5 key takeaways from US President Biden’s press conference | Politics News

Continued efforts to fight COVID-19 in the United States dominated Joe Biden’s White House press conference on Wednesday, as the US president urged Americans to get their shots and promised things would get better .

Biden, whose presidency will reach the one-year milestone on Thursday, also touted his administration’s recent push to ramp up coronavirus testing as infections linked to the Omicron variant surge across the country.

But the US president’s agenda continues to face hurdles in the US Congress, and a poll released earlier on Wednesday show Biden’s approval rating has fallen to a new low of 40% amid deadlocks in Washington.

Here’s a look at five key points from Biden’s press conference, from COVID-19 to tensions with Russia and the future of the Iran nuclear deal:

COVID-19: “It will get better”

Biden has come under fire in recent weeks for long lines outside coronavirus testing facilities in the United States, which are seeing rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and Omicron-related deaths.

“Should we have done more tests sooner? Yes. But we’re doing more now,” he said Wednesday, the same day a new website for Americans to order free home test kits went fully live.

Biden, who took office as the U.S. vaccine rollout began to gain momentum, stressed that nearly 210 million people in the United States are now fully vaccinated.

“Omicron has now challenged us… But even if it’s a cause for concern, it’s not a reason to panic. We did everything we could, learning and adapting as fast as we could, and preparing for a future beyond the pandemic,” he said.

The United States has the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths in the world, with more than 845,000 fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. “It will get better,” Biden said. “We are heading towards a time when COVID-19 will not disrupt our daily lives.”

Russia: “Ready to impose high costs”

The Biden administration has engaged in weeks of intensive diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions over Russia’s military buildup near its border with Ukraine, and the US president has spoken twice last month with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

On Wednesday, Biden once again reiterated that Russia would face unprecedented sanctions if Putin decides to invade Ukraine.

“If they actually do what they are able to do with the force amassed on the border, it will be a disaster for Russia if they invade Ukraine further,” he said. “Our allies and partners are prepared to impose significant costs and significant damage on Russia and the Russian economy.”

Biden’s press conference came just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv as part of a hastily organized diplomatic campaign to address the growing crisis .

Blinken will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Friday in Geneva.

US President Joe Biden had two direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month [File: The White House/Handout via Reuters]

Putin denied that Russia was planning to attack Ukraine and demanded a list of security guarantees, including ruling out NATO expansion eastward. The United States and NATO have said only members of the transatlantic alliance can decide when other countries can join.

Voting rights: “We have not exhausted our options”

Last week, Biden endorsed an effort to change U.S. Senate rules to pass legislation that Democrats say is needed to counter Republican-led efforts to introduce restrictive state-level election laws. The push to change the “buccaneer”, however, stalled after two key Democrats from the equally divided Senate said they would not support him.

Supporters have urged the president to do more to ensure voting rights are protected, especially among black and other communities of color who have historically been disenfranchised in the United States.

Asked about the issue on Wednesday, Biden said he thinks minority voters will be “ready to line up and defy attempts to prevent them from voting” in congressional midterm elections later this year. .

He acknowledged that passing the suffrage protections was going to be “difficult” amid Republican opposition in Congress, but he suggested the door remains open. “We are not there yet. We haven’t run out of options yet. We’ll see how it goes,” Biden said.

Iran nuclear talks: ‘No time to give up’

Asked whether the indirect negotiations underway in Vienna could revive the Iran nuclear deal, Biden said Wednesday: “Now is not the time to give up.”

The United States and Iran are engaged in indirect talks in the Austrian capital to revive the 2015 multilateral agreement, which saw Tehran cut its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions on its economy.

Former US President Donald Trump canceled the deal in 2018 and launched a maximum pressure campaign against Iran. Biden has promised to return to the deal, but months of negotiations have failed to revive the deal.

“There is progress being made. The P5+1 is on the same page. But that remains to be seen,” Biden told reporters, referring to the deal’s first signatories: the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, the China and France – plus Germany.

Infrastructure in the United States: “better jobs for millions”

A key part of the Biden administration’s agenda in its first year was a bipartisan infrastructure bill, officially known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion bill that the US president signed into law in November after much political wrangling.

Biden hailed the law — which aims to help rebuild bridges, roads and other key infrastructure across the United States — as a rare show of bipartisanship in a country still reeling from deep political divisions in the aftermath of Trump’s presidency.

On Wednesday, the president said the legislation will allow his administration to “make a record investment in rebuilding America” ​​and create “better jobs for millions of people.”

In a statement ahead of the press conference, the White House also said the administration had created more than 6 million jobs in its first year while the US unemployment rate fell from 6.2% when Biden took office at 3.9%.

Kevin E. Boling