Biden defends first year of presidency in press conference

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President Joe Biden began his press conference, his first in 78 days, with a strong defense of his first year in office


Joe Biden defended his presidency on Wednesday by bragging he has ‘outperformed’ expectations, slamming Republicans for working against with him and then saying some GOP lawmakers secretly have told him they’re on his side but too worried about a primary to publicly support him.

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Speaking the day before his one-year anniversary in office, Biden started his first press conference in 78 days by tackling the two issues that are behind his falling poll numbers: the COVID pandemic and the record high inflation hurting the economy. The president’s approval rating has dropped to the low 40s as voters give him low marks on those two issues. 

‘It’s been a year of challenges but also been a year of enormous progress,’ Biden said in his second solo press conference held in the White House. 

However, he admitted he should have had more COVID tests ready for Americans and blamed the record-high inflation on the pandemic and the actions of the Federal Reserve.

But, he argued, he didn’t make too many promises to the American people when he entered the White House last year.

‘Look I didn’t over promise. But I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen,’ Biden said.

He argued that no other incoming president has faced as many issues as he had when he took office in January 2021. 

‘Do you think of any president has done as much in one year? Name one,’ he said. ‘I don’t think there has been much on any incoming president’s plate that has been a bigger menu than the plate I have. I’m not complaining. I knew that. And the fact of the matter is, we got an awful lot done. An awful lot done.’

He then pivoted to blaming Republicans, saying what he didn’t expect in his first year was for GOP lawmakers to be so unsupportive.

‘I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,’ the president said.

‘Think about this. What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for,’ the president continued. ‘I haven’t been able to do so far is get my Republican friends to get in the game and making things better in this country.’  

He later said he’s had private conversations with five Republican senators who told him they’re on his side but too worried about being primaried in this year’s midterm election to publicly support him.

‘I’ve had five Republican senators talk to me, bump into me, or sit with me who have told me that they agree with whatever I’m talking about. “But Joe, if I do it, I’m going to be defeated in a primary.” We have to break that. It’s got to change,’ Biden said.

He declined to name the Republican senators when asked.  Republicans have been wary of former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who are looking to play an oversized role in the GOP primaries this year. Trump has publicly attacked Republican lawmakers who have publicly disagreed with him.

President Joe Biden began his press conference, his first in 78 days, with a strong defense of his first year in office

In his nearly two-hour press conference, Biden defended his chaotic withdraw from Afghanistan this summer and predicted Russian President Vladimir Putin would ‘move in’ on the Ukraine.

‘There is no way to get out of Afghanistan after 20 years easily. Not possible no matter when you did it. And I make no apologies for what I did,’ he said.

Republicans and Democrats alike criticized Biden in August for the messy exit from Afghanistan, where 13 service members were killed and the Taliban reclaimed control of the country.

Biden also said it was his guess Putin would move into Ukraine. Thousands of Russian troops have amassed on the border there. Secretary of State Tony Blinken was there Wednesday to assess the situation.

‘I’m not so sure he is certain what he is going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something,’ Biden said of Putin.

He also defended the new 5G network causing chaos at airports around the country.

‘I pushed as hard I as can to have 5G folks hold up and abide by what is requested by the airlines,’ he said.

AT&T and Verizon launched their 5G network across America on Wednesday morning, switching on 4,500 towers to bring faster wireless to their customers. They had to hold back on ten percent of the towers – 500 – that are near airports because the frequencies the towers emit could interfere with the signal on some planes.

But he began his press conference by bragging about how many people got vaccinated his first year in office and his American Rescue Plan, which provided $1.9 trillion in COVID relief money in the early days of his presidency.

He also conceded to the frustration being felt by Americans thanks to high prices, empty grocery shelves and long lines for COVID tests.

‘Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes. We’re doing more now,’ he said.

He conceded the pandemic was far from over.

‘We’re moving toward a time when covid-19 won’t disrupt our daily lives. Where covid-19 won’t be a crisis but something to protect against and a threat. We’re not there yet. We will get there,’ the president said.

He then pivoted to the economy, acknowledging the high prices people are seeing at the grocery store and at the gas pump.

He said it was up to the Federal Reserve to recalibrate its policy and stressed the independence of that agency.

‘I often see empty shelves being shown on television. 89% are full. Which is only a few points below what it was before the pandemic. Our work is not done,’ he said. 

He renewed his call for the Senate to pass his Build Back Better plan, his social safety net program of education, healthcare and environmental programs.

But he also conceded that his bill would have to be broken in parts in order to pass.

‘It’s clear to me that we’re going to have to probably break it up,’ he said. 

The bill died in the Senate in December when moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced his could not support it – citing the expansion of the child tax credit, some of the environmental programs and its over all cost. 

In the 50-50 evenly split Senate, Biden needs every Democratic vote. Some Democrats then suggested breaking up the bill into chunks in order pass the sections where there is agreement.

Wednesday was Biden’s first indication that was the path forward.

‘I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, come back and fight for the rest later,’ he said. 

He also spoke positively of the upcoming midterm election, where Republicans are trying to win back control of Congress. 

President Biden walks into his press conference on Wednesday, where he said he didn't expect Republicans to be so against him and his presidency

President Biden walks into his press conference on Wednesday, where he said he didn’t expect Republicans to be so against him and his presidency

President Joe Biden held his first news conference in 78 days, it was held one day before his first year in office

He was asked if would view the election as ‘fairly conducted’ and the results ‘legitimate’ if a federalized voting bill didn’t get through by the time voters head to the polls in November.

‘Well, it all depends on whether or not we’re able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try an alter the outcome of the election,’ the president answered.

Biden said that he may be ‘too much of an optimist’ but he believed that restrictive voting laws could motivate people to come out and vote.

‘Remember how we thought not that many people are going to show up to vote in the middle of a pandemic? We had the hightest voter turnout in the history of the United States of America,’ he remarked.

‘Well, I think if in fact, no matter how hard they make it for minorities to vote, I think you’re going to see them willing to stand in line and defy the attempt to keep them from being able to vote,’ the president continued.

‘But we’re not there, we’ve not run out of options yet, we’ll see how this moves,’ he added.

Biden’s last solo press conference in the White House was in March and his last formal press conference was in October, when he was in Glasgow, Scotland for COP26. He has held solo press conferences on foreign trips and joint ones with world leaders in addition to taking questions from reporters on the fly. In total, Biden has held six news conferences on his own and three jointly with foreign leaders – a number far below that of his predecessors in the Oval Office.  

But Biden’s record of accomplishment is mixed.

Some of the contrasts between his first few months in office and one-year later is startling: Biden’s early approval rating sat in the mid-to-high 50s but has tanked to the mid-30s as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage and the economy struggles to recover.

Americans are facing empty shelves in grocery stores; the highest rate of inflation in 40 years; high prices for food, gas and rent; record high COVID cases; and a dramatic rise in violent crime where at least 12 major U.S. cities broken annual homicide records in 2021.

More tellingly, most Americans – 62% in the RealClearPolitics Average – thinks the country is on the wrong track.

Biden at his first solo press conference at the White House on March 25, 2021

Biden at his first solo press conference at the White House on March 25, 2021

Joe Biden taking the oath of office on January 20th, 2021, with Jill Biden and children Ashley and Hunter by his side

Joe Biden taking the oath of office on January 20th, 2021, with Jill Biden and children Ashley and Hunter by his side

President Joe Biden has given far fewer press conferences in his first year of presidency than his five predecessors

President Joe Biden has given far fewer press conferences in his first year of presidency than his five predecessors

Biden, 79, started his presidency in a flurry of optimism, portraying himself as being the ‘adult in room’ who would return America to its role as a leader on the global stage.

He arrived in Washington with more than $4 trillion worth of big ideas – including the biggest expansion of federal entitlements since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society’ – but found himself stymied by the Senate, including two of his own Democrats: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

For a politician who prides himself as a dealmaker and man of the Senate, he has struggled to overcome the partisan bitterness that inhabits Washington and the increasingly widening divide between the two wings of his party.

He has not brought about unity with Republicans, like he called for in his January 20th, 2021, inaugural address. And the left wing of the Democratic Party is showing its frustration with him.

He did pass nearly $3 trillion in new federal spending – a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package known as the American Rescue Plan and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal. He used his presidential pen to restore the United States to the Paris Climate Accord and stop work on Donald Trump’s border wall.

But he struggled with other top priorities for liberals, including two years free community college, expanding the child tax credit and expanding Obamacare.

There also has been a lack of progress on voting rights, immigration, gun control and abortion protections that has left the progressive wing of the party disappointed.

Here’s a breakdown of Biden’s campaign and early promises with where things stand now:

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC 

Biden took office promising to lift the threat of the COVID pandemic. He pushed an early victory celebration, coming six months into his tenure, when he hosted a ‘freedom from the virus’ party on the South Lawn of the White House on July 4th.

But in the past few weeks, the COVID case rate reached record levels thanks to the latest variant: Omicron.

Biden had early successes in battling the pandemic. He reached his goal of administering 100 million COVID shots within his first 100 days in office, but that early rush of shots in the arms has faded to a dribble as the administration struggles to get the last, reluctant group of Americans to get vaccinated.

At least 248,338,448 people or 76% of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

Overall, 208,791,862 people or 64% of the population have been fully vaccinated.

Biden celebrated 'freedom from the virus' with a picnic on the Fourth of July at the White House - the president above takes a photo with the mascots of the Washington Nationals baseball team during that event

Biden celebrated ‘freedom from the virus’ with a picnic on the Fourth of July at the White House – the president above takes a photo with the mascots of the Washington Nationals baseball team during that event

Meanwhile, the number of Americans dying from COVID continues to increase, with 1,839 people succumbing to the virus every day. Deaths caused by COVID in the United States are up 36% over the past two weeks.

The U.S.’s daily case average eclipsed 800,000 for the first time over the weekend, with the height of the Omicron surge now reaching four times as many cases as the peak of the Delta wave. Disparities in case figures have not translated into more deaths, though, with the 1,839 deaths being recorded every day in America – the most since early October – still far below the 3,200 deaths per day being averaged at the peak of the Delta surge in late September.

Biden’s attempt to mandate vaccines has fallen short. The Supreme Court struck down his order requiring companies with more than 1,000 employees to have mandatory vaccination or tests.

It did leave in a place a vaccine requirement for healthcare workers.

ECONOMY/INFLATION 

This month, inflation hit a 40-year high of 7%.

Meanwhile, U.S. retailers are facing roughly 12% out-of-stock levels on food, beverages, household cleaning and personal hygiene products – up from 7 to 10% during normal times.

The problem is larger when it comes to food products, where out-of-stock levels have reached 15%.

Voters are giving Biden low marks on his handling of the economy: In a CBS/YouGov poll released Sunday, 65% of Americans said they don’t believe the administration is doing enough to alleviate inflation.

The White House, however, argues the economy is well on its way to recovery and that inflation will die down over the coming year.

Officials note that 6.4 million jobs have been added under Biden, the most of any first-year president in history. And when Biden took office, the unemployment rate was 6.3%. Now it is at 3.9%, the lowest yet of the pandemic.

Empty shelves are now a regular thing in supermarkets as companies struggle to get product from warehouses into supermarkets

Empty shelves are now a regular thing in supermarkets as companies struggle to get product from warehouses into supermarkets

Meanwhile, a record number of people quit their jobs during Biden’s first year – with a record 4.5 million in November. The administration argues this is because the job market is competitive and that people want higher wages and better benefits.

Wages are up – the average hourly pay jumped 4.7% in December compared with a year ago.

But the economy is still about 3.6 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.

Many businesses are struggling to fill positions and thousands remain reluctant to return to the workforce with the rising COVID case numbers to blame.

Voters are showing their frustration: A CNBC/Change Research poll this month show 60% said they disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy. 

VOTING RIGHTS/RACIAL JUSTICE/POLICE REFORM 

Biden has embraced racial justice as one of the callings of his presidency. He cites the violence in Charlottesville, Va., during 2017’s Unite the Right rally – and Donald Trump’s response to it – as the reason he ran for office.

On his first day in office, he signed an executive order to advance equity for all, ‘including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.’

But he’s struggled to turn that vision into legislative reality.

His massive voting rights package – which would make Election Day a holiday, adjust the redistricting process and crack down on money in politics – is stalled in the Senate. Biden has personally lobbied moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to support killing the filibuster on this issue so the bill can advance, but thus far his efforts have been for naught.

Demonstrators demanding voting rights protest in front of the White House in November

Demonstrators demanding voting rights protest in front of the White House in November

When Biden went to Atlanta last Tuesday to discuss voting rights, several local civil rights activists boycotted his address out of frustration about the lack of action. Stacey Abrams, the voting rights activists who helped Biden win Georgia in 2020, wasn’t there due to a ‘conflict.’

Police reform legislation has also died: The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, but the bill lacked enough Republican support to clear the Senate. Talks finally collapsed in September.

Biden also abandoned a campaign promise to create a national police oversight commission in his first hundred days.

FOREIGN RELATIONS  

In August, Biden pulled U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, effectively ending America’s longest war.

The withdrawal, however, was marked by chaos in the final days, particularly after a terrorist bomb killed 13 service members at the Kabul airport.

Biden defended his decision, arguing the cost would have been higher if the United States had remained mired in the conflict.

‘I’m the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today I’ve honored that commitment,’ he said in August.

But Democrats and Republicans alike had criticized his handling of the situation, including the rush to the airport of people trying to leave, the struggle to get all the Americans out and the fate of thousands of Afghanis who helped the United States but faced being left behind. Additionally questions arose how women would fare in Afghanistan once the Taliban retook control.

U.S military aircraft takes off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, during the American withdraw

U.S military aircraft takes off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, during the American withdraw

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea last week

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea last week

There is still no U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan – one of the major areas that has no formal American representative.

Biden also has not named an ambassador to Ukraine, which is facing a potential invasion by Russia.

Psaki on Tuesday indicated the administration’s belief an attack on Ukraine was imminent. Secretary of State Tony Blinken flew there on Tuesday.

‘We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine,’ she said.

The last ambassador to Ukraine was Marie Yovanovitch, who left in May 2019 and ultimately testified in Trump’s first impeachment trial.

As of January 10, 2022, Biden had appointed 83 ambassadors, according to the American Foreign Service Association, out of 190.

IMMIGRATION 

Biden made some early moves on immigration, including signing an executive order to halt funding for the construction of Trump’s southern border wall and one to reverse the ban on U.S. entry from largely majority-Muslim countries.

And, on his first day in office, he unveiled sweeping immigration reform legislation, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which included an 8-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

But the legislation has yet to be voted on by either the House or Senate and is viewed as all but dead on Capitol Hill.

The president was criticized earlier this year for saying he would preserve a Trump-era limit on the number of refugees admitted to the United States after vowing to raise it. He ultimately reversing course to raise the cap to 125,000, as he had promised during his presidential campaign.

Asylum-seeking migrants from Haiti cross the Rio Bravo river to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents to request asylum earlier this month

Asylum-seeking migrants from Haiti cross the Rio Bravo river to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents to request asylum earlier this month

But he upheld Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic-related policy mandating the rapid expulsion of migrants as a public health precaution.

Biden put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the root causes of migration, which was the administration’s attempt to staunch the number of migrants crossing the border. Harris has struggled in the role and Republicans will make border policy a top issue in the 2022 midterm election.

The assignment came after the first few months of the Biden administration saw thousands flock over the border and temporary shelters overflow with migrants.

U.S. Border Patrol recorded roughly 1,733,652 encounters in the fiscal year that ended in September. That is the most ever recorded in a fiscal year.

Many were sent back to their home countries under Title 42. Thousands more wait to hear if their asylum claims will be upheld.

CLIMATE 

Biden made some swift and early victories on climate. He signed executive orders that re-entered US into Paris Climate Agreement and revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

But Biden pledged the US would slash its greenhouse gas emissions in half compared with 2005 levels by the end of this decade and it’s unclear how he will reach that goal. Many of his strongest environmental provisions were stripped out of his $1.75 trillion Build Back Better, his landmark social safety net program, after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin objected to them.

‘Obviously there’s more work that’s going to be done, that needs to be done,’ Psaki said on Tuesday. ‘The job is not done yet. But we have a plan to address the challenges

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