The Morning Dispatch: State of the Union
President Biden took a victory lap on signature policies, but declined to recalibrate his agenda despite drooping approval ratings.
Happy (Ash) Wednesday! We hope all who are observing have a blessed Lent.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The International Energy Agency announced yesterday its member countries—the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe—agreed to release a combined 60 million barrels of oil from their emergency reserves to “send a unified and strong message” that there will be “no shortfall in supplies” due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With the price of oil at an eight-year high, White House National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti on Tuesday encouraged U.S. oil and gas companies to increase production: “Prices are quite high, the price signal is strong. If folks want to produce more, they can and they should.”
The governments of Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia contradicted promises made by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel over the weekend, making clear they will not be donating fighter jets to the Ukrainian war effort. It’s unclear whether Borrel spoke out of turn before an agreement was finalized, or the countries backtracked out of fears of escalating the situation with Russia further. The European Union reportedly agreed to cut seven Russian banks from the SWIFT financial-messaging system, exempting two of its largest, Sberbank and Gazprombank.
U.S. tech giants announced a series of additional moves on Tuesday in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Google announced YouTube would join Meta and TikTok in blocking Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik in Europe, and Meta said it was tweaking its algorithms to stop recommending the two outlets’ content worldwide. Instagram rolled out encrypted direct messaging for users in Ukraine and Russia. Apple announced it was pausing product sales and limiting functionality of Apple Pay in Russia, and removing RT and Sputnik apps from its App Store outside of Russia.
Following similar decisions from BP and Shell, ExxonMobil announced Tuesday it was “beginning the process” of discontinuing operations and exiting its joint Sakhalin-1 oil and gas venture in Russia. “The process to discontinue operations will need to be carefully managed and closely coordinated with the co-venturers in order to ensure it is executed safely,” the company said.
President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union address last night the United States would join the European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada in banning Russian planes from its airspace.
Texas kicked off the 2022 primary season on Tuesday. Incumbent GOP Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke will face off in the general election, but Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, failing to reach 50 percent of the vote, appears headed for a runoff with Texas land commissioner (and Jeb Bush’s son) George P. Bush.
State of the Union
As a rule of thumb, the political stakes of a president’s annual State of the Union (SOTU) are far lower than cable news pundits would have you believe. Just 10 to 15 percent of the country tends to tune into the address in a given year, and that 10 to 15 percent is overwhelmingly made up of viewers predisposed to like what they hear. The president is preaching to the choir—and to morning newsletter editors whose job requires them to watch the speech instead of, say, a Big Ten Championship game between Wisconsin and Purdue. [Editor: Go Badgers!] According to Gallup polling dating back to the Carter administration, the SOTU address tends to boost a president’s approval rating by an average of … 0.4 percentage points.
What the annual pageantry does provide, however, is a window into how the current presidential administration views itself—and the White House demonstrated last night it has not yet accepted the grave reality of its political situation. In a CBS News/YouGov poll published Tuesday, nearly seven in 10 respondents described things in America as going “somewhat” or “very” badly, and Biden’s approval numbers were well underwater on the economy, inflation, crime, immigration, and the situation in Ukraine.
White House speechwriters had to scramble in recent days to add nearly 1,200 words about that final issue, as the president obviously needed to deliver a different address yesterday than he would have one week earlier. “Putin’s latest attack on Ukraine was premeditated and totally unprovoked,” Biden said, moments after recognizing the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States for a bipartisan standing ovation. “He thought the West and NATO would not respond. He thought he could divide us at home in this chamber and this nation. And he thought he could divide us in Europe as well. But Putin was wrong. We are ready. We are united.”
Worth Your Time
Christopher Miller has been one of the best reporters on the ground in Ukraine these past few weeks, and his latest dispatch for BuzzFeed News—on Ukrainians attempting to flee Kyiv before Russian airstrikes ramped up—is a harrowing look at what Putin’s aggression has wrought. “They threw themselves, and whatever possessions they were able to take with them, onto the departing train Monday at Kyiv’s central railway station as Russian forces continued to inch closer to the capital city,” he writes. “In the chaos, a young mother was separated from her daughter when a police officer hoisted the girl onto the train, but it began rolling away before the woman could jump on. As she let out a blood-curdling howl, the woman ran alongside the moving car until she was able to grab the outstretched arm of another man who yanked her on board. A pink unicorn backpack the mother had slung over her shoulder didn’t make it and tumbled to the tracks. Thousands of other Ukrainians and foreigners desperately trying to flee Kyiv on Tuesday were left stranded in the freezing cold, largely without food and water, and wondering whether they would be lucky enough to secure a few square inches on some of the last trains out of the Ukrainian capital before Russian forces encircled the city and prepare to pound it with missiles and artillery fire.”
In recent days, Ukrainian leaders and a handful of U.S. lawmakers have called for NATO or the U.S. to establish a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine. In a piece for National Review, Daniel DePetris explains why that is a bad idea. “For the U.S. to carve out an NFZ, it would have to engage Russia militarily,” he writes. “Any Russian weapons system that posed a danger to the mission, whether a Russian plane hovering in Ukrainian airspace or a Russian anti-missile system located on Russia’s side of the border, would need to be destroyed. Dogfights between American and Russian combat aircraft would be highly likely, leading to the high possibility of casualties. … To put it plainly: The U.S. and Russia, which together hold 90 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads, would be waging war against each other.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred officially canceled (at least) the first week of the regular season on Tuesday after owners and players failed to come together on a new collective bargaining agreement by the owners’ self-imposed deadline. ESPN’s top baseball reporter Jeff Passan is frustrated with the short-sighted decisions that led us to this point. “Baseball remains a game with incredible upside, with a collection of players young and dynamic and eminently likable. There is ample room for improvement to the sport itself, which has grown too plodding for a wide swath of young, would-be fans who regard it as slow and boring,” he writes. “Eventually, there will be a deal, and it's likely that when there is, little will have changed about what one official called the game’s “mangled, Frankenstein economic system.” The existential elements of the game—pace of play, capturing young fans, gambling—will have gone untouched at a time when real dialogue could've put the game in a far better position. … This is Rob Manfred’s disaster, the league’s disaster, the owners’ disaster, and it’s been a long time coming.”
Presented Without Comment
Also Presented Without Comment
Toeing the Company Line
Does Congress have a role to play in responding to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine? Will Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy actually do anything about Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar this time? Is the International Space Station going to crash in India or China? Haley’s latest Uphill has answers.
In this week’s Sweep (🔒): A bunch of no-shows at Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary debate, surprising polling on the politics of education, Mitch McConnell and Rick Scott’s spat over Republicans’ agenda, and CPAC’s annual straw poll.
David’s Tuesday French Press (🔒) ticks through a series of questions readers might have about what’s happened in Ukraine over the past week. How did Russia miscalculate? Can Ukraine actually win this fight? What are the chances Putin’s regime collapses?
Not able to tune into last night’s Dispatch Live? Never fear! Dispatch members can access a recording of the conversation here.