President Biden holds news conference to mark one year in office

By Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Fernando Alfonso III and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:22 AM ET, Thu January 20, 2022
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5:17 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden predicts Russian invasion of Ukraine, but "minor incursion" may prompt discussion over consequences

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden predicted a Russian invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday, 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 of the country.

Biden's prediction of an invasion is the firmest acknowledgment to date the United States fully expects Putin to move after amassing 100,000 troops along the Ukraine border.

"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."

After speaking with Putin twice last month, Biden said he believed his Russian counterpart had a good understanding of the economic sanctions he was preparing to enact.

"He's never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves, number one," he said, adding the level of punishment would depend on what Russia's invasion looks like: "It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, et cetera."

 "But if they actually do what they're capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine. And that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy," he said.
5:57 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden on voting rights legislation: "I didn’t call many Republicans"

From CNN's Leinz Vales

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden conceded Wednesday that he did not reach out to moderate Republicans in his pursuit of passing voting rights legislation.

"I was trying to make sure we got everybody on the same page in my party on this score," Biden said during a news conference at the White House. "And I didn't call many Republicans at all."

Biden was asked specifically about Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney's recent remarks, slamming the White House for keeping Republicans out of discussions over election reform.

"The fact is that I do think that Mitt is a serious guy," Biden said. "I think we can get things done. I predict that we'll get something done on the electoral reform side of this."

He continued: "But rather judge what we'll get done and not get done, all I can say is I'll continue to make the case why it's so important to not turn electoral process over to political persons set up to change the outcome of elections."

5:19 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden: We need to get inflation under control

From CNN's Matt Egan

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden acknowledged Americans are struggling with the high cost of living and threw his weight behind the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight inflation 

“We need to get inflation under control,” Biden said during his opening remarks Wednesday. 

Biden pointed out that price stability is the responsibility of the Fed.

“The critical job of making sure elevated prices don’t become entrenched rests with the Federal Reserve, which has a dual mandate: full employment and stable prices,” Biden said. 

Biden noted that Americans are seeing rapid price increases at grocery stores, at the gas pumps and elsewhere.  

“Given the strength of our economy and pace of recent price increases, it’s appropriate…as Fed Chairman Powell has indicated, to recalibrate the support that is now necessary.”

Biden added that he respects the independence of the Fed.

Biden also detailed his administration’s efforts to fight inflation, including by unclogging supply chains and cracking down on unfair market competition. 

5:19 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden: "Very few" schools are closing due to Covid-19

President Biden was asked during his news conference about schools closing around the country during the latest wave of Covid-19, driven by the Omicron variant. He said, "very few schools are closing." 

"Over 95% are still open. So you all phrase the questions when — I don't think it's deliberate on your part, but you phrase the question when everyone watches this on television. All those schools must be closing. What are we going to do? 95% are still open."

Biden then listed off a number of items that his administration has done to try to make sure that schools are safe. 

"We had the ability to provide the funding through the Recovery Act, through the act that – the first act we passed to be able to make sure schools were able to be safe. So we have new ventilation systems available for them. We have the way they handle a scrub down ... the bathroom, cafeterias, buses, et cetera," the President said.

He said that there are billions of dollars being made available by the government for schools, including $10 billion for testing of students in the schools. 

"So I think, as time goes on, it's much more likely you'll see that number go back up from 95%, back up to 98%, 99%" of schools open, Biden said.

4:40 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden says he believes "big chunks" of his Build Back Better plan will pass

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden says he believes "big chunks" of his sweeping social and climate spending plan will be made into law — a tacit acknowledgement the entirety of his Build Back Better plan is unlikely to be approved in Congress.

"I'm confident we can get pieces, big chunks of the Build Back Better law signed into law," Biden said at a news conference at the White House.

He said items included in the bill, currently stalled amid united Republican opposition and key Democratic holdouts, were popular among the American people.

"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.

He cited lower costs 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, not educate, 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 said.

4:40 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden says he will not scale back on priorities on his agenda despite challenges 

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden said that he doesn't plan on scaling back on the main priorities on his agenda despite facing challenges in passing the Build Back Better Act and stalled efforts on voting rights.

"We knew all along that a lot of this was going to be an uphill fight and one of the ways to do this is to make sure we make the contrast as clear as we can. And one of the things that I think is — we're going to have to do is just make the case — 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," Biden said.

When pressed about what he can accomplish ahead of the midterm elections, Biden said that has confidence that his administration will be able to sign into law "good chunks" of his agenda.

"I'm confident we can get pieces, big chunks of the Build Back Better law signed into law and I'm confident that we can take the case to the American people that the people they should be voting for, who are going to oversee whether your elections are, in fact, legit or not should not be those who are being put up by the Republicans to determine that they're going to be able to change the outcome of the election... By the way, I haven't given up. We haven't finished the vote yet on what's going on, on the, on voting rights," Biden said.

6:56 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden: It will "be difficult" to have fair elections if voting rights bills are not passed 

From CNN's Clare Foran, Ali Zaslav and Ted Barrett

President Biden has been asked multiple questions about the Democrats' push to advance voting rights legislation as the party faces an uphill battle to pass the bills in Congress.

Asked if he thinks the upcoming elections will be fairly conducted and legitimate if voting rights legislation doesn't pass, Biden said "it all depends on whether or not we're able to make a case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election."

"Well, I think, if, in fact, no matter how hard they make it for minorities to vote, I think you'll see them willing to stand in line and defy the attempt to keep them from being able to vote. I think you're going to see that people will try to keep from being able to show up, showing up and making the sacrifice need to make in order to change the law back to what it should be," he continued. "But 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."

Where things stand on voting rights in Congress: Senate Republicans are expected to once again block a voting bill put forward by Democrats in the latest partisan showdown over voting rights, an issue Democrats are seeking to spotlight despite the fact that they lack the votes to pass the legislation.

The Senate is on track to hold a vote this evening to attempt to break a GOP filibuster on the legislation, which combines key provisions of two bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

At least 10 Republicans would need to vote with Democrats to clear the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster, which is not expected to happen amid widespread Republican opposition to the voting legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that if Republicans block the bill, he will hold a vote to change Senate rules to allow for a "talking filibuster" on the voting legislation.

The proposed rules change would force lawmakers who want to filibuster the bill to come to the Senate floor and speak in opposition. Once those speeches come to an end, the Senate would be able to hold a simple majority vote for final passage.

A vote to change the rules has not yet been scheduled but could happen as soon as late Wednesday evening.

But Democrats do not have the votes to change Senate filibuster rules either with moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona expected to oppose such a move.

Manchin has said he will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster and Sinema has defended the 60-vote threshold. Both senators have argued the filibuster helps bring about bipartisan compromise in the Senate.

Read more here.

4:33 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden says he "didn't overpromise" when asked about what he hoped to accomplish his first year

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

When asked about the challenges the White House has faced during his first year in office, including a historic rise in inflation, a stalled domestic agenda and a rise in Covid-19 cases, President Biden said he "didn't overpromise."

"I didn't overpromise. What 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. You mentioned the number of deaths from Covid. Well, it was three times that not long ago. It's coming down. Everything is changing. It's getting better," Biden said during a news conference Wednesday from the White House.

Biden added: "Look, I didn't overpromise, but I think if you take a look at what we've been able to do, you'd have to acknowledge we made enormous progress. But one of the things that I think is something that, one thing I haven't been able to do so far, is get my Republican friends to get in the game at making things better in this country."

On inflation: From startlingly high inflation and empty grocery store shelves to elevated prices at the pump, Americans are frustrated with the state of the economy.

Polls indicate voters are every bit as concerned about the economy as they are about the pandemic. And they feel the government is not doing enough to fight inflation.

The high cost of living is the biggest problem in today's economy. Prices of everything from new cars to full-service meals rose at the fastest pace on record in December.

High inflation is largely a consequence of Covid-19. Demand has surged as the economy recovers from the pandemic, but supply simply can't keep up — in part because of Covid-related supply bottlenecks.

CNN's Matt Egan contributed to this report.

5:20 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden is being asked about Ukraine-Russia tensions. Here are key things to know.

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Veronica Stracqualursi

President Biden was just asked about the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday in remarks to personnel at the US Embassy in Kyiv that Russia has plans to further increase its military forces on Ukrainian borders.

"We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice," Blinken said of the massive troop build-up near Ukrainian borders. "And that gives President Putin the capacity also on very short notice to take further aggressive action against Ukraine and that, of course, has gotten not only our attention, but it's gotten the attention of virtually all of our allies and partners and not just in Europe, even beyond."

"This is a critical time for Ukraine," Blinken explained to a crowd of roughly 60 people, speaking alongside Charge d'Affaires Kristina Kvien.

Blinken arrived in Ukraine's capital on Wednesday for the first of three stops this week amid concerns that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.

He met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, reaffirming Washington's support for the country and telling Zelensky that it is "up to Ukrainians and no one else."

Blinken warned Russia there were two paths out of this situation:

"There is the path of diplomacy and dialogue to try to resolve whatever differences there are peacefully through diplomacy," he said in his remarks to staff at the embassy. "Clearly the preferable path, clearly the most responsible path and the one that we would prefer, but there is also the path if Russia chooses to renew aggression, of conflict, confrontation and consequences for Russia."

Blinken said President Biden had asked his team to "take stock" of the situation after intense negotiations with allies but also conversations with Russia, and to "reaffirm" the US' commitment to Ukraine.

"I strongly, strongly hope that we can keep this on a diplomatic and peaceful path, but ultimately, that's going to be President Putin's decision," he concluded.

The top US diplomat will be heading to Geneva on Friday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Blinken and Lavrov plan to discuss Russia's military build-up and its demands for security guarantees, in what will be the first high-level meeting between Russia and the United States since diplomatic talks last week ended without any major breakthroughs.

Where things stand: Russia has now deployed more than 127,000 troops near Ukraine, transferred more Iskander operational-tactical missiles to the border, and increased its intelligence activity against the country, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's latest intelligence assessment that was shared exclusively Tuesday with CNN.

The Kremlin has continued to deny it is planning an attack, while demanding that the US and its Western partners rule out further NATO eastward expansion, guarantee that Ukraine would never join the block, and prevent NATO from establishing military bases in post-Soviet countries.