President Biden holds news conference to mark one year in office

By Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Fernando Alfonso III and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0522 GMT (1322 HKT) January 20, 2022
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6:56 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Key takeaways from Biden's remarks reflecting on his first year in office

President Joe Biden answers questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on January 19 in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden answers questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on January 19 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden marked his first year in office with an address and news conference from the White House.

Biden highlighted his administration's accomplishments as well as the challenges that lie ahead as many priorities in his agenda remain stalled, including the Build Back Better Act and voting rights legislation.

The President said he thinks his report card going into the midterms is "pretty good," and is confident his administration will be able to sign into law "good chunks" of his agenda.

Biden took questions from reporters and spoke for more than 90 minutes.

Here are the key take aways:

  • Build Back Better Act: Biden signaled he's willing to break up the Build Back Better Act and pass sections of the law separately. “I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, come back and fight for the rest later,” the President said. The economic package was stalled last month, when a deal with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin could not be reached.
  • Voting rights: The President admitted that the current voting rights legislation will likely not pass. He added that it will be "difficult" to have fair elections if voting rights laws aren't passed. "It's going to be difficult. I make no bones about that, it's going to be difficult, but we're not there yet. We've not run out of options yet and we'll see how this moves," he said. The Senate is scheduled to vote on procedures later tonight in an effort to clear a path to pass voting rights legislation, but those efforts are expected to fail.
  • Russia and Ukraine: During his news conference, Biden suggested a "minor incursion" by Russia would elicit a lesser response than a full-scale invasion of the country.
  • Inflation: Biden acknowledged Americans are struggling with the high cost of living and threw his weight behind the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight inflation. 
  • Pandemic: The President admitted that more should have been done in terms of Covid-19 testing availability. "Look, we're also increasing testing. Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes. But we're doing more now," he said.
7:11 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

White House clarifies Biden's comments on Russia

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

The White House has issued a high-level clarification following President Biden's remarks suggesting potential disunity within NATO over how to respond in the event of a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine.

"President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If 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," said press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement.

Psaki continued by noting that the president "knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics."

Additionally, the statement continued with Psaki adding that Biden "affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response."

Earlier Wednesday: As part of a live press conference marking his first full year in office, Biden intimated that Western nations may not be fully aligned on how to react should Russia commit a lesser violation. 

"It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do," Biden told reporters at an East Room news conference. "But if they actually do what they're capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine."

6:36 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden says it's now clear to him that he is the President, not a "President-senator" 

From CNN's Sam Fossum

President Biden said one thing that has been made clear to him is the different role he now plays as President, opposed to his decades of service in the US Senate. 

"One of the things that I do think that has been made clear to me, speaking of polling, is the public doesn't want me to be the President-senator. They want me to be the President, and let senators be senators," Biden said during a news conference to mark his first year in office. 

"And so, I've made many mistakes I'm sure, if I've made a mistake, I'm used to negotiating to get things done. And I've been, in the past, relatively successful at it in the United States Senate, even as vice president. But I think that role as president is a different role," he added. 
5:54 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden says he's "unsure" the child tax credit can pass

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Biden said Wednesday that he was unsure that the child tax credit could pass in a scaled-back version of his Build Back Better agenda, a key provision Democrats have sought to extend that lacks support from moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. 

Earlier in the news conference, Biden expressed openness to splitting the Build Back Better bill into smaller pieces or “big chunks” that could pass, but notably did not mention the child tax credit.

When asked whether that would have to wait, Biden said it was one of two major priorities he campaigned on that he was unsure he could get in a scaled-back package.

“There's two really big components that I feel strongly about that I'm not sure I can get in the package. One is the child care tax credit. The other is help for the cost of community colleges. They are massive things that I have run on and I care a great deal about,” he said. 

Some context: Eligible American families received monthly payments of up to $300 per child from July 2021 until they expired in December 2021.

Manchin had expressed opposition to the provision, citing the cost of the sweeping bill to expand the social safety net. 

5:57 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden defends not prioritizing voting rights legislation earlier

President Biden defended his record on voting rights amid criticism that he did not prioritize election reform earlier in his administration.

“I started on the voting right issues long, long ago," Biden said at a news conference at the White House to mark his first year in office. "That's what got me involved with politics in the first place.”

“I'm sure there are those who are saying that, why didn't Biden push [the] John Lewis bill as hard as he pushed it the last month,” Biden said. “Why didn't he push it six months ago as hard as he did now? The fact is that there is – there's a timing that is not of one's own choice. It's dictated by events happening in country and around the world as to what the focus is,” he added.

Biden went on to say that he hasn't left Washington enough in the last few months to promote his agenda to the American people.

"I think that's a problem that is my own making, by not communicating as much as I should have," he said.

5:56 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Ukraine shocked at Biden "green light to Putin" incursion 

From CNN’s Matthew Chance

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A Ukrainian official told CNN’s Matthew Chance he is “shocked that the US President Biden would distinguish between incursion and invasion” and suggest that a minor incursion would not trigger sanctions but an invasion would. 

“This gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure,” the official added.

During his news conference marking one year in office, Biden suggested a "minor incursion" by Russia would elicit a lesser response than a full-scale invasion of the country.

The Ukrainian official added he’d never heard any nuance like this from the US administration before. 

“Kyiv is stunned,” he added, referring to the Ukrainian government.

5:50 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden outlines what he hopes to do differently in 2022, including soliciting more outside advice 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden says he wants to pierce the White House bubble during his second year in office.

He told CNN during the news conference that after containing a series of crises, he wants to solicit more outside advice and speak to more people outside the building.

"I'm satisfied with the team," Biden said, but went on to list three things he hopes to do differently in 2022.

"Number one, out of this place more often," he said. "I'm going to go out and talk to the public. I'm going to do public fora. I'm going to interface with them. I'm going to make the case of what we've already done, why it's important and what we'll do, what will happen if they support what else I want to do."

Biden has traveled less often than his predecessors due to being restrained by the pandemic. He has visited comparatively fewer states and has only been outside the US twice.

Biden said his second change would be consulting a wider range of advice from people outside the White House.

"I am bringing in more and more now that I have time," he said, noting he works as much as 14 hours a day. "Now that certain big chunks have been put in place and we know the direction, I'm also going to be out there seeking the more advice of experts outside from academia to editorial writers to think tanks, and I'm bringing them in, just like I did early on bringing in presidential historians to get their perspective on what we should be doing. Seeking more input. More information. More constructive criticism about what I should and shouldn't be doing."

Biden said his third change would be engaging more with Democrats during the midterm elections.

"I'm going to be deeply involved in these off-year elections," he said. "We're going to be raising a lot of money. We're going to be out there making sure that we're helping all those candidates and scores of them already asked me to come in and campaign with them to go out and make the case in plain simple language as to what it is we have done, what we want to do and why we think it's important."


5:48 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

As Biden speaks, Sen. Joe Manchin slams Democrats' push to gut filibuster

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As President Biden held a news conference to tout his administration's achievements during his first year in office, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin criticized his party over their push to end the filibuster in order to advance legislation on voting rights.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Manchin said he was speaking out against "a great misleading of the American people."

"Allowing one party to exert complete control in the Senate with only a simple majority will only pour fuel on the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing this nation apart," Manchin said. "You don't have to look very far to see how we're tearing ourselves apart. Every part of this country, people are divided now." 

The West Virginia Democrat has repeatedly said he will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster, which sets a 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation, creating an obstacle for his party as Senate Democrats push for a rules change.

At the same time, Biden was asked about voting rights, specifically about Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney's recent remarks, attacking the White House for keeping Republicans out of discussions over election reform.

"The fact is that I do think that Mitt is a serious guy," Biden said. "I think we can get things done. I predict that we'll get something done on the electoral reform side of this."

He continued, "But rather judge what we'll get done and not get done, all I can say is I'll continue to make the case why it's so important to not turn electoral process over to political persons set up to change the outcome of elections."

Some background: The Senate is on track to hold a vote Wednesday evening to attempt to break a GOP filibuster on voting legislation that combines key provisions of two bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Debate for the legislative package is under way Wednesday afternoon, and a vote is expected around 6:30 p.m. ET.

5:34 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal: There is no way to get out after 20 years easily

President Biden defended the US withdrawal from Afghanistan nearly five months later.

"Raise your hand if you think anyone was going to be able to unify Afghanistan under one single government? It's been the graveyard of empires for a solid reason: It is not susceptible to unity," Biden said during today's news conference.

Citing the weekly spending of nearly one billion dollars to keep American forces in the state, Biden noted what he called no possibility at a peaceful resolution.

"The question was, do I continue to spend that much money per week in the state of Afghanistan knowing that the idea that being able to succeed, other than sending more body bags back home, is highly, highly unusual," he said.

"There is no way to get out of Afghanistan after 20 years easily. Not possible, no matter when you did it. And I make no apologies for what I did," the President said.

Biden did, however, express empathy for the lives lost amid the withdrawal.

"I have a great concern for the women and men who were blown up on the line at the airport by a terrorist attack against them," he said.

Placing blame on previous administrations, Biden continued to defend the late August operation.

"Had we not gotten out, the acknowledgment is we'd be putting a lot more forces in ... do I feel badly [about] what's happening as a consequence of the incompetence of the Taliban? Yes, I do," Biden said, adding that there are "a whole range of things around the world, that we can't solve every problem. And so I don't view that as a competence issue."