President Joe Biden laid out his vision for the next chapter of his presidency during a nearly two-hour-long White House news conference on Wednesday, saying he’s prepared to make changes as he faces crises at home and abroad.
As he heads into year two in the Oval Office, Biden held a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with reporters during which he angered his Ukrainian allies with comments about a potential Russian “incursion” into their country, and he admitted he would be breaking up one of his major legislative priorities. Biden also signaled that his dreams of bipartisanship had largely been dashed during his first year in office, though he was still confident in how his party will do in the 2022 midterm elections.
Biden told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny that he’s ready to switch up his approach during the coming year. After spending much of his first year in office at the White House or one of his Delaware properties, Biden said he wants to solicit more outside advice and speak to more people outside the building.
The President has traveled less often than his predecessors, restrained by the pandemic. He has visited comparatively fewer states and been outside the US only twice.
“I’m going to go out and talk to the public. I’m going to do public fora. I’m going to interface with them. I’m going to make the case of what we’ve already done, why it’s important and what we’ll do – what will happen if they support what else I want to do,” he said.
Biden said he also plans to engage more with Democrats during the midterm elections.
“I’m going to be deeply involved in these off-year elections,” he said. “We’re going to be raising a lot of money. We’re going to be out there making sure that we’re helping all those candidates, and scores of them already asked me to come in and campaign with them, to go out and make the case in plain simple language as to what it is we have done, what we want to do and why we think it’s important.”
Still, despite his planned changes, the President defended his approach to many issues, saying he “makes no apologies” for his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and dismissing questions of competency in regards to the rollout of 5G networks and the response to Covid-19.
He said he’s satisfied with his team, confirming that Vice President Kamala Harris will be his reelection running mate and defending top public health officials, like US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, amid mixed messaging on the pandemic.
Breaking up Build Back Better
The President said he’s changing his approach to how he handles a signature legislative goal, saying he believes Congress can pass “big chunks” of his sweeping social safety net and climate spending plan, Build Back Better, and acknowledging that negotiators will have to “fight for the rest later.”
“Yes, well, it’s clear to me that we’re going to have to break it up,” the President said.
In particular, Biden indicated that he believes Congress can pass funding for energy and environmental issues, and that he has support from West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a key moderate, on the plan’s early education proposals. In addition, he indicated that there’s “strong support” for the proposal on how the provisions will be paid for.
He later said he’s “unsure” whether he’ll be able to get the child tax credit provision and funding to assist with the cost of college passed.
“I don’t think there’s anything unrealistic about what we’re asking for. I’m not asking for castles in the sky. 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,” he said.
Biden cited lower prices for on prescription drugs, expanded education funding and support for child care as popular provisions.
“I don’t know many things that have been done in one fell swoop. And so I think the most important thing to do is try to inform … the public what’s at stake in stark terms and let them make judgments and let them know who is for them and who is against them. Who is there and who is not there, and make that the case. That’s what I’m going to be spending my time doing in this off-year election,” Biden continued.
The President also acknowledged that passing his other legislative priority, voting reform, will be difficult. Still, he insisted that Democrats still have options to get it passed.
Biden said the perception by some Americans that his push to pass election reform is a last-minute effort is a “problem that is my own making,” stressing that he has been fighting to ensure Americans have access to the ballot for decades.
“It’s going to be difficult. I make no bones about that. It’s going to be difficult, but we’re not there yet. We’ve not run out of options yet. And we’ll see how this moves,” Biden told reporters.
Later Wednesday, Biden issued a statement after Senate Democrats failed to change Senate rules to advance two major voting rights measures, saying, “I am profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy. I am disappointed — but I am not deterred.”
“As dangerous new Republican laws plainly designed to suppress and subvert voting rights proliferate in states across the country, we will explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy,” the President added later.
Biden touts year of ‘challenges’ and ‘progress’
Biden, in his opening comments at the news conference, said that “it’s been a year of challenges, but it’s also been a year of enormous progress.”
The President – who fielded questions from reporters as his administration struggles to contain the latest surge of the Omicron coronavirus variant and works to ease the economic anxiety gripping the nation – began his White House news conference touting how the administration has made strides in Covid-19 vaccinations, reopening the economy, creating jobs and lowering unemployment. But he also acknowledged the challenges facing his administration as he enters his second year in office. He said there continues to be “frustration and fatigue in this country” over Covid-19, reiterating that “while it’s cause for concern, it’s not cause for panic.”
The President conceded that his team should have done more to ramp up testing, but listed steps he’s taken to make kits more available, arguing that “we’re in a better place than we have been thus far, clearly better than a year ago.”
“I’m not going to give up and accept things as they are now. Some people may call what’s happening now the 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,” he continued.
In his opening remarks, the President also addressed the economic complications of the pandemic, including rising prices for consumers, saying, “We need to get inflation under control” and calling on the Federal Reserve to “bear down on fighting inflation.”
Biden added that he respects the independence of the Fed.
The news conference comes as the President heads into his second year in office – a midterm election year – after facing a number of recent setbacks. The centerpiece of his economic agenda has hit a roadblock in Congress, it is unclear whether the Democrats’ push for voting rights legislation will go anywhere, the Supreme Court struck down Biden’s vaccine mandates for big businesses and recent key economic indicators show record inflation.
Predicting Russia will invade Ukraine
Biden predicted a Russian invasion of Ukraine, citing existential concerns by the country’s President Vladimir Putin, even as he warned of significant economic consequences when such an incursion occurs. But he suggested a “minor incursion” would elicit a lesser response than a full-scale invasion.
Putin has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border and appears poised to invade.
“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 said, describing a leader searching for relevance in a post-Soviet world: “He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West.”
Biden’s prediction of an invasion is the firmest acknowledgment to date that the US fully expects Putin to move after amassing 100,000 troops along the Ukraine border.
The President also said allies and partners “are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.”
That includes limiting Russian transactions in US financial institutions – “anything that involves dollar denominations,” Biden said.
He also warned Russian lives would be lost in an invasion, along with potential Ukranian casualties.
Biden speculated Putin was not seeking “any full-blown war,” but said he did believe the Russian leader was looking for some type of confrontation.
“Do I think he’ll test the West? Test the United States and NATO as significantly as he can? Yes, I think he will. But I think he’ll pay a serious and dear price for it.”
“He doesn’t think it will cost him what it’s going to cost him,” he said. “And I think he’ll regret having done it.”
Anger at the GOP
Throughout the news conference, Biden indicated his frustration with GOP lawmakers who have stood against his agenda.
He claimed that Republicans were not as “obstructionist” toward former President Barack Obama as they are to his own administration.
“They weren’t nearly as obstructionist as they are now,” Biden said when pressed on similarities in the Republican Party’s obstruction tactics to both his and the Obama administrations.
“The difference here is there seems to be a desire … what are they for? What is their agenda? They had an agenda back in the administration – the eight years we were President and vice president – but I don’t know what their agenda is now. What is it?” Biden stated.
Speaking of his time as vice president in the Obama administration, Biden said the difference is they were able to “get some things done” when the atmosphere wasn’t ideologically divisive.
Earlier in the news conference, Biden said that “one thing” he hasn’t been able to do is “get my Republican friends to get in the game in making things better for this country.”
“I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden did not get anything done. Think about this. What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for,” Biden said.
Biden’s presidential news conference record
The President regularly fields questions from reporters after delivering remarks and during departures and arrivals at the White House, but he hasn’t held as many formal news conferences as his recent predecessors.
In his first year in office, Biden held nine total news conferences – six solo and three joint ones – according to data tracked by The American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The last time he held a formal news conference was at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
By comparison, President Donald Trump held 21 news conferences in his first year in office, but just one of them was solo and the rest were joint appearances, usually with foreign leaders. (In his last year in office, as the pandemic took hold, Trump held a staggering 35 solo news conferences.)
President Barack Obama held 27 news conferences in his first year – 11 solo and 16 of them joint. President George W. Bush held 19 news conferences – five solo and 14 joint, according to UCSB data. Then-President Bill Clinton held 12 solo news conferences and 26 joint ones, resulting in 38 news conferences in his first year in office.
This story has been updated with further developments.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Sam Fossum, Betsy Klein, Allie Malloy and Matt Egan contributed to this report.