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Biden says his pandemic response is a 'job not yet finished,' touts his Build Back Better plan, and criticizes Republicans in first solo news conference of the year

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Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers an opening statement during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on January 19, 2022.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • President Joe Biden on Wednesday held his first solo press conference of the year.

  • He acknowledged challenges his administration is facing, including inflation and a COVID-19 testing shortage.

  • "I didn't overpromise ... we have to acknowledge that we've made enormous progress," Biden said.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday held his first solo press conference of 2022, marking the eve of the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

Biden began his remarks by touting his administration's accomplishments over the past year, including the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill that pumps billions of dollars into improving the nation's roads, bridges, highways, public transit, airports and ports, expanding access to clean drinking water and broadband, along with other provisions.

He also highlighted his administration's efforts to get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, praising the country's 75% vaccination rate among adults.

But Biden also acknowledged two major challenges that have recently plagued his administration: a shortage of COVID-19 tests amid the Omicron variant surge and sharp price increases across sectors in the global economy.

"Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes. But we're doing more now," he said, promoting his administration's recent rollout of a website where Americans can order rapid, at-home COVID-19 testing kits for free.

"I'm not going to give up and accept things as they are now," Biden said, referring to what's often called a "new normal."

"I call it a job not yet finished," he said.

On inflation concerns, Biden cited the coronavirus pandemic as contributing to inflation and noted his administration's efforts to tackle ongoing supply chain issues.

"The best thing to tackle high prices is a more productive economy," Biden said.

Reporters pressed Biden on his domestic priorities, including voting rights legislation and his social and climate policy spending package, known as Build Back Better, both of which have faltered in Congress because of widespread Republican opposition and resistance from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to change the 60-vote filibuster Senate requirement in order for the bills to pass.

"I didn't overpromise, but I think if you take a look at what we were able to do, we have to acknowledge that we've made enormous progress," Biden said.

Biden responded to questions about his stalled agenda by pointing out the lack of Republican cooperation in Congress beyond the infrastructure bill.

"I did not anticipate there'd be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn't get anything done," he said.

"Think about this," Biden continued. "What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they're for."

Biden emphasized how a majority of Americans back his spending proposals. The Democratic-led House in November passed its version of Build Back Better, a $2 trillion bill aimed at strengthening the nation's social safety net by setting up universal pre-K, extending monthly cash payments to families, expanding Medicare, and establishing federal price controls for prescription drugs.

But the package has been held up in the Senate largely due to Manchin and Sinema's opposition to some of its elements.

Biden on Wednesday admitted that "we're going to have to probably break" up parts of Build Back Better and "get as much as we can now, come back and fight for the rest later."

When asked about the fate of his voting rights legislation, Biden said he "predicts we'll get something done on electoral reform." In the meantime, that package is almost certainly going to be blocked in the Senate on Wednesday evening because of GOP resistance coupled with Manchin and Sinema.

The president also touched on foreign policy issues, warning Russian President Vladimir Putin against attacking Ukraine.

"I think he is dealing with what he thinks is a tragic thing happening to Mother Russia," Biden said of Putin. "The Berlin Wall coming down, the Soviet Union split. He is trying to find his place between China and the West."

"My guess is he will move in," Biden said of Putin invading Ukraine, adding: "But I think he'll pay a serious and dear price for it that he doesn't think now will cost him what it's going to cost him, and I think he will regret having done it."

Biden also laid out plans of what he aims to do differently this year: travel and meet with more Americans across the country, seek advice from experts outside of the government, and become "deeply involved" in the upcoming midterm elections.

Wednesday's press conference is Biden's tenth since he took office, following six solo and three joint ones held with world leaders, according to the University of California Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project. That number lags behind his recent predecessors, Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama, who at this point in their tenure had held a total of 21 and 27 formal press conferences, respectively.

The last time Biden gave a solo press conference from the White House and not while traveling was on March 25, 2021. At the time, Biden praised his recently enacted coronavirus stimulus package that sent checks worth $1,400 to millions of Americans, raised the nation's COVID-19 vaccination goals, and reacted to the surge in migrants at the US-Mexico border.

Since then, he has taken hits in his polling numbers from a chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal and a steady defection of support from independent voters that has correlated with his worsening pandemic approval rating.

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