WASHINGTON -- It's rare for a president to show that he is living up the role of "leader in the free world." This is especially true when he does so while his main political rival praises an autocrat.
That's exactly what President Joe Biden did in his first State of the Union Address, highlighting how he led the West in defending Ukraine from Russian invasion.
Six days ago, Russia's Vladimir Putin tried to shake the foundations of the world. He believed he could bend the free world to his will. He was wrong," Biden stated to a bipartisan standing ovation at the House's floor on Tuesday night.
Biden said, "He believed he could divide US at home in this chamber and within this nation." He believed he could also divide us in Europe. Putin was wrong. We are one, and that is what we did. We have remained united."
One exception is former President Donald Trump.
Two weeks ago, Trump called Putin a "genius" less than two weeks before. Trump changed his speech on Saturday to blame the West for being "so stupid" during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Just hours before Biden was applauded, Trump said that Republicans, Democrats, and the media had "misinterpret his remarks about Ukraine." He also declined to criticize Putin directly.
He said Saturday night, "The Russian attack against Ukraine is appalling." It is an outrage, an atrocity that shouldn't have been allowed to happen.
Biden's anti–Putin Legion isn't where Trump stands. Biden is at forefront of a global coalition which has isolated Russia's strongman, imposed debilitating sanctions against him, and rallied to aid and moral support Ukrainian fighters.
Biden stated Tuesday night that "in the battle between democracy & autocracies democracies have been rising to the moment and the world is clearly choosing peace and security."
It is not clear if there will be any domestic political consequences to U.S. actions on Eastern Europe. Because Ukraine's struggle to stay independent is uncertain and because most Americans don't vote primarily on foreign policies, it's not clear whether there will be any direct domestic political consequences.
Normal times would make it irrelevant for a former president to speak out on a distant conflict. Trump seems to be planning to run for the presidency again in 2024 when Biden states he will be running for reelection.
For the moment, Trump's strange equivocation -- The invasion is bad, but Putin is innocent -- underlines Biden’s certitude, at a time where Biden's approval ratings are below 40 percent.
This is evident in the fact that many Republicans in Congress are closer than Biden regarding Ukraine policy.
Trump mocked European allies and the U.S. for warning Putin to stop invading Ukraine, suggesting that their tactic gave the Russian president the green light.
Trump stated Saturday night that he would sanction anyone who takes over Ukraine. "Sanction? That's a weak statement.
However, Republicans in Congress support U.S. sanctions against Russia, Putin and Putin’s allies. Many of them have asked the administration for more sanctions.
"I was happy to hear President Biden call for national unity and world support for our ally Ukraine, as it faces a brutal attack from Russia," Sen. Rob Portman (Republican from Ohio) released a statement on Tuesday night. "While the administration has implemented the sanctions that many of us had called for before the invasion, I urge them even more to put in sanctions and to use all the tools they have to hold President Putin responsible."
Biden was smart to begin his speech with the section about Ukraine, where his policy is most unifying. Even casual viewers would see images that show Republicans and Democrats cheering him on as he led the American government to make a strong statement of support.
If there were any doubts about Biden's larger role, he clarified it by three times using the phrase "free planet"
Biden spoke out about Putin saying, "The free world holds him accountable." "When history is written, Putin's invasion of Ukraine will make Russia less powerful and make the rest of the world more powerful," Biden said of Putin.
The leader of the free world will be stronger if it is more free than any other.