Biden tells Congress to ‘stand up’ to Putin in State of the Union speech

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Joe Biden called on Congress to “stand up” to Russian President Vladimir Putin as he opened his annual speech to Congress with a plea to support Ukraine and criticism of Donald Trump for undermining the Nato alliance.

As he laid out his battle lines for the election fight against the former president, Biden warned freedom and democracy were “under attack, both at home and overseas, at the very same time”.

“If anybody in this room thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you, he will not,” Biden said, calling on Congress to “stand up” to Russia’s leader and pass a funding bill including aid for Kyiv.

In an energetic, pugnacious speech, the president compared former US president Ronald Reagan’s approach to the Soviet Union at the end of the cold war to Trump’s suggestion that Russia be allowed to do “whatever the hell they want” to Nato allies that do not spend enough on defence.

Biden also tried to channel anger at restrictions on reproductive rights imposed in many conservative-leaning states following the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that overturned a decades-old precedent protecting abortion rights nationally. The president pledged to enact legislation on the federal level to protect women’s right to end a pregnancy.

“If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose I promise you: I will restore Roe vs Wade as the law of the land again,” he said.

The speech marks a high-stakes moment for Biden, who seeks momentum in his re-election bid despite low approval ratings, a backlash against inflation and immigration, and questions about his physical and mental capacity to serve another four years in office.

Biden is also navigating anger on the left of the Democratic party at his support for Israel’s war with Gaza. Protesters calling for a ceasefire demonstrated outside the Capitol building as he arrived to give his speech on Thursday.

But the president is also presiding over a booming economy and strong labour market, following a string of legislative accomplishments designed to boost domestic manufacturing.

In his speech, Biden touted an “American comeback” that he believes has not been sufficiently told throughout the country. “America is rising. We have the best economy in the world,” he said.

The remarks to Congress come two days after Biden and Trump secured big victories in their parties’ presidential primary contests, all but ensuring a rematch this November of their 2020 election.

As Biden walked through the chamber to deliver his speech he was greeted with cheers and chants of “four more years” by Democratic lawmakers, but was also confronted by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican congresswoman and Trump ally, who was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat. “Say her name,” Greene told Biden, referring to Laken Riley, a nursing student in Georgia who was found murdered last month and whose death has sparked more debate about immigration.

Republicans’ response to Biden’s speech will be delivered by Alabama Senator Katie Britt, and preview some of the party’s electoral attack lines on the president, including criticism of his stewardship of the economy and “diminished” leadership.

“Right now, our commander-in-chief is not in command. The free world deserves better than a dithering and diminished leader. America deserves leaders who recognise that secure borders, stable prices, safe streets, and a strong defence are the cornerstones of a great nation,” she will say, according to excerpts of her remarks.

Trump, who has said he will respond on social media in real time to Biden’s speech, attacked the president earlier on Thursday.

“Biden is on the run from his record and lying like crazy to try to escape accountability for the horrific devastation he and his party have created,” Trump said. “All the while they continue the very policies that are causing this horror show to go. We cannot take it any longer as a country.”

According to the prepared remarks, Biden will also contrast his own vision of “democracy and freedom” with Trump’s, without saying his name.

“Some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That’s not me.” While Biden is 81, Trump is 77.

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