Biden admits Covid-19 frustrations, sees the way to a halted bill, warns Russia against Ukraine

WASHINGTON – President Biden said he would likely have to break his deadlocked health, education and climate agenda to get his policy through Congress, predicting that Russia would take a step toward Ukraine and warn that Moscow would stay punished for sanctions for doing so.

The president. at a nearly two-hour-long press conference Wednesday that ended his first year in office defended his policies and his administration’s response to Covid-19, but also acknowledged that many Americans remain frustrated with the duration of the pandemic.

“It’s been a year of challenges, but it’s also been a year of tremendous progress,” he said. Bitten, and quoted millions of Americans who were vaccinated in 2021 and have received a nearly $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill. “Yet despite all this progress, I know there is a lot of frustration and fatigue in this country. We know why – Covid-19.”

During his first formal news conference in 2022, Mr. Biden said he will likely have to split the $ 2 trillion Build Back Better proposal that has stalled after Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va. ) late rejected the proposal last year, but the president insisted he did not give in to its ambitions.

“I think we can break the package, get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest later,” he said, adding that he believes he can gain sufficient support for climate legislation. , energy and early. – childhood education. Mr. Biden said proposals to extend the child tax deduction and provide tuition assistance to people attending community colleges may not be included in the package, but he said he would continue to push to adopt those measures.

He reiterated his intention to trigger punitive sanctions against Russia should it invade Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin, Mr Biden said, is facing a tough election and would regret choosing conflict. Sir. Biden initially seemed to suggest that he believes Mr Putin will invade Ukraine. “I guess he wants to move in,” he said.

However, he later withdrew from that statement. “I do not think he has decided yet,” said Mr Biden, who suggested he could meet face-to-face with Mr Putin.

Mr. Biden also formulated a possible diplomatic resolution on Ukraine. He offered to negotiate on the placement of strategic weapons. He also said that Ukraine’s potential membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the short term is unlikely, although he said the decision was ultimately the alliance’s. Both questions have been among the demands Moscow has made on Ukraine.

Early in the news conference, Mr. Biden that the response to Russia could be different if the country launched a “minor attack” instead of a complete military invasion. Asked for clarification, the president said the United States would respond with mutual action if Russia launches a cyber attack or other non-military effort.

“Any intrusion by the Russian military into Ukraine should be considered a major intervention because it will destabilize Ukraine and freedom-loving countries in Eastern Europe,” said Senator Rob Portman (R., Ohio), in a sentiment repeated by other Republicans. .

While Mr Biden proclaimed progress in the fight against Covid-19, he faces criticism of his handling of the virus, including difficulties in getting tests for many people. “Should we have done more tests earlier? Yes,” he said, adding that this week the administration launched a website that allows people to request free tests by mail.

President Biden spoke about Russia and Ukraine, the Americans’ frustrations over Covid-19 and the economy at the White House press conference.


Photo:

Oliver Contreras / Sipa / Bloomberg News

“Some people might want to call what’s happening now the new normal. I call it a job that is not yet finished,” said Mr. Bite about his pandemic reaction. “We are not there yet, but we will get there.” He said the United States would not go back to the shutdowns and closed schools that were common in earlier stages of the pandemic.

The administration has sought to convey in appearances by the president and briefings with top officials that many Americans will be infected with Covid-19, but that those who have been vaccinated have no reason to panic.

In terms of inflation, Mr. Biden that the “critical work of ensuring that higher prices are not anchored rests with the Federal Reserve” and indicated that he agreed with expected interest rate hikes.

He also highlighted actions by the administration to ease bottlenecks in the supply chain and said he would work to increase competition in certain sectors, such as meat processing. However, these steps have had limited effect, experts say. The Fed is facing pressure to tame inflation, and Mr Biden is facing the prospect of continuing high prices as midterm elections approach later in the year.

Some business groups have called for the abolition of tariffs on Chinese imports as a way of moderating prices. Mr. Biden said he was not ready to make that call, indicating that he wanted to see Beijing make progress in pledging to buy U.S. goods under the trade deal that former President Donald Trump has drafted.

The forum on Wednesday opened a year in which Mr Biden will try to assemble a democratic base that has been frustrated by his record of climate change and voting legislation despite high hopes when he took office.

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Democrats had already hoped to pass the Build Back Better legislative package. Last week, Mr. Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) Gave the president another setback by reiterating their opposition to changing Senate filibuster rules to allow the passage of voting legislation contrary to Senate Republicans.

Mr. Biden said he would continue to push for the adoption of democratically-backed electoral laws, arguing that a failure to pass legislation could increase the likelihood that future midterm elections would be illegitimate. Of Republicans planning to vote against the law, Mr. Biden: “This will stay with you for the rest of your career and long after you’re gone.”

The administration’s challenges have frustrated many Democrats and contributed to Mr. Biden’s low public approval rating, which stood at 42% on Tuesday, according to FiveThirtyEight’s aggregation of public opinion polls, down from 53% when he took office.

A poll by the Wall Street Journal published in December found worrying signs for Democrats on the economy and other key issues. Voters said they believe Republicans have better economic policies, 43% to 34%, and the GOP is considered better able to control inflation, secure the border, correct the immigration system and reduce crime. About 46% of voters expect the economy to deteriorate by 2022, compared to 30% who expect it to improve.

The Senate is now split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing for a draw and Democrats having a small majority in the House. Should the party lose one of the chambers, Mr Biden will face even tougher odds of implementing his plans.

Foreign policy challenges have also haunted Mr Biden’s administration. He launched a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and has tried to maintain a tough stance on China. Now his most pressing concern is with Russia.

Asked what he would do differently in his second year, Mr. Biden that he was not preparing to shake up his team, but said he would get more out of Washington to lay his agenda directly to the Americans. He said he would bring in several external experts, including those from think tanks, and invite constructive criticism.

“I want to be deeply involved in these off-year elections,” Mr. Biden, who also indicated that he plans to run for re-election with Mrs Harris as her candidate.

President Biden spoke in Atlanta in early January to support a change in Senate filibuster rules as he sought the adoption of federal voting laws that have been repeatedly opposed by Republicans. Photo: Patrick Semansky / Associated Press

Write to Alex Leary at alex.leary@wsj.com, Ken Thomas at ken.thomas@wsj.com and Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com

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