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Biden nods to Covid missteps, inflation pain as he caps his first year

"We have faced some of the biggest challenges that we've ever faced in this country these past few years," the president said Wednesday. "But we're getting through it."
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden acknowledged the frustration many Americans say they are feeling as both inflation and the pandemic surge at a rare news conference Wednesday, the final day of his first year in office.

"Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes. But we're doing more now," he said as he painted a portrait of slow progress.

He also said Russia was likely to invade Ukraine as the U.S. launched a new effort to resolve the standoff and Moscow continued to mass troops on its neighbor's doorstep.

"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. "And not only are we getting through it — we're laying the foundation for a future where America wins the 21st century by creating jobs at a record pace, and we need to get inflation under control."

Biden said that he would be out on the road more in his second year to sell his accomplishments, including the passage of a $500 billion infrastructure bill, and that he would continue to push for a wider $1.7 billion social spending bill.

But he said it was unlikely that he would be able to get his proposed child care tax credit and free community college through Congress, and he expressed frustration with Republicans who he said are not supporting any of his legislative efforts because they fear attacks from former President Donald Trump.

"Did you ever think that one man out of office could intimidate an entire party where they're unwilling to take any vote, contrary to what he thinks should be taken, for fear of being defeated in a primary?" Biden asked.

In just his second domestic news conference as president, Biden touted his first-year accomplishments, including economic growth, the vaccinations of 200 million people in the U.S. and efforts to keep schools and businesses open. He said he will continue to take steps to get the pandemic under control, including more widespread testing, and he urged the Federal Reserve to address inflation.

It was the first time Biden had formally taken questions from the full White House press corps since the climate summit in Scotland on Nov. 2.

Biden's approval numbers have consistently fallen since the summer as Democrats on Capitol Hill have struggled to find the votes to pass his social spending bill and voting rights legislation — measures he spent much of his first year in office trying to push through Congress.

He has hit the one-year mark of his presidency with Covid case numbers surging, including among the vaccinated, and hospitals overwhelmed with seriously ill unvaccinated patients. On the economy, unemployment numbers have dropped, but inflation has hit the highest level in decades.

And on the foreign policy front, the White House has said it expects Russia to invade Ukraine at any point, with diplomatic talks and the threat of sanctions so far having failed to de-escalate tensions.

"My guess is he will move in. He has to do something," Biden said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine.

"There's a whole range of things that I'm sure he's trying to calculate — how quickly you can do what he wants to do, and what does he want to do?" Biden said. "But he's not — he's an informed individual, and I'm sure, I believe, he's calculating what the immediate short-term and the near-term and the long-term consequences of Russia will be, and I don't think he's made up his mind."

But Biden warned of consequences. "I think he'll pay a serious and dear price for it that he doesn't think now will cost him what it's going to cost him, and I think he will regret having done it," Biden said.

The White House has increasingly focused on promoting the two legislative packages Biden was able to get through Congress last year, the American Rescue Plan, which provided Covid relief funds in the spring, and the infrastructure bill that was passed in the fall.

But the climate is far from where the administration said it expected to end Biden's first year when it entered the summer with Covid case numbers tumbling, hiring surging and the prospects of passing both the infrastructure bill and the larger social spending measure looking rosier.

Biden has held the fewest news conferences by a president in his first year in office since Ronald Reagan. Wednesday's event was just his seventh solo news conference, in addition to three joint events he has held with other world leaders, according to a tally by the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.