Biden hails ‘enormous progress’ in first year despite pandemic

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US President Joe Biden holds a formal news conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC January 19, 2022. — Reuters pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - US President Joe Biden holds a formal news conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC January 19, 2022. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Jan 20 — A defiant President Joe Biden acknowledged missteps over the still-raging pandemic Wednesday 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.  

“It’s been a year of challenges,” Biden told reporters in the ornate East Room of the White House, saying he “didn’t anticipate” the level of obstruction 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.”

It was Biden’s first news conference of the year — and the first formal such event at all since November.

Biden was set 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 .

The press conference was at the core of an intense new 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 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 secretary, Jen Psaki said he has made “a lot of progress” in “incredibly difficult circumstances, fighting a pandemic, a massive economic downturn.”

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 pandemic fallout on the economy and that mass vaccination has been a success, with 74 per cent of adults now fully vaccinated.

However, Biden 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.

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 — was highlighted Wednesday as the Senate moved to almost certain defeat for two bills.

Republican comeback?

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.

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. Wednesday’s event was only the second held at the White House since he took office. — AFP

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