Busy day for Biden tackling global state of democracy, COVID-19 and domestic policy

President Joe Biden's agenda on Thursday included foreign policy, a trip to Capitol Hill, and a briefing on COVID response. Nearly a year into his first term, Biden kicked off the day speaking to leaders around the world about the importance of global democracy. Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Foreign policy, a trip to Capitol Hill, and a briefing on COVID response, those were just some of the big items on President Biden's agenda today, almost 11 months into his first term.

    He kicked off the day speaking to leaders around the world about the importance of global democracy.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: Democracy needs champions. And I wanted to host this summit because here is the — here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, joins me to talk about the president's agenda.

    Yamiche, hello.

    So, we know, at this Summit for Democracy, the president certainly in the background is having to deal with an array of foreign policy challenges. Remind us what those are.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, as you said, Judy, this was a day that really was a microcosm of the challenges that President Biden faces.

    His schedule today really laid out the biggest challenge to the presidency, whether it was the Democracy Summit, whether it was COVID and his meeting with the task force, or whether it was him going over to Capitol Hill and paying his respects to the late Senator Bob Dole.

    Now, when it comes to foreign policy, at the Democracy Summit, where he brought together more than 100 countries, the president essentially said that democracy is a fragile thing that needs to be protected. He also, though, had a feeling of humility, saying that the United States understands, just as other countries, how much democracy needs to be protected.

    And I talked to a senior administration official, who told me that the president essentially approached that, because of January 6 and the issues with our own democracy, with a mix of determination to improve American democracy, and also a mix of confidence that he could still be a leader because the United States, the officials here see it as a beacon of hope still.

    Then, when you add, of course, the other foreign policy challenges, there's Russia and China, two countries that were not invited to the summit. Both of them were critical of the summit.

    The Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement and a stinging report on the state of America democracy, saying in part that this really is a country that is ruled by money.

    When you look at Russia, of course, following the meeting and — the call, I should say, rather, with President Putin and President Biden, Russian officials also criticized the summit. And also the president, of course, has said that he issued a pretty stinging statement, a pretty straightforward statement to President Putin, saying that if Russia were to invade Ukraine, that there would be strong economic sanctions levied on that country.

    So those are just some of the foreign policy challenges, along with, of course, the continuing issues with the consequences of the Afghanistan withdrawal, that the president is facing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then, of course, Yamiche, there is his domestic agenda.

    We know the Build Back Better piece of legislation still working its way through Congress. But how is the rest of his — where does the rest of the agenda stand? And how is all that affecting his standing among American voters?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this is really at the heart of the domestic issues that the president is facing.

    He was able to get through some big policy issues. But there is really this approval rating issue, as well as a perception that maybe the Biden administration isn't getting a lot of stuff done, even when Democratic lawmakers are saying, we have a lot to celebrate as Democrats. Of course, that's what they're saying.

    Now, I want to point out that Joe Manchin and put out for people that Joe Manchin is carrying around a card. That's a critical senator from West Virginia. He's been carrying around a card listing some of the accomplishments that Democrats have made. I want to read some of them to you, in March, $1.9 trillion passed as part of the American Rescue Plan.

    That was really focused on COVID relief. Then, in May, a COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, really focusing on making sure that people weren't targeted because of their ethnicity. Then, in November, $1 trillion infrastructure investment. That, of course, was the bipartisan infrastructure plan.

    But here's where things get interesting. The president's infrastructure ratings, an NPR/Marist poll found that — actually, I should say, his infrastructure ratings were 41 — 42 percent approve of those — of the infrastructure plan, but 51 percent disapprove of it.

    Now, when you look at the president's — I should say, when you look at the president's approval ratings — excuse me — they approve of him 42 percent/51 percent, but, when you compare that to infrastructure, 56 percent to 31 percent.

    So what that really shows is that the president's approval ratings are lower than what people see his infrastructure plans and his agenda. And that is the issue that the president's really trying to bridge and the issue that is really, in some ways, dominating the conversations at the White House here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, Yamiche, we know COVID is also a continuing challenge for the president.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    I mean, the COVID — the pandemic is something that's top of mind, the Omicron variant. The president just sat down with the COVID response team here at the White House. I was in the room. The president was not taking questions, but I shouted a question about rapid tests, because that's something that has not been as available to Americans as they have been in other countries.

    So that is still the number one priority, getting this pandemic under control. The president says it. And it is the thing that is absolutely dominating all the other sectors, all the other things that we have been talking about tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor reporting from the White House.

    Thank you, Yamiche.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks so much.

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