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Watch live: Ukraine, COVID-19 among crises facing Biden for 1st State of the Union

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Watch live: Ukraine, COVID-19 among crises facing Biden for 1st State of the Union
President Joe Biden arrives in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to deliver his first address before a joint session of Congress on April 28. Biden will give his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night. File Photo by Melina Mara/UPI | License Photo

March 1 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden is set to deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, perhaps facing more concurrent crises in his inaugural speech than any other president in modern history.

Biden announced in January that he would give the annual address on March 1, which is later than any other president has ever given the speech. The White House said the delay is due to the Winter Olympics in China and the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Typically, presidents give the State of the Union speech in late January or early February.

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The president will touch on numerous topics in his address, some of them with urgent priority -- including Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and political division in the country that led to the violent Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. Also on his speaking agenda will be challenges for the U.S. economy, strengthening supply chains and lowering prices for American families.

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"Too many families continue to feel the squeeze of higher costs," the White House said in a statement Tuesday. "The president will make clear that price increases that become entrenched are pernicious and eat away at the economic progress the country is making."

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Biden is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address at 9 p.m. EST.

Ukraine will likely be at the top of Biden's remarks. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on Thursday, capping months of a slow military buildup outside Ukraine's borders. Since then, Biden's administration has ordered sanctions against the Russian government and key officials.

The crisis was heightened further last weekend when Putin ordered Russia's deterrence forces to be put on alert, which include the country's nuclear forces.

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said Biden plans to deliver a message of "optimism" in his address Tuesday night.

"The American people and anybody watching around the world will hear the president talk about the efforts he has led over the past several months to build a global coalition to fight -- fight against the autocracy and the efforts of President Putin to invade a foreign country," she told ABC News' This Week on Sunday.

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"This is certainly something that is present in all of our lives and certainly in the president's life in this moment."

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While the crises facing Biden are significant, other presidents have also had to manage tumultuous ordeals in their first State of the Union speeches.

President Barack Obama gave his first address during the financial crisis and President George W. Bush delivered his less than five months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Leaders lead during crises," Psaki added. "That's exactly what President Biden is doing. He'll speak to that, but he's also going to speak about his optimism about what's ahead and what we all have to look forward to."

The specter of COVID-19 will also loom large over Biden's address, although for the moment the pandemic has eased somewhat. Cases, deaths and hospitalizations nationwide have declined in recent weeks and many states have been lifting virus-related restrictions.

All 535 members of Congress have been invited to attend the address on Tuesday night -- a sharp contrast to Biden's first speech before a joint session of Congress last April, which technically was not a State of the Union speech, when the audience was severely limited.

Security fencing is seen around the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Monday in advance of President Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The fencing is a security measure to guard the complex against potential protesters. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI
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All attendees at the Capitol will be required to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test, wear an N95 or KN95 mask, fill out a health attestation form and practice social distancing. Vaccine boosters are also "strongly recommended" and members of Congress will not be permitted to bring guests, which is a departure from the pre-pandemic tradition.

Reflecting the nation's political divisions, some Republican lawmakers have said they won't attend the speech. Congress' mask mandate, which has been in effect for many months, was dropped for the first time on Monday as part of government efforts to return to some degree of normalcy.

At one time, Biden's State of the Union address was expected to be met with a group of truckers protesting COVID-19 mask and vaccine requirements, similar to the "Freedom Convoy" in Canada that clogged traffic for weeks. The largest group, the People's Convoy, is heading for Washington, but it is not expected to arrive until this weekend. Authorities say, however, that some offshoot groups may descend on the Capitol in time for Biden's speech.

In response, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved about 700 National Guard members to aid police ahead of the convoy's arrival. U.S. Capitol Police have begun erecting security fencing outside the building. It's the same fencing that went up around the Capitol for weeks after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

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White House chief of staff Ron Klain told Democratic lawmakers during a meeting last week that Biden plans to present an uplifting message about his administration's efforts to combat COVID-19.

"I think the president is going to have some clear initiatives, especially in the State of the Union, on COVID, cost of living, crime, the essential challenges looking forward, and they're going to be positive initiatives that really tackle these problems," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said after the meeting with Klain, according to The Hill.

"He's well aware of what's going on and what's on people's minds."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is seen during a February 16 press conference on rising inflation in the United States -- an issue that many in the GOP have blamed on President Joe Biden. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"It's all about where we've come from in the last year in terms of successes, the economy, all of the things that are causing a strong economy and also all of the challenges related to COVID and successes," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said, according to The Hill. "As bad as it is on COVID for everyone, and we're all sick of what's been happening and so on, it's getting safer. Ninety-nine percent of our children are back in school."

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Other challenges are rising inflation and struggles to pass the Build Back Better Plan, a key piece of Biden's agenda, through Congress. The president will also lay out details of his plan to repair roads, bridges and other infrastructure through the $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year.

"President Biden will highlight how our historic federal investments in infrastructure will create a visible impact in the lives of American families this year by committing to start repair on 65,000 miles of roads and 1,500 bridges," the White House said. "The president will also commit to rapid progress across every facet of the law."

Democrats are hoping the president's speech can set the tone for the party heading into the midterm elections in November, when Republicans could retake control of either chamber of Congress.

"We recognized the State of the Union is one of the main opportunities of the year to get the attention of the American people, to set out the record, to look forward," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said according to The Hill. "That gives you a chance to get a greater audience and a greater support among the American people."

Tuesday night, all members of Biden's Cabinet will attend his address except for one, the designated survivor, who will not be known until the speech begins.

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Each year, one member of the president's Cabinet does not attend to ensure that someone will be able to take over as president, according to the line of succession, in case of an attack on the Capitol. For the last State of the Union address, given by President Donald Trump in 2020, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was the designated survivor.

Scenes from the Russian war on Ukraine

European Union leaders attend a summit at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris on March 11, 2022. Photo by the European Union/ UPI | License Photo

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