In a press conference, Biden defends his first year in office

WASHINGTON — President Biden vowed on Wednesday to continue with a scaled-down version of his flagship domestic policy plan as he staged a two-hour defense of his first-year accomplishments and repeatedly berated Republicans for abandoning attempts serious about governing the country.

At an extensive press conference in the East Room of the White House, Mr Biden refused to take criticism of his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying “we’ve done remarkably well”. And he dismissed accusations that he called lawmakers opposed to suffrage legislation racist in a fiery speech last week.

Acknowledging that his $2.2 trillion social spending legislation will not pass the Senate in one piece, Biden said he would try to push individual parts of the larger bill through the Senate. , where they might gain more bipartisan support. He said he was confident that the provisions on energy and the environment would have sufficient support to be adopted.

Mr Biden specifically noted that there was too much opposition among Democrats and Republicans to two of his main agenda items, which were central to the promises he made on the campaign trail. in 2020: an extension of the child tax credit and free community college for all Americans.

He was pessimistic about the right to vote, acknowledging the likely failure of legislation in the Senate. ” It is going to be difficult. I don’t hide it,” the president said, but added, “We haven’t exhausted our options yet.

He expressed more optimism that part of his spending program could still pass.

“I think we can split the pack, get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest later,” Biden said. He noted that provisions on climate change and universal pre-kindergarten, and proposals to fund new spending could receive enough support to pass.

The president said he hoped to find common ground with two Democratic senators who resisted the legislation. In particular, he said one such resister, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, “strongly supports early education, 3 and 4 year olds, strongly supports that.”

He repeatedly tangled with congressional Republicans, whom he accused of having no positive agenda and of conspiring to block everything Mr Biden tried to do.

“I didn’t anticipate there would be such a sustained effort to make sure the most important thing was that President Biden did nothing,” he said.

“What are Republicans for? he asked in response to a question about his stalled schedule. “What are they for? Name me one thing they are for.

Referring to Donald J. Trump, Mr. Biden asked: “Did you ever think that a man out of office could bully an entire party?”

He said five Republican senators told him privately that they agreed with him on various issues, only to say they would lose in the primaries if they went public. The president declined to say who the five were.

Mr Biden accused Republicans of refusing to “get in the game” to govern the country and said the party was to blame for its failure to unify the country – as it had promised – because the GOP was far more reluctant to compromise than he had been. in previous years.

“They weren’t as obstructionist as they are now,” Mr Biden said. He added, “I wonder what the Republican platform would be right now. What do you think? What do you think is their position on taxes? In your opinion, what is their position on human rights? »

Mr Biden faced reporters at an official press conference for only the second time in his presidency and less than a day before the first anniversary of his inauguration amid a stalled agenda and a declining approval rate.

He was lively throughout the press conference, answering numerous questions and talking to reporters for almost two hours. He ignored a question about his son’s ties to China and largely dismissed another over concerns about his mental health.

He also gave a grim assessment of the likelihood that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin would soon send forces to Ukraine.

For most of the two hours, Mr. Biden defended his record, noting record unemployment, the passage of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill, millions of Americans getting vaccinate and his negotiation of a bipartisan bill to invest $1 trillion in the country’s roads, bridges, pipes and broadband.

But the president said he still intends to take a new approach in the coming year, promising to get out of Washington more often and pledging significant help to Democratic candidates as the party fights for retain control of Congress in midterm elections in November.

“We will raise a lot of money. We’re going to be out there making sure we help all of these candidates,” Biden said, promising to “come out and argue in plain language what we’ve done, what we want to do, and why. we think it’s important.

In response to a question, Mr Biden also said he intended to run for a second term and that Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate.

Mr Biden also said he was tired of being dragged into endless negotiations with members of his own party over the past six months. He said his decline in popularity was partly because Americans saw him acting more like a lawmaker and less like a commander-in-chief.

“The public doesn’t want me to be president-senator,” he said. “They want me to be the president and senators to be senators.”

Mr Biden has faced a series of challenges since the summer, including a months-long battle with the two Democratic senators over his sweeping social spending legislation, and the failure to pass government protections. right to vote which he describes as crucial to the fate of democracy in the country. He also oversaw a hasty and chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

The president has yet to meet his own climate change goals. And while he reversed some of Mr Trump’s tough immigration policies, he has yet to deliver on his broader promise of a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans.

And on the central promise he made during the 2020 campaign – to “shut down” the pandemic that has upended school, work and social life in the country for two years – Mr Biden struggled to respond to the coronavirus variants that have killed more than 250,000 Americans since the summer.

The president defended his response to the pandemic, saying his administration succeeded in vaccinating nearly 75% of all adults. Mr Biden said he wished he had “moved a month sooner” to increase testing capacity, but he rejected the idea that he would have to lay off members of his pandemic response team and he refused to accept that the testing issues were seen as a major failing of his administration.

“Should we have done more tests sooner? Yes,” Mr. Biden said. “But we do more now.”

The president answered questions as members of his party in the Senate gave speeches on behalf of suffrage legislation in what they have already acknowledged was a futile effort due to the unified Republican opposition and the refusal of a handful of Democratic senators to change the rules of the chamber.

The idea of ​​the debate was to underscore Republicans’ refusal to stand up to Democrats’ insistence on electoral subversion and voter suppression in states across the country. But the vote also highlighted the limits of Mr Biden’s ability to pressure members of his own party to line up behind their president.

Mr Biden has said he hasn’t completely given up on passing some sort of suffrage legislation, and he dismissed criticism from some African Americans who say he hasn’t fought hard enough to vote protection.

“I had my back,” he says. “I’ve had their backs my entire career. I never had their back. I started on voting rights issues a long, long time ago.

Mr Biden has repeatedly urged Americans to be patient with him, acknowledging he has ‘not yet’ accomplished everything he said he would do when he ran for office .

On improving trade with China, Biden said “we’re not there yet.” And on the pandemic, he had the same answer: I haven’t finished yet.

“Some people may call what’s happening now the new normal,” he said. “I call it work that is not yet finished. It will get better.”

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