President Joe Biden gave his first press conference of 2022 at a time when his administration is facing atrocious poll numbers, an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine, a Democratic Party fractured over the President’s domestic agenda, and backlash over his speech comparing Republicans to segregationists. For over two hours Biden was grilled by the press, although the president managed to maintain a defiant attitude. Here are the three takeaways of the contentious Biden press conference.
Biden believes (somehow) that he has “outperformed” expectations
The president’s overarching message is that his administration has not only done a fine enough job but that his year in office has been an incredibly successful one. At the beginning of the press conference, the president said that during his government there have been more jobs created than in any previous president, touted the passage of his infrastructure bill or that a majority of the country has received a vaccination.
It appears, however, that Biden’s team lives in a very different reality than the rest of the world. The president holds the lowest approval ratings of any modern president (except Trump) at this time, as inflation has reached record-breaking levels, the international prestige of America is tainted after the catastrophic retreat from Afghanistan, and a substantial majority of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction.
Biden pre-emptively delegitimizes the midterm elections
The Democratic Party has dedicated a substantial amount of political capital to pushing a federal overhaul of the American electoral system, as a response to what they have called the GOP’s systematic attempts to suppress the vote of minorities. Last year, Biden called the new Georgia electoral law “Jim Crow 2.0” and falsely claimed that it would reduce voting hours, and just last week he compared those Republicans who oppose destroying the Filibuster to the president of the Confederacy or notorious segregationist George Wallace. This Wednesday, President Biden went a step further.
When asked if the incoming midterm elections will be free and fair, he said the voting could “easily be illegitimate” and that “the prospect of an illegitimate election is in direct proportion to us being able to get these reforms passed”. Essentially saying the midterms could only be completely legitimate if Congress passes a partisan electoral overhaul.
Paradoxically, Democrats have defended the American electoral system against the accusations of former president Trump, who has loudly cast doubts on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. If Biden believes that American democracy is in serious danger, then casting doubts on an election that his party will probably lose months in advance is a very strange way of restoring confidence in the democratic system.
Russia is the biggest winner of the Biden press conference
Many of the questions aimed at the president were focused on the brewing crisis between Russia and Ukraine, where Putin has amassed tens of thousands of Russian soldiers and has openly threatened armed aggression against Kyiv if the United States does not acquiesce to the Kremlin’s demands. Biden’s remarks, instead of providing certainty, have awakened a diplomatic rift with Ukraine and forced the White House to immediately do some damage control just minutes after the press conference.
While Biden said that Russia would suffer severe sanctions if Putin decides to launch a grand invasion of Ukraine, the president also made it clear that he believes Moscow will move forward and also left the door open for a milder American response if the Russian attack is just a “minor incursion.” Biden explicitly said that “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, etc.”
The remarks were heavily criticized not only by Biden’s domestic opponents but by Ukraine itself, as a Ukrainian official told a CNN reporter that Biden’s comments “give the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure” and that the Ukrainian government was “shocked that the US President would distinguish between incursion and invasion.”
Just a few minutes after the press conference had ended, the White House released a short statement, in an obvious attempt of damage control, clarifying that “any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies.”
President Biden has been known for not being too open with the press, as he’s had far fewer press conferences and interviews than his predecessors. If anything is clear from Wednesday’s sample, is that 2022 will probably be not that different.