A defiant US President Joe Biden acknowledged missteps over the still-raging pandemic on January 19 but hailed a year of “enormous progress” on the US economy as he took stock of his first year in office.
In a rare news conference marking his first 12 months, Biden touted a period of unprecedented job creation, infrastructure improvements and a growing economy that he said would help counter inflation and supply chain woes plaguing his presidency.
During a marathon two-hour session in the ornate East Room of the White House, Biden faced questions on everything from soaring inflation to the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine to what he calls a threat to democracy from his predecessor Donald Trump.
“It’s been a year of challenges,” Biden told reporters, saying he “didn’t anticipate” the level of obstruction to his domestic agenda he has encountered from Republicans in Congress.
“But it has also been a year of enormous progress,” the US leader said.
“We went from two million people being vaccinated at the moment I was sworn in to 210 million Americans being fully vaccinated today. We created six million new jobs – more jobs in one year than any time before.”
Biden’s first news conference of the year was at the core of an intense new effort by the White House to spin a 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.
The US leader has faced 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.
And Biden’s administration is facing mounting criticism from both Democrats and Republicans over the lack of Covid-19 tests as the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus sweeps the country.
“We have faced some of the biggest challenges that we’ve ever faced in this country these past few years, challenges to our public health, challenges to our economy. But we’re getting through it,” Biden said.
“Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes. But we’re doing more now,” he said, as he touted steady progress on the pandemic.
On the economic front, the White House points out that in the last year, unemployment fell to 3.9 per cent from 6.4 per cent at the height of the pandemic’s fallout on the economy.
Lowering record price hikes would “be a haul”, Biden said, but he insisted the increases would subside if supply chain snarls and component shortages were resolved.
But in the meantime, he conceded, “it’s going to be painful for a lot of people” – saying high prices were being felt “at the gas pump, the grocery stores and elsewhere”.
The press conference came as a new Gallup poll showed Biden with just 40 per cent approval, down from 57 per cent when he started. Since World War II, only Trump’s first year averages were lower, Gallup said.
Biden’s press conference came 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.