Jan 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden’s sense of reality is undercutting his own power

President Biden is seen checking his watch as his news conference went into overtime on Wednesday.
President Biden checked his watch as his news conference went into overtime on Wednesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Over nearly two hours on Wednesday, President Biden admitted the GOP has effectively blocked his agenda, Vladimir Putin can invade Ukraine with impunity and the coronavirus moves faster than the public health apparatus.

Why it matters: A big part of any president's mystique and leverage comes from the perception of the power they wield. Biden gave himself high marks on nearly every issue during his news conference, but he also gave his allies and adversaries — not to mention his staff — plenty to address during the next 24 hours.

  • Where Biden did seize control was near the end, when asked how he might change course.
  • He promised to get out of the White House and take his case to the people, seek more advice from outsiders and campaign hard on his record in the run-up to this fall's crucial midterms.
  • “I tell my Republican friends: Here I come,” said Biden, after declaring Vice President Kamala Harris would remain on his ticket in any re-election campaign.
  • His lament in dealing with the current Congress? “My buddy John McCain's gone."

Driving the news: Biden used his opening remarks and reporter answers to do a victory lap over his first year in office.

It included enacting a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and managing a once-in-a-century, evolving pandemic.

  • "I didn’t overpromise," the president declared more than once. "I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen."
  • “Can you think of another president who has done as much in one year?”
  • With the Omicron variant surging across the country, and Americans scrambling to find COVID tests, Biden only conceded he wished he “moved a month earlier” to boost capacity.

Between the lines: At times, Biden sounded like the man he replaced: boastful, unapologetic and unwilling to make any major policy course corrections.

  • His comments about Ukraine caused shockwaves in Kyiv, where the government has been trying to buoy its citizens and soldiers with statements of support from its democratic allies.
  • "My guess is he will move in," Biden said of Putin, the Russian president.
  • The Western response will depend on whether "it's a minor incursion."
  • A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Axios: “At first we didn’t believe our ears, but we replayed the audio and the president of the United States actually distinguished between a small and large invasion, and suggested Russia could proceed with impunity with a small one. This is simply outrageous."

The big picture: Biden is polling in the low 40s, with the White House only challenging a survey that put him in the low 30s.

  • “I don’t believe the polls,” the president said.
  • Asked about supply chain issues that have clogged ports and slowed down the delivery of goods, he replied: "The share of goods of stocks at stores is at 89%. ... I think the report card looks pretty good.”
  • As for Afghanistan, he said, “I make no apologies" for the troop withdrawal that resulted in late-summer chaos. He did express concern for the 13 Americans killed in the process.
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