President Joe Biden escalated his partisan rhetoric on January 19 during his first news conference in 10 months, laying the blame for his stalled agenda at the feet of Republicans and suggesting on the eve of his first anniversary that he has been surprised by their intransigence. “I honest to God don’t know what they’re for,” Biden said at one point during his nearly two-hour exchange with reporters. “What is their agenda?” He said the Republican Party is thoroughly cowed by 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?” Biden asked.
The shift intensified a harsher tone that President Joe Biden has taken this year toward Republicans, starting with an address commemorating the January 6 Capitol assault and continuing in Georgia last week with a blistering address suggesting that those who do not support the current voting rights bills will be remembered in history alongside such notorious racists as Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy. The sharp critique represents a major shift from Biden’s message during the presidential campaign when he said that Republicans would have an “epiphany” and that partisan gridlock would ease if he took office. And it signals a shift from an inaugural year focused on congressional action to a hard-fought election year with control of Congress at stake.
President Joe Biden also offered unvarnished thoughts about Russia’s intentions toward Ukraine, suggesting that President Vladimir Putin would probably invade the country. He suggested the US response would be different if Moscow launches a “minor incursion” vs. a massive ground invasion, causing a furor that quickly prompted the White House to clarify that he was distinguishing a military and non-military assault. The President also made news by confirming rumors that he plans to break up his roughly $2 trillion social welfare and climate legislation, called the Build Back Better package, into smaller bills.
The roughly two-hour exchange was much longer than expected or typical for a presidential news conference, and President Joe Biden called on far more reporters than he usually does. He joked about staying there for hours and even suggested that the journalists keep their questions short so he could answer more of them. Biden gave the news conference in a moment when his polls are falling and he faces a nation that is exhausted by a lingering pandemic and economic uncertainty.
A recent Gallup poll showed that just 40 percent of Americans approve of the job that President Joe Biden is doing, while 56 percent disapproved. That’s the lowest rating for any recent president at their one-year mark, aside from Trump, whose rating was a few points lower. He noted several times that the country is not where he had hoped and expected it to be. When asked if he’s done a good job unifying Americans he gave a nuanced answer. “The answer is, based on some of the stuff we’ve got done, I’d say yes,” Biden said. “But it’s not nearly unified as it should be. Biden telegraphed that he will spend more time traveling the country and talking to voters and less time embroiled in prolonged negotiations with Congress. “The public doesn’t want me to be the president-senator,” said Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate before becoming Barack Obama’s vice president. “They want me to be the president and let senators be senators.”
The President’s January 19 news conference took on greater significance than usual because it came on the eve of the anniversary of his first full year in office and also a moment when many of Joe Biden’s plans face turbulence. In what appeared to be a carefully calculated message, he repeatedly excoriated Republicans, accusing them of having no goal except opposing him, no leader except Trump, and no agenda at all. “I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was to make sure Biden didn’t get anything done,” he said. “What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they are for.”