“He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people,” Biden said. The president then gestured toward Oksana Markarova, Kyiv’s envoy to Washington, who was in attendance as a guest of first lady Jill Biden.
“Let us, each of us, if you’re able to stand, stand and send an unmistakable signal to the world, and to Ukraine,” Biden said, prompting a sustained standing ovation from those gathered in the chamber, while the first lady embraced Markarova.
The president’s words seemed to be intended to show U.S. support for Ukraine and aimed at uniting Americans across a harshly partisan political landscape.
“Yes, we, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people,” Biden said.
Markarova was sitting in the first lady’s viewing box in the House chamber, a placement designed to show solidarity between the United States and Ukraine. Biden had retooled his address to focus heavily on the ongoing assault and his efforts to rally allies in opposition.
The ambassador was holding the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian national flag, and many attendees wore matching dresses or ties. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) who had worked in Kyiv as an FBI agent, handed out Ukrainian flags, while Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), whose district has a strong Ukrainian American community, distributed blue-and-yellow ribbons.
The first lady had a sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower, sewn onto her dress sleeve.
The scene mirrored those seen earlier in Europe. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany was given a standing ovation at the German parliament last month. This week, European lawmakers stood and clapped for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he urged them to admit Ukraine into the European Union.
It was also reminiscent of a 2005 speech to Congress by then-Ukraine President Viktor Yuschenko, said Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank. “The unity of American support, across party lines, was remarkable,” said Fontaine, who was then an adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has strengthened the transatlantic alliance between European countries and the United States, security experts said. William Courtney, a former senior diplomat who is now an adjunct fellow at the Rand Corporation, said the Biden administration appears to have learned lessons after stumbling in Afghanistan last summer, “and is now performing superbly” in leading with allies.
But more tests lie ahead for the Biden administration in Ukraine, Courtney said. For instance, he said, if Russia subdues Ukraine, then the Biden administration would likely need to find agreement with allies on how actively to support a Ukrainian insurgency. “How actively to pursue an insurgency and what arms to provide could be controversial.”
Although the State of the Union is nominally a report on the nation’s condition, foreign policy has often featured prominently. In 1823, President James Monroe used his address to announce the Monroe Doctrinewhich warned European powers against further colonization in the Western Hemisphere.