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President Biden to deliver his 1st State of the Union address

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden delivers his State of the Union address tonight. It's a speech with global implications, especially because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. There are also major issues facing voters at home. And members of the president's own party are hoping for a political reset with the midterm elections on the horizon.

NPR's Asma Khalid is here with a preview. Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This is going to be a different speech from the one the president was likely planning on giving a few weeks ago. How is the war in Ukraine changing things?

KHALID: A lot, I would say, Ari. You know, on a day like today, we would have expected the president to be focused exclusively on prep for the State of the Union. But he's dealing with an international crisis in real time, and he spent a half an hour on the phone with the president of Ukraine. The president really does see this moment as a battle between autocracies and democracies. You know, this has been a consistent theme of his foreign policy vision.

And according to excerpts that we've gotten from the White House, he's going to speak about the strength of global alliances, as well as American diplomacy and the need for unity to take on dictators. And a source familiar with the speech and the president's plan just told me that Biden is also set to announce that the U.S. will ban Russian aircraft from U.S. airspace. This move follows similar measures take by the - taken by the European Union and Canada. And the president, you know, is also likely, I will say, to talk about steps that he's taking to mitigate any economic fallout from the sanctions here at home, particularly rising energy prices, rising gas prices, things like that.

SHAPIRO: Which would all add to the already rising prices that Americans have been struggling with for months - I mean, inflation has been a drag on Biden's popularity with voters. What do you expect him to say about that?

KHALID: You know, inflation, I would say, has been perhaps the top concern for voters. The really - the president cannot ignore the anxiety and frustration that many Americans have been feeling over inflation. And the president is going to talk about that. He's going to talk about good-paying jobs, lowering costs, making more things in America.

And one thing this White House is very proud of is wage growth. Wages have risen, especially for low-income workers, over the past year. And the president is going to make the argument tonight that one way to fight inflation is to drive down wages. And, you know, in his view, that would certainly be bad. And so he wants to focus instead on lowering costs in other ways.

He's going to also call on Congress to pass legislation, such as a bill to help the U.S. compete with China. His administration sees competition as a vital way of dealing with inflation. But I will say, Ari, all of this is a very delicate balancing act - you know, promoting the economic growth that the country is seeing while also talking about inflation at the same time.

SHAPIRO: And this is also happening during a pandemic. What's he likely to say about COVID-19 tonight?

KHALID: You know, one thing I will note, Ari - I will say, I am just curious to look at how the president himself walks into the chamber, whether he wears a mask as he walks down the aisle because, tonight, masks are optional in the chamber. And I'm curious what we'll see from that symbolically if the president and his party are trying to possibly portray a sense of getting back to normal.

You know, in terms of the substance, we're told that tonight, he's going to lay out the broad brushstrokes of where the country goes from here and say that the country can move forward safely. And then tomorrow, the White House COVID team intends to lay out a more detailed plan about the path forward and how the country really can essentially try to move on from COVID.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, thank you very much.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.