Biden hails ‘enormous progress’ during first year in office

Facing slumping approval ratings on eve of presidency’s one-year mark, Joe Biden promises to tackle COVID and rising prices.

Joe Biden stands at a podium to deliver a speech on eve of one-year mark of his presidency
'It's been a year of challenges, but it's also been a year of enormous progress,' Biden said during a news conference in Washington, DC on January 19, 2022 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden has said his administration achieved “enormous progress” during his first year in office, but stressed that he would continue to tackle key challenges, including COVID-19 and rising prices.

Speaking one day before his presidency hits the one-year mark, Biden on Wednesday highlighted his administration’s achievements, including getting millions of people in the United States vaccinated, combatting unemployment, and signing a massive infrastructure bill.

“It’s been a year of challenges, but it’s also been a year of enormous progress,” he told reporters during a news conference from the White House.

But the Democratic leader’s approval ratings have plummeted to as low as 40 percent in recent weeks, as two conservative US senators from Biden’s own party are blocking his agenda on Capitol Hill.

His administration also has been criticised over COVID-19 test kit shortages and long lines at testing sites around the country last month, which coincided with the rapid spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Biden on Wednesday promised to complete the US’s post-pandemic economic recovery, and also talked up his administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, including recent initiatives to provide free at-home testing and N95 masks to people across the country.

“Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes,” Biden said. “But we’re doing more now. We’ve gone from zero at-home tests a year ago, to 375 million tests on the market in just this month.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures show that 67 percent of eligible Americans above five years of age are now fully vaccinated, and nearly 80 percent have received at least one dose.

But vaccination efforts plateaued months into the Biden administration, hitting a wall of vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination attitudes fuelled by misinformation. As of mid-December, 15 percent of all American adults had not received a single jab, according to government data.

On Wednesday, Biden renewed his plea for Americans to get their jabs, including booster shots for those eligible. “We’re going to stick with our vaccination efforts because vaccinations works. So get vaccinated, please, and get your booster,” he said.

The president also ruled out returning to lockdowns and school closures, saying that the virus “won’t be a crisis but something to protect against and a threat”.

Roadblocks in Congress

Republicans were quick to criticise Biden’s remarks, blaming government spending for inflation and accusing the president of being weak on Russia.

The US has been engaged in weeks of diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions over Russia’s military buildup near its border with Ukraine, warning that it would impose harsh economic measures should Russian President Vladimir Putin choose to invade.

“All I hear from President Biden right now is excuses,” Republican Congressman Fred Keller wrote on Twitter. “Excuses for one year of failed leadership.”

Progressive observers disappointed with Biden’s inability so far to deliver on his election promises also criticised the president over his speech on Wednesday.

“GOPers are reactionaries – Dems have repeatedly since the 1970s pursued neoliberalism – Biden projected a dramatic change but has failed to fight and encourage the fight in his fellow citizens,” Harvey Kaye, a professor emeritus of democracy and justice studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, wrote on Twitter.

While Biden won the most votes of any US presidential candidate in history when he defeated Donald Trump in 2020, his ambitious plan to expand the social safety net and reverse some of his predecessor’s hardline policies has hit setbacks on Capitol Hill.

Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, dealt a big blow to the administration when he announced that he would not support Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, a giant spending bill that aimed to boost social programmes and investments in green energy.

Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema have also voiced opposition to Democrats’ efforts to abolish a Senate rule known as the filibuster in their push to pass legislation that would protect US voting rights.

To pass voting rights bills, Democrats needed to abolish or at least weaken the filibuster, which enables the minority party in the 100-member Senate to block major legislation by requiring a 60-vote threshold for bills to pass.

On Wednesday, Biden pledged to continue to work with senators to move his agenda forward.

“I didn’t over-promise,” he said, acknowledging that while passing voting rights protections would be “difficult” amid Republican opposition, the door is still open. “We’re not there yet. We have not run out of options, yet. We’ll see how this goes,” Biden said.

Source: Al Jazeera