PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden told House Democrats gathered here on Friday that 2022 “may be the most important off-year election in modern history,” gave his party credit for an improving economy and rejected blame for rising gas prices.
Biden, who was greeted by his party to a standing ovation at a caucus retreat, thanked a roomful of Democrats for passing a $1.5 trillion government funding bill this week, which includes aid to Ukraine in Russia's escalating war.
“Democrats didn’t cause this problem. Vladimir Putin did,” Biden said of the Russian president. “Putin’s gas tax has pushed prices higher.”
Biden touted the $1.9 trillion Covid relief and economic stimulus package on the anniversary of its enactment. “We created 6.7 million jobs last year, more than any other time in American history,” he said, pointing to a jobless rate down to 3.8 percent and the “best economic growth in the last four decades.”
“We did it alone. Without one single solitary Republican vote," he said. "It was the Democrats — it was you — that brought us back."
The president spoke to Democratic lawmakers as the party grapples with fierce political headwinds in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, with Republicans attempting to seize on voter angst to capture control of Congress.
If Republicans do so, the president said Friday, “The only thing I’ll have then is the veto pen.”
Democrats are conflicted over the best path to hang on to their slim majorities. Some argue lawmakers should communicate better, promote their victories and focus on bipartisan opportunities. Others say that isn't enough, and that Democrats need more policy wins to improve people's lives, including salvaging parts of Biden's Build Back Better Act, to have a reasonable chance of retaining Congress.
Biden said the real reason prices are so high in the U.S. — “notwithstanding what Republicans say” — is twofold: Covid’s disruptions to supply chains, and Putin’s war in Ukraine driving up gas prices. “Make no mistake, inflation’s largely the fault of Putin,” he said.
Biden said his administration has sought to promote domestic energy while trying to balance it with steps to boost clean energy and combating climate change.
He also praised the bipartisan infrastructure law and lamented that the few House Republicans who backed it have been attacked. "Even Mitch McConnell, for God's sake," supported it, Biden said, referring to the Senate minority leader.
He said the law will also deliver rural broadband so mothers don't have to "pull into a McDonald's parking lot" for internet access.
Biden discussed his steps to deliver "a crushing blow to Russia," as he seeks to tighten the squeeze on Putin. Earlier Friday, Biden announced a ban on Russian imports of vodka, diamonds and seafood to the U.S.
“We’re going to make sure Ukraine has the weapons to defend themselves against an invading Russian force," he said, vowing to defend "every inch of NATO territory," but added that "we will not fight the third world war in Ukraine."
Before he spoke, Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the president and told Democrats that “our democracy is on the ballot here,” citing the Republican National Committee’s use of the phrase “legitimate political discourse” to describe the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a mob of then-President Donald Trump's backers.
She said Democrats must now let “Republicans have their way in suppressing the vote and nullifying elections.”
After his remarks, Biden was set to hold a question-and-answer session with the Democratic lawmakers that was closed to the press.