Five things to expect from Biden's news conference Wednesday: Inflation, COVID-19, voting rights and more
WASHINGTON — A still-raging pandemic, inflation at a near-40-year high and a stalled push for voting rights: Joe Biden's news conference on Wednesday will feature tough questions for the president on the eve of his one year anniversary in office.
More: Democrats came up short on MLK day promise. What's next for the push for a voting rights bill?
The White House has been quick to tout economic indicators over the past year like the low unemployment rate, faster than expected economic growth and high job creation as cause for optimism.
But sagging poll numbers suggest Americans don't feel quite as cheery.
The 4 p.m. news conference will be Biden's ninth such event, according to a tally by the Associated Press.
By comparison, former President Barack Obama held 27 such events in his first year, while former President Donald Trump held 22. Biden has frequently answered reporters' questions in more informal settings, such as after events or when he's traveling to or from the White House.
Here are some of the major issues Biden is likely to be asked about:
Biden is sure to be pressed about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he vowed to get under control. In July 2021, Biden said the U.S. was “closer than ever to declaring our independence" from the deadly virus.
But new variants, including delta and omicron, soon emerged and have undermined U.S. progress against the disease. Vaccine hesitancy and the administration's own stumbles have prolonged the pandemic in the U.S. and marred Biden's public standing.
US COVID-19 map: Tracking cases and deaths
More: Vaccinated and test positive? What to know about omicron, COVID for this holiday season.
While public health experts now believe the highly contagious omicron surge has likely peaked in the U.S., the variant led to a sharp spike in hospitalizations across the country, prompting Biden to direct FEMA and National Guard forces to aid overwhelmed hospitals and state governments.
The news conference takes place a day after the administration launched its free COVID-testing delivery program, designed to address a shortfall in at-home test kits.
Since the start of his presidency, Biden has condemned a wave of election laws passed in GOP-controlled states, fueled by false allegations that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Biden and other Democrats fear the new restrictions will lead to voter suppression or outright election subversion.
Watch: Why there's a wave of new voting laws and how they could affect voters in future elections
Activists have pushed for federal voting rights legislation to counter the state laws and criticized the White House for not making that a bigger priority. That pressure led Biden to come out in favor of modifying Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation without any Republican support.
Biden's move ran into stiff opposition from two key senators in his own party, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It also infuriated Republicans, whom Biden accused of ushering in a second Jim Crow era.
Reporters are likely to ask Biden about his next move and whether he has any hope of reviving the Democrats' two major election reform bills.
Build Back Better
Biden's "Build Back Better" proposal is also stalled. The measure is a sweeping package designed to expand the social safety net for children and the elderly; promote organized labor and middle-class jobs; and reform the economy to mitigate climate change while raising taxes on the wealthy and big businesses.
More: Nick Saban, Jerry West, other West Virginia sports figures sign election integrity letter to Sen. Joe Manchin
Manchin dealt a blow to the measure in December when he announced he could not support it.
Biden has vowed to restart negotiations with Manchin and will likely face questions about whether he has made any headway.
Americans consistently say in recent polling that the economy and inflation are top concerns. Inflation hit a fresh 39-year high in December as prices jumped for everything from food to rent to cars.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, have fielded questions from reporters about the health of the economy in recent weeks. Biden is likely to face a similar grilling.
Biden's press conference comes as the U.S. and its European allies are in a standoff with Russia amid fears that Moscow plans to invade its neighbor, Ukraine. Should diplomacy fail, European military leaders have warned the ensuing conflict would be the worst in Europe since the end of World War II.
More: U.S. assessing cyberattack against government websites in Ukraine
American officials have stressed that while they believe there is a diplomatic solution, they are prepared to take significant retaliatory measures should Russia invade Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday. Biden is likely to be questioned on what specific actions the U.S. will take if Russia invades Ukraine.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Biden to field questions on COVID, inflation, voting rights