President Joe Biden held a his second solo press conference Wednesday afternoon, the eve of his one-year anniversary in office, telling the nation “it’s been a year of challenges but it’s also been a year of enormous progress.”
Biden underscored the progress his administration has made in the battle against COVID-19, noting that 200 million Americans have been inoculated since he took office.
Biden added that new tools – including booster shots, increased access to testing, and anti-virals pills – will help combat the pandemic’s latest wave, driven largely by the extremely transmissible omicron variant.
“Some people may call what’s happening now a ‘new normal.’ I call it a job not yet finished. It will get better, we’re moving toward a time when COVID-19 won’t disrupt our daily lives,” Biden said, adding “We’re not going back to lockdowns, we’re not going back to closing schools.”
The president acknowledged “Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes. But we’re doing more now. We’ve gone from zero at-home tests a year ago to 375 million tests on the market in just this month.”
Biden also touted what he views as his administration’s significant economic accomplishments: decreased child poverty, lower unemployment, lower health insurance premiums, wage increases for low-income workers, and the passage of a historic infrastructure bill that will update the nation’s roads, waterways, airports and broadband.
“We created 6 million new jobs. More jobs in one year than any time before. Unemployment dropped. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.9%. Child poverty dropped by nearly 40%,” Biden said.
The president also noted that his administration helped navigate a potential supply chain disaster. “Because we took action during the holidays, 99% of the packages were delivered on time,” Biden said. “The share of goods in stock at stores is 89% now, which is barely changed from the 91% before the pandemic.”
He said that fighting inflation was a priority.
“The critical job of making sure elevated prices don’t become entrenched rests with the Federal Reserve, which has a dual mandate: full employment and stable prices,” Biden explained. He expressed support for the Fed’s plan to raise interest rates in 2022.
Biden was circumspect about his administration’s inability to pass key elements of his agenda – like the Build Back Better social spending package – but said he “was confident we can get pieces, big chunks of Build Back Better signed into law.”
Biden explained that Sen. Joe Manchin will support elements of the bill – like universal pre-k and certain climate change provisions – if it were unbundled. Democrats should “get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest later,” Biden said.
“It’s clear to me that we’re going to have to probably break it up,” the president concluded. Later, he expressed frustration that there’s no clear path toward extending the child tax credit or providing financial support to community colleges.
Biden said he’s surprised that Republicans have been so reluctant to work with him.
“I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” the president said about the GOP. “What are Republicans for? What are they for?”
He made a thinly-veiled reference to Donald Trump’s hold over the GOP, asking rhetorically, “Did you ever think that one man out of office could intimidate an entire party?”
Biden claimed that five GOP Senators reached out to him and indicated they are reluctant to pursue worthy bipartisan legislation because they’re afraid they’d lose a Republican primary.
“That has got to change,” Biden said.
Asked about Russia’s geopolitical intentions, Biden predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would order some sort of an invasion of Ukraine.
“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 mused. “He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West.”
Biden said a “minor incursion” of Ukraine might not warrant a full-blown response from the U.S. although Putin will “pay a serious and dear price.”
“But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine. And our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy,” he said.
Biden was also asked about America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. “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.
He added: “Raise your hand if you think anyone was going to be able to unify Afghanistan under one single government? It’s been the graveyard of empires for a solid reason: It is not susceptible to unity.”
As Biden spoke, Sen. Joe Manchin gave a speech in the Senate indicating that he would not support Biden’s push to temporarily suspend the filibuster in order to pass robust voting rights protection, an issue that particularly impacts voters of color.
A reporter asked Biden if he had done enough to support the Black community, which has been one of his most consistent bases of support.
“I’ve had their backs my entire career. I have never not had their backs. Voting rights is what got me involved in politics in the first place,” he said.
“I think that is a problem that is of my own making by not communicating as much as I should have,” Biden added, bemoaning pandemic restrictions that have prevented him from meeting with members of the black community face to face more often.
He indicated that he can protect voting rights via executive orders, but said he’s not prepared to go into detail on that front.
During his remarks, Biden confirmed that Kamala Harris will be his running mate in 2024. He said he plans on doing a better job communicating his policies to the American public and expressed frustration with the polarized nature of cable news.
When Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked why he was so intent on pulling the country to the left, Biden responded that he was “not Bernie Sanders.”
“I’m not a socialist. I’m a mainstream Democrat,” he added.
A reporter from Newsmax asked Biden why so many Americans think he has cognitive problems. Biden replied with a dismissive “I don’t know,” but the sheer length of the press conference seemed to refute the underlying issue: it lasted nearly two hours.