen Democratic state primary events on Tuesday night, while Donald Trump won all but one of the fifteen Republican nominating events. The results of Super Tuesday prompted both Nikki Haley and Dean Phillips to suspend their campaigns. Haley pointedly declined to endorse Trump, saying that he needed “to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him.” Phillips endorsed Biden. Unless something dramatic happens between now and November 5, the United States will have its first presidential election rematch since Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson for a second time in 1956.

In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the question of whether Trump can be kept off the ballot because he violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition on candidates who engaged in insurrection running for office. The nine justices agreed that:

An evolving electoral map could dramatically change the behavior of voters, parties, and States across the country, in different ways and at different times. The disruption would be all the more acute—and could nullify the votes of millions and change the election result—if Section 3 enforcement were attempted after the Nation has voted. Nothing in the Constitution requires that we endure such chaos—arriving at any time or different times, up to and perhaps beyond the Inauguration.

A five-vote majority went a step further and said that the insurrection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment applies only if Congress passes implementing legislation. That drew a bitter rejoinder from the Court’s three liberal justices, who accused the majority of overreach and seeking to “insulate all alleged insurrectionists” from having their candidacies challenged in court. Justice Amy Coney Barrett agreed with the liberal justices’ reasoning, though not with their tone. Trump, not surprisingly, was delighted with the ruling. He wrote on Truth Social: “BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!”

The Candidates in Their Own Words

Trump has said a lot about what he would do about the crisis at the southern border. He hasn’t said much about what the United States should do about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. That changed on Tuesday when he called for Israel “to finish the problem.” He didn’t explain what that meant in practice, and he avoided saying whether he favored negotiating a ceasefire.

What the Pundits Are Saying

Alan Wm. Wolff a distinguished visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former deputy director-general of the World Trade Organization, was asked whether former President Donald Trump could impose a 60 percent tariff on all goods from China and a 10 percent tariff on every other country as he has pledged to do should he return to the White House. Wolff’s answer? “The China tariff, perhaps, depending on the rationale he used,” would likely pass legal muster. “The additional tariff on the goods of all others would be less likely to survive a challenge.” 

What the Polls Show

A March 4 Gallup Poll found that public support in the United States for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority has declined over the past year. The percentage of Americans with a “very” or “mostly favorable” view of Israel fell by ten percentage points (68 percent to 58 percent), and the percentage of Americans with a “very” or “mostly favorable” view of the Palestinian Authority fell by eight percentage points (26 percent to 18 percent). The decline in the favorability of Israel was particularly steep among eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds, falling from 64 percent to 38 percent. Americans over the age of fifty-five are now almost twice as likely to have a “very” or “mostly favorable” view of Israel (71 percent) than those under the age of thirty-five.

A separate Wall Street Journal poll suggests why Israel’s favorability numbers are declining. Forty-two percent of registered voters said that “Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip in response to the October 7th attack by Hamas have gone too far.” In contrast, 19 percent said that Israel’s actions had “not gone far enough,” and 24 percent said it had “been about right.” At the same time, the percentage of voters saying that the United States is doing “too much to help the Israeli people” increased by eight points (to 30 percent) compared to a December poll, while the percentage saying that the United States was “doing too little to help the Palestinian people” increased by seven points (to 33 percent).

The Campaign Schedule

The Republican National Convention opens in Milwaukee in 129 days (July 15, 2024).

The Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago in 164 days (August 19, 2024).

Election Day is 242 days away.

Inauguration Day is 318 days away.

Sinet Adous and Michelle Kurilla assisted in the preparation of this post.

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