Sen. Chris Coons on bipartisan support for Ukraine, Biden’s domestic agenda

President Biden is speaking to the American public during his State of the Union address as the country faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years and a torrent of issues fighting for attention, largely along party lines, from the coronavirus to voting laws and foreign policy to violent crime. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware joins Judy Woodruff for more on the Democrat's take on Biden's address.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, for a Democrat's take, let's bring in Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

    Senator Coons, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let me ask you first about Ukraine. We just heard Senator Thune saying that, after getting off to a rocky start, not — being reactive in the beginning, that he thinks President Biden is handling the Ukraine crisis well. How much does it matter that you have what appears to be right now a largely bipartisan support for the U.S. approach?

  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE):

    Well, Judy, it's important that we show bipartisan support for President Biden's leadership.

    And I'm glad to hear that Senator Thune recognizes that President Biden has brought the West together to impose crushing sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Putin's Russia, and that those sanctions will make this unjustified, brutal invasion of Ukraine cost Russia and the Russian people.

    I do think he should give credit where credit's due to President Biden for all the hard work he did over the last year, improving our alliances, strengthening our partnerships, because, frankly, his predecessor spent a lot of his four years dividing the United States from NATO, from the E.U., from some of our longest and closest alliances.

    President Biden put in the time repairing those partnerships and laying the groundwork for what we're now seeing, which is decisive leadership in the face of Russian aggression.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How confident are you, Senator Coons, that the two parties are now united in whatever else needs to be done urgently to support the Ukrainian people.

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    I was in a meeting last night with two dozen senators and the Ukrainian ambassador.

    And I'm confident that we have got enough bipartisan support to deliver a strong supplemental package of funding that will provide both financial assistance for refugees for our vital allies that are receiving hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, and that will provide continued military support for arming the Ukrainian resistance.

    Judy, the whole world has been fixed to their TVs and their social media devices watching President Zelensky and thousands and thousands of brave Ukrainians standing up to and fighting to a standstill the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    I think the developments of the coming weeks will be very tough, at times even grim. But it's important that Ukraine and Ukrainians know that the United States and all of the Western allies who care about democracy and freedom have their back and will continue to provide them with support.

    And having bipartisan support here in the Congress for that is a critical piece of the United States showing up in this critical moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Moving on to the State of the Union address tonight, Senator, you know the president very well.

    We just heard Senator Thune. We're hearing it from other Republicans. This is a president who's had a rough first year. Even Democrats acknowledge it's been a rough year. And Senator Thune was ticking off inflation, the price of energy, the problems at the border.

    Just how rough a year has it been? How large are the challenges facing this president going into year two?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    We have significant challenges facing our country.

    But President Biden also has a real record of substantial accomplishment. His predecessor talked about infrastructure. President Biden and a bipartisan group of us here in the Senate got it done. He signed into law the biggest infrastructure investment package in modern American history.

    We have delivered more vaccinations than I think anyone thought might be possible. Four-fifths of all Americans over the age of 5 have been vaccinated. We have got an unemployment rate that's below 4 percent. Last year, we saw a near record amount of growth and new jobs created for the first year of any modern presidency.

    But President Biden will acknowledge there are real challenges facing working families, facing families all across our country, in terms of inflation, concerns about the future, and, frankly, just exhaustion with this ongoing pandemic.

    President Biden believes in the American people, and he will lay out tonight his vision for how we can come together, tackle the problems that remain and come through this stronger than ever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How confident are you, though, that when it comes to inflation, what — I mean, how much can a president do to reassure the American people that they're not going to continue to suffer because of rising prices?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    He can do a lot to tackle inflation, but it takes time. Inflation takes time to build up in an economy and it takes time to go away.

    The Federal Reserve, of course, has an absolutely critical role. And global events that we have a hard time controlling or driving, such as a potential increase in food costs or fuel or energy costs because of the war in Ukraine, may have an impact that President Biden can't make go away with a magic wand.

    But his administration has shown determination and focus on dealing with supply chain issues, on straightening out issues at our ports as a result of the pandemic. And he's going to lay out a clear path forward for how we can tackle the daily cost of living, like prescription drug costs, health care costs, day care costs.

    President Biden has put forward credible proposals for dealing with the costs that really impact American families. And I'm hopeful that we in Congress will take him up on it and take concrete bipartisan action to make the lives of average Americans easier and better in the year ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing, Senator.

    I want to ask you about the point that Senator Thune made there at the end that, in his view, IN the view of many Republicans, the president had adopted an agenda last year that was off on the wrong track. He called it a left-wing agenda. He says now the president has an opportunity for a reset.

    How do you see that?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    Well, I see his first year as one in which, yes, there was one bill, for example, at the first part of the year that was passed with Democrats only, the American Rescue Plan, which was vital to reopening schools and businesses and supporting state and local governments and public health.

    It's too bad that that got no Republican support. I didn't think it was a left-wing bill at all. But his crowning achievement of the second half of the year was a strongly bipartisan bill on infrastructure.

    So, frankly, I don't think President Biden has governed as a left-wing president, as much as he has governed as a pragmatic president trying to solve the very real challenges facing us, from climate change, to health care, to this pandemic.

    I do think that he will lay out a unity agenda near the end of his State of the Union address tonight. I will remind you, President Biden believes in the American people. He's optimistic. And he still believes that, if we come together, there's no problem that we can't solve together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

    Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    Thank you, Judy.

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