Politics

Biden defends his first-year record as agenda stalls: 'I didn't overpromise'

Key Points
  • Despite high daily Covid cases, major legislative defeats and a souring electorate, President Joe Biden defended his first-year record on Wednesday.
  • "I didn't overpromise," said Biden, blaming Republicans in Congress. "I'm going to stay on this track."
  • Biden also said he would break up his signature social safety net bill, the Build Back Better Act, into several pieces that could pass the Senate this year.
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President Biden delivers remarks at news conference

WASHINGTON — Facing high daily Covid cases, major legislative defeats in Washington and a souring U.S. electorate, President Joe Biden on Wednesday defended his course of action in his first year in office during a press conference at the White House.

"I didn't overpromise," Biden said, blaming Republicans in Congress for their refusal to work with him. "I'm going to stay on this track."

Biden said he feels "confident we can get pieces, big chunks" of his signature social safety net bill, the Build Back Better Act, passed by Congress before this November's midterm elections.

Yet even as he spoke, millions of American families were feeling the pinch of abruptly ended child tax credits, after more than six months of parents and guardians receiving monthly checks

Those monthly checks weren't supposed to end like they did. Extending them was a key piece of the Build Back Better Act before it fell apart over the holidays, felled by conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, who announced he wouldn't support it.

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We'll likely have to break up the Build Back Better plan, says President Biden

Because Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., oppose parts of the BBB, including the child tax credit, Biden said his best option is to break up the bill and pass what he can while Democrats still have a majority in both chambers.

"I think that we can get support for $500-plus billion for energy and the environment," Biden said. "And I know that the two people who have opposed on the Democratic side support many of the things that are in there. For example, Joe Manchin strongly supports early education."

"So I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest of it," he added.

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the latest casualty of Biden's domestic agenda — a major set of voting rights bills — was taking its last breath before dying later tonight in a Senate vote where it is certain to fail. 

But there, too, Biden promised he would not give up despite long odds of success. And he praised the work of Vice President Kamala Harris, who made voting rights legislation an early piece of her leadership portfolio.

Asked point blank whether Harris would be his running mate in 2024 if he seeks reelection, Biden didn't hesitate: "Yes," he said.

Biden defended his administration's handling of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and promised not to return to early pandemic-era shutdowns.

"We're not going back to lockdowns, we're not going back to closing schools," he said.

But while Covid deaths are down and vaccines are plentiful, it's also difficult to see how exactly the Biden administration has succeeded when it comes to the coronavirus.

Six months ago, Biden declared "independence" from Covid in a major Fourth of July speech. At the time, the average number of new cases per day nationwide was around 12,000. On Tuesday of this week, more than 1.7 million new cases were reported.

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We didn't overpromise what could be achieved, says President Biden

"I'm not going to give up and accept things as they are now," Biden said Wednesday. "Some people may call what's happening now the new normal. I call it a job not yet finished."

Yet Biden's own epidemiologists are talking about how the country can learn to live with Covid permanently, leading parents, students and businesses to wonder what a forever-Covid world might look like. 

At times, it seems like the White House is disconnected from the mood of the general public.

Biden and his aides frequently point to the progress that has been made this past year to rebuild the economy and recover from Covid.

Ahead of the press conference, the White House sent out two memos, one listing all the "firsts" the administration accomplished this year and another describing what Biden and Harris had done "for working families."

They noted that more than 75% of American adults have received at least one Covid vaccine dose. And that more jobs were added to the U.S. economy in the last 12 months — 6 million — than in any other one-year period in U.S. history.

Many Americans know these things are true. But that doesn't mean people feel them in their daily lives. 

Polls consistently show that it's not job growth but soaring inflation and product shortages that color Americans' views of the economy.

And high daily Covid case rates — not vaccination rates — are what Americans think about when asked how Covid impacts their daily lives. 

All of which likely helps to explain why more Americans disapprove of the job Biden is doing as president today than disapproved of the job Biden's most recent predecessors were doing after their first year in office.

A Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found that 56% of voters disapproved of how Biden is handling the presidency.

That figure is 10 points lower than the overall disapproval rating then-President Barack Obama had in January 2010. And it is 6 points worse than the January 2018 voter approval ratings of then-President Donald Trump.

But Biden's sagging poll numbers appeared to matter little to the president as he spoke to reporters for nearly two hours.

At one point, Biden got a question on his weak job approval ratings and how he planned to win back voters who supported him in 2020 but now disapprove of the job he's doing in office.

Biden answered, "I don't believe polls."

As for what he would do differently in his second year, Biden said he planned to travel more, to spend less time in the White House and to seek the perspective of more outside experts.

He also said he would hit the campaign trail for Democrats in the midterm elections, both raising money for them and stumping around the country.