(Trends Wide) — US President Joe Biden held a rare news conference on Wednesday afternoon, using the platform to call on Americans to be patient in the fight against covid-19 and to defend his record of success despite the odds. What do the polls say?
Biden spoke, on and off, for 112 minutes. These are the seven most important phrases of what he said.
1. “I didn’t over-promise. I probably exceeded what anyone would have thought.”
Biden took offense at the suggestion that he had bitten off more than he could chew, legislatively speaking. And he took a page out of his predecessor’s manual by boasting that he had done better than anyone expected. That is a debatable claim. He was able to get a covid-19 stimulus bill and infrastructure package through Congress and have it signed into law. But his Build Back Better Act is languishing and any major voting rights legislation seems a long way off.
2. “We are not going to close schools again. Schools must stay open.”
Biden spent the first 15 minutes of the press conference delivering a speech, much of which focused on his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fundamental message was this: We are not going back to where we were when he took office, and we don’t need to. His assertion that schools should stay open was the most newsworthy part of that promise, and one that should be appealing no matter the party.
3. “I’m confident we can get big chunks, big pieces, of Build Back Better (BBB) into law.”
There are two important things here: a) Biden admits that his BBB bill will not pass, and b) he supports splitting the legislation so some of the most popular parts will pass. That’s a strategy that acknowledges the political reality that Democrats badly need a legislative victory on their national agenda and that their longstanding hopes that the BBB passes in its entirety are now dashed. “It’s clear to me that we’re probably going to have to break it up,” Biden said later of the bill.
4. “I’m not so sure [el presidente ruso Vladimir Putin] be sure of what you are going to do. i guess it will move on [a Ucrania]. He has to do something.”
This was a WOW moment for anyone with even minimal knowledge of the current situation on the Ukrainian border. Biden, repeatedly challenged on this initial pronouncement, appeared to back down, insisting that he was unaware of Putin’s plan in terms of an invasion of eastern Ukraine (and his belief that Putin has not made up his mind). Still, the opening statement will attract a lot of attention and scrutiny.
5. “One thing I haven’t been able to do so far is get my Republican friends in the game to make things better in this country… What are they for? Name one thing they’re for.”
This will be Biden’s message in the upcoming midterms: that he has crossed the aisle to try to get Republicans on board with various policies and that they have been unwilling to do so. That the only Republican policy is to obstruct their agenda. They don’t have a proactive agenda. Which, well, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell is probably fine. “This midterm election will be a report card on the performance of this entire Democratic administration, the President, the House and the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said Wednesday.
6. “I’m happy to have a referendum on how I ran the economy.”
Biden is very, very likely to get his wish, as Republicans have made it clear they believe they can win majorities in the House and Senate by targeting inflation and supply chain issues plaguing the country. Biden (and other Democrats) will highlight the decline in the unemployment rate as a sign that things are moving in the right direction. Where is the public on this? In a December Trends Wide poll, only 44% approved of how he was handling the economy, while 55% disapproved. As Trends Wide’s Harry Enten has pointed out, that’s the “lowest net worth of any president at this time during his first term since at least Jimmy Carter in 1977.”
7. “They could easily be illegitimate… The increased prospect that [las elecciones de 2022] are illegitimate is proportional to the impossibility of approving these reforms”.
This is how Biden responded to a question about whether he was concerned that the results of the next election would be anything less than open. The connection between that prospect and the passage of voting rights reforms, which, for the time being, appear to be seriously stalled, is striking. If, one wonders, no major voting rights legislation is passed before the 2022 midterms, does that mean the results, especially if Republicans win, would be illegitimate?
The Point: How Biden fared during the press conference largely depends on where you stand on him overall. Yet his insistence that he is comfortable with the 2022 midterms being a referendum on the economy will undoubtedly cause some acidity to party strategists.