WASHINGTON — President Biden vowed Wednesday to pursue a scaled-down version of his grand domestic policy plan as he mounted a two-hour defense of his freshman achievements and repeatedly blamed Republicans for giving up any serious attempt to conquer the country. to govern.
Speaking at a lengthy press conference in the East Room of the White House, Mr Biden declined to accept criticism of his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying “we’ve done remarkably well.” And he dismissed accusations that he called lawmakers opposed to voting rights legislation racists in a fiery speech last week.
Recognizing that his $2.2 trillion social spending bill will not pass the Senate in one piece, Mr Biden said he would try to pass separate parts of the larger bill in the Senate, where they would be more bipartisan. could receive support. He said he was confident that the energy and environmental provisions would receive sufficient support to be adopted.
Mr. Biden specifically noted that there was too much opposition among Democrats and Republicans to two of his main agenda items, which were central to the commitments he made on the campaign trail in 2020: an extension of the tax credit for children and free community college for all. Americans.
He was pessimistic about voting rights and acknowledged the impending failure of legislation in the Senate. “It’s going to be difficult. I’m not worried about that,” the president said, hours before Democrats’ latest attempt to pass a voting rights bill was blocked. But he added: “We don’t run out of options yet.”
He expressed more optimism that part of his spending agenda could still be passed.
“I think we can split the package, get as much as we can now and come back later to fight for the rest,” Biden said. He noted that provisions on climate change and universal kindergartens, and proposals to fund new spending could gain enough support to pass.
The president said he hopes to find common ground with two Democratic senators who have opposed the legislation. In particular, he said that one of those stragglers, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, “is a strong supporter of early education, aged 3 and 4, strongly supports that.”
He repeatedly interfered with congressional Republicans, whom he accused of not having a positive agenda and conspiring to block everything Mr. Biden has tried to do.
“I didn’t expect such a firm effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” he said.
“What are the Republicans for?” he asked in answer to a question about his jammed schedule. “What are they for? Tell me one thing they are for.”
Referring to Donald J. Trump, Mr. Biden asked, “Did you ever think a man out of office could intimidate an entire party?”
He said five Republican senators had privately told him they agreed with him on several issues, only to say they would lose in the primaries if they went public. The president declined to say who the five were.
Mr Biden accused Republicans of refusing to “get in the game” in governing the country, saying the party was responsible for its inability to unite the country — as it promised — because the GOP was much less willing to compromise than it had been in previous years.
“They weren’t nearly as obstructionist as they are now,” Mr Biden said. He added: “I wonder what the Republican platform would be like right now. What do you think? What do you think is their position on taxes? What do you think is their position on human rights?”
Biden was confronted by reporters at a formal press conference for the second time in his presidency and less than a day before the first anniversary of his inauguration, amid a jammed agenda and declining approval ratings.
He was animated during the press conference, answering numerous questions and chatting with reporters for nearly two hours. He ignored one question about his son’s connections to China and dismissed another largely due to concerns about his mental fitness.
He also gave a stark estimate of the likelihood that Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin would soon send troops to Ukraine.
For the better part of two hours, Mr. Biden defended his record, noting record low unemployment, passing a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill, vaccinating millions of Americans and negotiating a bipartisan bill. to invest $1 trillion in the country’s roads and bridges, pipes and broadband.
But the president said he still planned to take a new approach in the coming year, promising to get out of Washington more often and pledging significant aid to Democratic candidates as the party fights for control of Congress. to keep in the midterm elections in November.
“We are going to raise a lot of money. We’ll be there to make sure we help all those candidates,” Mr Biden said, pledging to “go out and make it clear in plain, simple language what we’ve done, what we want to do and why we’re doing it.” find it important.”
In response to a question, Mr. Biden also said he planned to run for a second term and that Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate.
Mr Biden also said he had grown tired of being drawn into endless negotiations with members of his own party for the past six months. He said his decline in popularity was partly due to Americans seeing him act more like a legislator and less like a commander in chief.
“The public doesn’t want me to be the president-senator,” he said. “They want me to be president and let senators be senators.”
Biden has faced a series of challenges since the summer, including a months-long battle with the two Democratic senators over his far-reaching social spending legislation, and the inability to enact the voting rights he describes as crucial to fate. of democracy in the country. He also oversaw a hurried and chaotic exit from Afghanistan.
The president has not yet managed to achieve his own goals for combating climate change. And while he has reversed some of Trump’s strict immigration policies, he has not yet delivered on his broader promise of a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans.
And on the pivotal pledge he made during the 2020 campaign — to ‘stop’ the pandemic that has rocked school, work and social life in the country for two years — Mr Biden has struggled. to respond to the coronavirus variants that have caused more deaths. than 250,000 Americans since the summer.
Defending his response to the pandemic, the president said his administration had succeeded in vaccinating nearly 75 percent of all adults. Mr Biden said he wished he had “moved a month earlier” to ramp up testing capacity, but rejected the idea that he should fire members of his pandemic response team and refused to accept that problems with testing should be seen as a great failure of his government.
“Should we have done more tests sooner? Yes,” Mr Biden said. “But we do more now.”
The president answered questions as members of his party delivered speeches in the Senate on behalf of the voting rights legislation in what they already acknowledged was a doomed effort due to united Republican opposition and the refusal of a handful of Democratic senators to change the chamber’s rules.
The idea of the debate was to underscore Republican refusal to deal with what Democrats are pushing is election and voter suppression in states across the country. But the vote also highlighted the limits to Mr Biden’s ability to pressure members of his own party to align themselves with their president.
Mr Biden said he hadn’t completely given up on passing some sort of voting rights legislation, and he dismissed criticism from some African Americans who say he didn’t fight hard enough for vote protection.
“I’ve had their backs,” he said. “I’ve been behind them their entire career. I’ve never had their backs. I started with voting rights issues a long, long time ago.”
Biden repeatedly urged Americans to be patient with him, acknowledging that he had not “yet” achieved everything he said he would do when he ran for office.
On improving trade with China, Mr Biden said “we are not there yet”. And about the pandemic, he had the same answer: I’m not done yet.
“Some people call what’s happening now the new normal,” he said. “I call it an unfinished job. It will be better.”