(WASHINGTON) — On the eve of the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, President Joe Biden held a formal news conference at the White House Wednesday, answering reporter questions on his handling of the pandemic, the economy and legislative agenda.
“It’s been a year of challenges, but it’s also many years of enormous progress,” Biden said to begin, ticking through his administration’s successes before fielding questions from reporters.
With Biden facing the limits of what he can accomplish with an evenly-divided Senate, unable to get either his signature social spending package or major voting rights reform through Congress in recent weeks, and with the pandemic still raging well into its second, his approval rating in polls has hit an all-time low. A Jan. 12 Quinnipiac poll found his approval rating to be 33%, a 3-point drop from November.
Still, Biden touted wins over the year to kick off the news conference, including administering more than 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and hitting record-low unemployment rates in many states.
“Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes,” Biden said in his opening remarks. “But we’re doing more now. We’ve gone from zero at-home tests a year ago to 375 million tests on the market just this month.”
He said the bottom line on COVID-19 is the country is “in a better place than we’ve been and have been thus far” and reiterated his position not to go back to lockdowns and school closures.
“Some people may call what’s happening now a new normal. I call it a job not yet finished,” Biden said with confidence. “We’re moving toward a time that COVID-19 won’t disrupt our daily lives or COVID-19 won’t be a crisis, but something to protect against and a threat. Look, we’re not there yet. We will get there.”
The first question to Biden was on whether he believes he overpromised to the American public what his administration could achieve in office one year in.
“Look, I didn’t overpromise,” a defensive Biden replied. “I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen. The fact of the matter is that we’re in a situation where we have made enormous progress.”
Then, he acknowledged a weakness.
“One thing I haven’t been able to do so far, is get my Republican friends to get in the game of making things better in this country,” Biden said. “I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done.”
In an answer to ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce, Biden said there’s no need to scale back his agenda despite the appearance that Democrats aren’t getting their priorities through.
“I’m not trying to — I’m not asking for castles in the sky,” Biden replied. “I’m asking for practical things the American people have been asking for for a long time, a long time. And I think we can get it done.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, one day earlier, set up a preemptive defense for the president, telling reporters, “You don’t get everything done in the first year.”
“But what we feel good about … is that coming into an incredibly difficult circumstance, fighting a pandemic, an economic a massive economic downturn, as a result, an administration that was prior to us that did not effectively deal with a lot of these crises, that there’s been a lot of progress made,” she added.
“We need to build on that. The work is not done, the job is not done, and we are certainly not conveying it is, so our objective and I think what you’ll hear the president talk about tomorrow is how to build on the foundation we laid in the first year, Psaki said.
White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield cited the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief law, the American Rescue Plan, and a major, bipartisan infrastructure package as two achievements Biden will highlight in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday. But she also acknowledged the president can do more on other issues.
“He has been laser-focused on taming COVID and growing the economy. He would be the first to say we’re not where we need to be on those,” Bedingfield said.
Wednesday’s session marks just the second time Biden has held a solo formal press conference at the White House. The first such news conference was held March 25, 2021.
Since then, he held five news conferences on foreign trips, and three in partnership with other foreign leaders at the White House, for a total of nine news conferences. While Biden often answers questions shouted by the press at other events, his tally of formal news conferences is the lowest for any president since Ronald Reagan, according to data from University of California Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project.
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