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Biden press conference marks start of difficult second year

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US President Joe Biden is looking to change the narrative as he enters his second year in office./AFP
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Jan 19, 2022 - 02:33 AM

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden holds a rare press conference Wednesday to kick off his second year in office, with a chance at resetting the agenda ahead of what could be brutal election reversals for Democrats.

This will be Biden’s first press conference of the year — and the first formal such event at all since he traveled to Glasgow at the start of November for the international climate summit.

Biden is likely to face questions on everything from the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and North Korea’s missile tests to US inflation, Covid-19 and what he calls a threat to democracy from his predecessor Donald Trump.

The event will ignite an intense effort by the White House to spin the calamitous last few weeks into a new narrative focusing on what officials say are Biden’s many, if overlooked, gains during his first year in the Oval Office.

Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the president would lay out how he took over “in incredibly difficult circumstances, fighting a pandemic, a massive economic downturn… (and) that there’s been a lot of progress.”

Psaki, who has borne most of the load in shaping Biden’s message over the last 12 months in her daily briefings, then pulled up graphs, joking, “You know how we love charts around here.”

One showed the economy bouncing back from initial Covid shock, with unemployment down to 3.9 percent from 6.4 percent a year ago. Another showed the number of adults fully vaccinated rising from one to 74 percent.

The charts “lay out a pretty stark contrast between where we started and where we are now,” Psaki said.

“Our objective is, and I think you’ll hear the president talk about it tomorrow, is how to build on the foundation.”

Not mentioned were a string of recent setbacks, including the highest inflation in decades and the Supreme Court striking down the administration’s vaccine mandate for large businesses.

The failure by Democrats to use their razor-thin majority in Congress last week to pass another top Biden priority — voting law reforms that he says are needed to protect US democracy — also went unmentioned.

The charts also did not portray the descent in Biden’s approval ratings from around 55 percent in the early days to just over 42 percent now.

Republicans coming back? 

Biden’s press conference comes on the eve of the anniversary of his January 20th inauguration.

With a State of the Union speech to Congress set for March 1, time is running short for Biden to change the mood ahead of midterm congressional elections in November, when Republicans are widely expected to crush his party and take control of the legislature.

That risks bringing two years of complete obstruction from Congress, likely including threats of impeachment and a slew of aggressive committee probes.

Trump, the Republican who continues to perpetuate the lie that he beat Biden in the 2020 election, is eyeing a possible attempt at another run at the White House in 2024.

The White House hopes that good news will gradually outweigh the pandemic-related gloom, with the economy continuing to rebound, the Omicron coronavirus variant tailing off, and Americans taking notice of Biden’s achievements, like massive spending on infrastructure.

But Biden himself has so far been spare in his own involvement in the messaging.

While Biden does interact with journalists in short, often hurried question and answer sessions at the White House, his lack of full press conferences has raised eyebrows.

He held just nine formal news conferences between taking office and December 31, compared to 22 by Trump in his first year and 27 by Barack Obama, according to a study by the White House Transition Project.

The paucity of one-on-one press interviews is even more remarkable: 22 for Biden, 92 for Trump and 156 for Obama.

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