Biden acknowledges setbacks to domestic agenda in rare press conference

President Joe Biden fielded questions from reporters Wednesday on everything from soaring inflation, to the stalemate on voting rights legislation and Americans' anxiety over omicron. It was his first formal press conference in 10 months. Geoff Bennett joins Judy Woodruff to discuss where the president’s agenda stands and what remains to be accomplished.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden fielded questions from reporters at a marathon news conference on everything from soaring inflation, the stalemate on voting rights legislation, to Americans' anxiety over COVID-19.

    It was his first formal meeting with the press in 10 months.

    Geoff Bennett joins me now to discuss where the president's agenda stands and what remains to be accomplished.

    So, hello, Geoff.

    Let's talk about what the president had to say. What kind of an assessment is he giving himself?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, the president, Judy, in talking about the past year, said that it has been one of challenges, but, as he put it, one of enormous progress, the president citing the pace of COVID vaccinations, rising wages, also an uptick in job growth.

    But he said, in assessing his setbacks, the administration's setbacks of his first year in office, that he failed to fully grasp the level of Republican pushback that he would encounter. Take a look at this.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn't get anything done.

    Think about this. What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they're for.

    And so the problem here is that I think what's happened — what I have to do, in the change in tactic, if you will, I have to make clear to the American people what we are for. We passed a lot. We passed a lot of things that people don't even understand what's — all that is in it, understandably.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And later in the press conference, the president was asked, why did he fail to get a better sense of Republican pushback, given he was President Obama's V.P. for eight years, and President Biden said that the level of Republican obstructionism, as he put it, had changed dramatically?

    Looking ahead to year two of his time in office and beyond, the president said he intends to get more into the country, talking directly to the American people about how his policies and his agenda items can benefit everyday Americans, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Geoff, we saw the president was also asked about the fate of voting rights legislation, which is being debated in the Senate this evening.

    What did he say about seeing any path forward there?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, he seemed to suggest that Democrats might be able to carve a path forward by breaking out elements of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act into individual stand-alone bills, for instance, making Election Day a national holiday, just having senators vote on that specific thing, same thing with same-day voter registration, and seeing if they have any success by breaking parts of those bills out and passing them separately.

    That remains to be seen. But the president was also asked, in the absence of significant voting rights legislation, can the American people feel that elections in this country will continue to be free and fair?

    Here's his response.

  • Joe Biden:

    It all depends on whether or not we are able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And the president also nodded to what is at this point a very, very early effort among the bipartisan group of lawmakers to rewrite the electoral reform act.

    The president suggested they might have some success there as well, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Geoff, we know the president was also talking about the economy. He said that he has created under his leadership six million new jobs in America, but he also said he knows that inflation is something he needs to get under control.

    What did he say about how he plans to do that?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes, and he acknowledged the pain that so many Americans are feeling, given that inflation has risen some 7 percent since just last month.

    And so he talked about the tools in his toolbox that he has available to him to address this issue, Fed policy, fixing the supply chain, and he also said that he wants to pass parts of his Build Back Better agenda.

    Take a look.

  • Joe Biden:

    There's a lot we have to do.

    It's not going to be easy, but I think we can get it done. But it's going to be painful for a lot of people in the meantime. That's why the single best way, the single best way to take the burden off middle-class and working-class folks is to pass the Build Back Better piece that are things that they're paying a lot of money for now.

    If you get to trade off higher gases, and you're putting up with higher price of hamburger and gas, vs. whether or not you're going to have to — you're going to be able to pay for education and/or child care and the like, I think most people would make the trade.

    Their bottom line would be better in middle-class households. But it's going to be hard, and it's going to take a lot of work.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And the president also made some news today in that press conference. He suggested that a path forward for the Build Back Better agenda is also to break that down into specific stand-alone bills and trying to pass those as stand-alone elements, universal pre-K, free community college, all those agenda items that, as he sees it, would expand the social safety net, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Geoff, this was — as we said, a marathon press conference.

    It went on almost two hours. I think we are going to be dissecting — dissecting what he had to say well into tomorrow.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes, I think that's the case.

    And we will certainly see. The thing that I'm particularly interested in seeing is the way that the president and this White House generally changes their messaging strategy, how they intend to really brag about all the things that they see that they have accomplished in this past year.

    The president really tried to reframe the work that he and so many of the White House officials and Cabinet officials have done, not just on COVID, but on the economy, and really changing the economy generally, as they so often say, this White House, to make the economy work for working people — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Geoff Bennett reporting on this news conference today, thanks very much.

  • Geoff Bennett:


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