The public is growing increasingly frustrated with President Joe Biden's response to the war in Ukraine, sensing weakness while his options for getting tougher are also unpopular.
To date, Biden and Western allies have launched the heaviest raft of sanctions ever against the Kremlin. Those actions include placing penalties on nearly every sector of Russia's economy, banning the import of Russian energy products, cutting off the country from the international banking system, and personally sanctioning President Vladimir Putin, dozens of Russian oligarchs, and hundreds of Russian lawmakers.
The United States is also supplying billions in humanitarian and security aid directly to Ukraine, including surface to-air-missile systems, shoulder-mounted anti-armor rocket launchers, guns, and millions of rounds of ammunition.
However, the president has emphatically ruled out any military action that could draw the U.S. into direct conflict with Russia, including installing a no-fly zone, transferring fighter jets, as requested by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, or sending U.S. or NATO troops into Ukraine to help fight back against Russian forces.
Biden's pressure campaign crashed Russia's pandemic-stricken economy and has sparked anti-war protests in major Russian cities, but even in the face of economic ruin, Putin continues to escalate the war in Ukraine. Russian forces have begun directly targeting civilian targets, including a theater housing displaced Ukrainians and a maternity hospital, prompting the U.S. to accuse Russia of committing war crimes.
The latest poll from the Associated Press found that 68% and 70% of the U.S. approved of Biden's sanctions and Russian energy ban, respectively. However, the same poll found that 56% of respondents believed that Biden has been "not tough enough" on Russia, including 43% of Democrats.
Meanwhile, less than a third of respondents said they thought Biden could "effectively handle a crisis" or "effectively manage the military."
The White House maintains that Biden has not yet exhausted all tools available for pressuring Russia, yet any further economic action will also be felt directly by voters.
Even before the Russian invasion, yearly U.S. inflation had risen to a historic 7.9% in February. The Biden administration blamed rising prices on a 3.5% jump in energy costs, which senior administration officials sought to dub the "Putin price hike," and Biden suggested Thursday that there's a "real" threat of food shortages sparked by sanctions placed on Russian fertilizer components.
Furthermore, the wartime bounce Biden saw in the first weeks of Russia's invasion has all but dissipated. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden's approval ratings had steadily fallen in RealClearPolitics's polling average to just under 40% in mid-February before ticking back up to 43%. As of Friday, however, his RealClearPolitics average had dropped yet again to 41%.
Pew Research found that heading into the 2022 midterm elections, voters are overwhelmingly focused on domestic issues, specifically the economy, and not the war in Ukraine, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan was asked directly Friday if dissatisfaction with Biden at home is making it harder to coordinate the West's Russia response.
"It's interesting. We have not seen that at all, and of course, I would say that in any event, but I actually really mean it today," Sullivan responded. "This story of the unity on this throughout has been a story of the president's personal leadership of Americans and of the deep credibility that he has with these leaders."
"One comment that the president said yesterday that I think is really important for you all to think about as we go forward, which is part of the reason that he decided that we needed to do this, is because in the early weeks, unity can be carried forward by momentum and inertia and adrenaline," he continued. "But this could go on for quite some time, and to sustain that unity — as costs rise, as the tragedy unfolds — that's hard work, and the president wanted to get everyone together to say we've got to do that work."
You can listen to Sullivan's comments in full below.