Biden press conference marks start of difficult second year

By: AFP
Published: 09:47 PM, 19 Jan, 2022
Biden press conference marks start of difficult second year
Caption: Biden press conference marks start of difficult second year.
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President Joe Biden holds a rare press conference Wednesday to kick off his second year in office, hoping to reset the agenda ahead of what could be brutal election reversals for Democrats.

This will be Biden's first press conference of the year -- and the first formal such event at all since November.

Biden is likely to face questions on everything from the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and North Korea's missile tests to US inflation, Covid-19 and what he calls a threat to democracy from his predecessor Donald Trump.

The press conference will ignite an intense effort by the White House to spin the calamitous last few weeks into a new narrative focusing on what officials say are Biden's many, if overlooked, gains during his first year in the Oval Office.

It comes as a new Gallup poll shows Biden with just 40 percent approval, down from 57 percent when he started. Since World War II, only Trump's first year averages were lower, Gallup said.

Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the president would lay out how he took over "in incredibly difficult circumstances, fighting a pandemic, a massive economic downturn... (and) that there's been a lot of progress."

Psaki pulled up charts showing the economy bouncing back from initial Covid shock, with unemployment down to 3.9 percent from 6.4 percent a year ago. Another showed the number of adults fully vaccinated rising from one to 74 percent.

The charts "lay out a pretty stark contrast between where we started and where we are now," Psaki said. "Our objective is, and I think you'll hear the president talk about it tomorrow, is how to build on the foundation."

Not mentioned were a string of recent setbacks, including the highest inflation in decades and the Supreme Court striking down the administration's vaccine mandate for large businesses.

The inability of Democrats to use their razor-thin majority in Congress to pass another top Biden priority -- voting law reforms that he says are needed to protect US democracy -- also went unmentioned.

The Senate was due to consider the voting rights bills on Wednesday but with two Democratic senators holding back support on procedural grounds, the measures were all but certain to fail.

Republican comeback? 

Biden's press conference comes on the eve of the anniversary of his January 20th inauguration, which took place in the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic and the aftermath of a violent assault by Trump supporters on Congress to try and overturn Biden's victory.

Now, with a State of the Union speech to Congress set for March 1, Biden faces the rapidly approaching likelihood of a Republican comeback in midterm congressional elections this November.

Republicans are forecast to crush his party and take control of the legislature. That risks bringing two years of complete obstruction from Congress, likely including threats of impeachment and a slew of aggressive committee probes. 

Trump, who continues to perpetuate the lie that he beat Biden in 2020 and seeks to undermine Americans' faith in their election system, is eyeing a possible attempt at another run at the White House in 2024.

Biden's team hopes that good news will gradually outweigh the pandemic-related gloom, with the economy continuing to rebound, the Omicron coronavirus variant tailing off, and Americans taking notice of achievements, like massive spending on infrastructure.

As White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Politico: "President Biden was elected to a four-year term, not a one-year term."

While Biden does frequently interact with journalists in short, often-hurried question-and-answer sessions at the White House, his lack of full press conferences has raised eyebrows.

He held just nine formal news conferences between taking office and December 31, compared to 22 by Trump in his first year and 27 by Barack Obama, according to a study by the White House Transition Project. 

The paucity of one-on-one press interviews is even more remarkable: 22 for Biden, 92 for Trump and 156 for Obama.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.