'My guess is he will move in': Biden predicts Russia will invade Ukraine in two-hour news conference – USA TODAY

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Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misquoted Biden’s comment on Ukraine. Biden said he believes that Putin will “move in” on Ukraine.
President Joe Biden predicted Russia would invade Ukraine but warned it would pay a steep price during a two-hour news conference where he also acknowledged challenges in his domestic agenda.
Biden used his first news conference in months to describe “a year of challenges, but also a year of progress” while also laying out his vision for the months ahead.
Asked about the specter of a new Cold War with Russia, the president said he expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, but U.S. and NATO allies would respond with “severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.”
“My guess is he will move in,” Biden said of Putin.
Biden also acknowledged his sweeping social and climate bill, which remains stalled in the Senate, would likely have to be broken up in “big chunks” in order to pass, losing key priorities like child care and prescription drugs in order to satisfy moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin, W-Va.
The president also admitted he could’ve been faster to boost testing as new COVID-19 variants emerged, but defended his administration’s response by saying he felt “we’ve done remarkably well.” And while he acknowledged the frustration and fatigue felt by millions of Americans, Biden insisted the country is moving toward a period where COVID-19 won’t disrupt daily life.
The news conference, which started at 4 p.m. in the East Room of the White House, was his ninth such event, according to a tally by the Associated Press.
More:Five things to expect from Biden’s news conference Wednesday: Inflation, COVID-19, voting rights and more
The White House tried quickly to clarify Biden’s suggestion that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine would come with a lower cost than a full-scale invasion.
Biden predicted during his nearly two-hour news conference that Russia would pay a steep price if it invades Ukraine. But he also suggested the level of punishment would depend on what an invasion might look like.
“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do,” he said.
The White House later issued a statement that tried to erase any doubts about the U.S.’s intentions should Russia attack 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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
“President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics,” Psaki said. “And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal and united response.
Michael Collins
President Biden was candid about the likelihood of a Russian invasion in Ukraine during his press briefing, speculating that Putin was attempting to reclaim Russia’s place in the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West. I’m not so certain what he is going to do. My guess is he will move in,” Biden said when asked if Putin desired a new Cold War with the United States.
Biden conceded that while NATO was willing to militarily support Ukraine and impose “severe economic consequences,” any future sanctions would also be economically damaging to the US and Europe. He cautioned, however, that such measures would “devastate” Russia to a far greater degree.
“Everybody talks about how Russia has control over the energy supply that Europe absorbs. Well, guess what: that money that they earn from that makes up about 45% of the economy. I don’t see that as a one-way street. They go ahead and cut it off, it’s like my mother used to say: you’re cutting off your nose in spite of your face,” Biden said.
The president also noted that the US has already armed Ukraine with at least $600 million in modern defense weaponry the country can use should Russia invade. Biden officials have said in recent days that the US would be willing to support an insurgency in Ukraine should Russia seek to the conquer the country.
“The cost of going into Ukraine in terms of physical loss of life for the Russians and they’ll be able to prevail over time but it’s going to be heavy, it’s going to real, it’s going to be consequential,” Biden warned.
— Matt Brown
More:Is a Russian invasion of Ukraine imminent? Here’s what we know
Biden says ‘new normal’ of pandemic life is more vaccinated people
Biden laid out his vision for the “new normal” of living with the coronavirus when asked what restrictions he imagined Americans might face a year from now.
“I hope the new normal will be that we don’t still have some 30 million people not vaccinated,” he said, adding that he’d like to see people look beyond their own interest and take advantage of COVID-19 resources.
The president’s strategy, which has centered boosting the U.S. vaccination rate, has been stuck around 60% of the U.S. population.
He said he also imagines the “new normal” utilizing COVID-19 developments like anti-viral pills and ensuring the rest of the world is able to also inoculate their populations.
Fully vaccinating the U.S. is “not enough,” Biden said.
“We have to do a lot more than we’re doing now,” he said. “And that’s why we have continue to keep the commitment of providing vaccines and available cures for the rest of the world.”
— Courtney Subramanian
More:‘Plateaus and downturns’ in new cases of omicron; how to get your free tests: Live COVID updates
Asked what he has done to restore Americans’ faith in the confidence of government, Biden said his administration has performed “remarkably well.”
Biden defended the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying there was no way to easily pull out of the country after 20 years. Had the U.S. stayed, it would have had to commit thousands more troops to maintain order, he said.
Biden said he also understands Americans’ overwhelming frustration, fear and concerns about inflation and COVID. But he pushed back on charges that his administration should have moved more quickly to ramp up COVID testing.
The U.S. is conducting more COVID testing than anywhere in the world and will continue to increase testing, he said.
— Michael Collins
More:Staying could mean death. The escape nearly killed her. How one woman fled Afghanistan for freedom.
Biden: “I’m not Bernie Sanders,” says he is “mainstream Democrat”
Biden disputed the premise of a question from Fox News’ Peter Doocy asking why he is “trying to pull the country to the left.”
“I don’t know what you consider to be too far to the left,” Biden said, going on to reference the bipartisan infrastructure law and Democrats’ COVID-19 stimulus package.
“You guys have been trying to convince I am Bernie Sanders. I’m not. I like him but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I’m not a socialist. I’m a mainstream Democrat and I have been,” Biden said.  And if you notice, 48 of the 50 Democrats supported me in the Senate on virtually everything I’ve asked.”
“You always ask me the nicest questions. None of them make a lot of sense to me but fire away,” Biden said before Doocy asked the question. 
— Matt Brown
Biden said the 2022 midterm elections could be “illegitimate” if Congress does not pass voting rights legislation. 
“I think it could easily be illegitimate,” Biden said when asked whether he believes there will be a “free and fair elections in 2022.” Former President Donald Trump and his supporters pushed back against the results of the 2020 midterms.
“The increase in the prospect of being illegitimate is in proportion to not being able to get these reforms passed,” the president continued.
— Rebecca Morin
Despite recent setbacks on his domestic agenda and public concern over inflation and COVID-19, Biden said he’s satisfied with his team and has no plans to shake up leadership at the White House.
Biden said this year he plans to hit the road more and make the case to Americans for what the administration has accomplished and will achieve if they continue to support him.
He said his new strategy will entail seeking more advice and constructive criticism from experts, academics and think thanks. Biden said he plans to hold meetings similar to the one he convened at the White House with historians during the first months of his presidency.
Biden also said he plans to be “deeply involved” in the off-year elections as Democrats prepare for a bruising midterm election in November.
“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,” he said.
— Courtney Subramanian
More:Biden, Democrats head into 2022 midterms with feistier message and slightly better polls. Is it enough?
Biden on Black voters: ‘I’ve had their back’
Biden responded to Black voters who believe his priority to pass voting rights legislation was a “last minute PR push” rather than a legitimate effort, saying that he has always had the “back” of Black voters.
“I’ve had their back; I’ve had their back my entire career,” Biden said. He added that the timing of why he pushed for voting rights legislation to pass is “not of one’s own choice.” 
“It’s dictated by events happening in the country and around the world as to what the focus is,” he said. He added that he has “not been out in the community enough” to connect with people to let them know his sincerity on where he stands on the issues.
— Rebecca Morin
Voting rights challenges:Biden’s agenda threatened by Sen. Sinema
Biden declined to outline his next steps on voting rights as the Senate appears on the verge of killing two major pieces of voting-rights legislation.
“I think there are number of things we can do,” he said, declining to go into detail.
Biden suggested that a good chunk of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, one of the bills that is pending in the Senate, could still be passed even if the overall legislation is defeated.
The bill would restore the Justice Department’s power to review changes in election laws in states with a history of discrimination. It also would give the Justice Department more authority, in all states, to block or overturn redistricting maps and state laws, including voter ID requirements and restrictions on voting by mail.
— Michael Collins
More:As voting rights push fizzles, Biden’s failure to unite his own party looms again
Biden says Harris has done good work on voting rights, will be running mate in 2024
Biden said he is satisfied with Vice President Kamala Harris’ work on advancing voting rights and that she would again be his running mate for reelection in 2024 when asked directly of her performance in office.
“She’s going to be my running mate,” Biden said when asked to elaborate about his reelection campaign in 2024. “And I did put her in charge and I think she’s doing a good job,” he continued, speaking to Harris’s work on voting rights.
— Matthew Brown
Biden pushed back against comments from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that the midterm election will be a “report card” on the Biden administration’s response to “inflation, border security and standing up to Russia.”
“My report card is going to look pretty good,” the president said. 
He added that McConnell’s main goal is to make sure Biden and his agenda does not “look good.”
“I actually like Mitch McConnell. We like one another,” he said. “But he has one straightforward objective: Make sure that there’s nothing I do that makes me look good — in his mind — with the public at large. And that’s okay. I’m a big boy. I’ve been here before.”
— Rebecca Morin
Biden: Build Back Better will probably be broken into smaller bills
Biden said he thinks Congress will pass parts of his Build Back Better bill if the mammoth legislation is broken into smaller, separate bills.
“It’s clear to me that that we’re gonna have to probably break it up,” he said in response to a question from USA TODAY.
Biden said he has talked to a number of lawmakers and believes there would be support for his plan to invest $500 billion into energy and environmental issues. He also said there is support for his plans to fortify early childhood education.
“I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest later,” he said.
— Michael Collins and Maureen Groppe
In a response to a question from USA TODAY, Biden said he thought the Supreme Court decision to strike down his vaccine-or-testing requirements on most employers was a “mistake” but insisted that thousands of corporations have implemented the policy anyway.
“I think we’ve seen an increase, not a decrease,” he said.
Biden declined to say whether he is considering requiring vaccinations for domestic air travel that some experts say could boost the country’s vaccination rate.
The Supreme Court decision struck down the federal rule last week, undercutting a critical component of Biden’s COVID-19 strategy to move the nationwide vaccination rate, which has been stuck around 60% of the U.S. population for months.
— Courtney Subramanian and Maureen Groppe
In case you missed it:Supreme Court blocks Biden COVID mandate requiring vaccine, testing at work. Here’s what we know.
Biden: Putin will face “severe economic consequences” should it invade Ukraine
Biden reiterated the US would impose “severe economic consequences” on Russia should it choose to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“I do not think he wants a full-blown war,” Biden said when asked if Putin desired a new Cold War with the West.  
“The idea that NATO isn’t going to be united, I don’t buy,” Biden said, noting that he had spoken with European leaders about the threat and that countries had reiterated their commitment to a united strategy.  
He noted that Russia had much power still but saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as a historic tragedy that needs to be reversed in some way.
— Matt Brown
More:Is a Russian invasion of Ukraine imminent? Here’s what we know
Biden reiterated the administration’s promise that schools would not close despite a record surge in infections that caused some to return to digital learning and frustrated parents left without childcare options.
“We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re not going back to closing schools,” Biden said, adding the country was better off in combatting COVID-19 than a year ago.
He emphasized that 95% of schools remain open despite media coverage and insisted the administration has made funding available to keep up with sanitizing classrooms, implementing testing programs and investing in new ventilation systems. The administration recently announced an additional $10 billion to help schools address testing shortages.
Not every school district has used the funding “as well as it should be used,” he added, but he predicted the small percentage of schools that are closed would soon open.
—  Courtney Subramanian
Biden vowed he would not scale-down his social-spending legislation, known as Build Back Better, despite it being stalled in the Senate, but said passage could come in “pieces” or “big chunks.”
“I’m confident we can get pieces, big chunks of the Build Back Better plan, signed into law,” Biden said.
Some Democrats have pushed for Biden to break up the $1.85 trillion social-spending bill to get some items passed before the midterm elections. Biden singled out lowering prescription drug prices and childcare as items that are popular among Americans but that Republicans oppose.
“We just have to make the case, what we’re for and what the other team’s not,” Biden said.
— Joey Garrison
Biden said he does not believe he overpromised on his agenda as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and his signature domestic legislation stalled in Congress.
“I didn’t overpromise. I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen,” Biden said, responding to a question on whether he over promised what he could get done in the first year of his presidency. He said that he made “enormous progress” on the pandemic, saying that deaths are going down.
The president added that he “did not anticipate such a stalwart effort” to obstruct his agenda from Republicans. 
“I don’t think I’ve overpromised at all, and I’m going to stay on this track,” he said.
—  Rebecca Morin
Fact check:Omicron coronavirus variant is not the common cold
Biden acknowledged the hardship that rapidly rising prices have caused for American families but argued that his Build Back Better bill could help curtail growing inflation.
“If price increases are what you’re worried about, the best answer is my Build Back Better plan,” he said.
Inflation hit a 39-year high in December as prices jumped for everything from food to rent to cars. Biden said the way to tackle high prices is a more productive economy, where more small businesses are able to compete and goods can get to the market faster and cheaper.
Biden pointed out that he signed an executive order to tackle unfair competition, “and we’re going to continue to enforce it,” he said.
Despite the economic challenges, there has been progress on the economy, Biden said.
Biden said his administration has created 6 million new jobs, more in one year than any other time.  Unemployment dropped to 3.9%, child poverty fell by nearly 40%, and new businesses applications grew by 30%, he said.
—  Michael Collins
In touting progress the White House has on the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, Biden admitted that his administration should have started boosting COVID-19 testing earlier.
“Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes,” he said. “But we’re doing more now.”
He acknowledged the criticism he’s faced for testing shortages across the country and pandemic’s persistence that has frustrated the country. But he pointed to the administration’s latest efforts, including the launch of a website where Americans can request free at-home tests.
While some people have suggested Biden should recalibrate his COVID-19 strategy to live with the virus, the president insisted he’s “not going to give up and accept things as they are now.”
—  Courtney Subramanian
In opening remarks, President Joe Biden began his press conference touting progress on the economy, lowering unemployment and fighting-19 COVID but conceding that challenges remain.
“Still for all this progress, we know there’s a lot of frustration and fatigue in this country,” Biden said. “We know why: COVID-19 has now been challenging us in a way that it’s the new enemy.”
He said the pandemic will improve. “Some people may call what’s happening now the new normal. I call it a job not yet finished. It will get better.”
—  Joey Garrison
Biden’s approval:More than half of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of key issues
Manchin to speak on preserving filibuster during Biden’s press conference
While Biden looks to tout accomplishments during his press conference, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., is scheduled to speak on the Senate floor at 4:30 p.m. ET on his opposition to a filibuster carve-out to pass voting rights legislation.
The Senate is holding votes Wednesday on the doomed filibuster carveout proposal backed by Biden to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bills with a simple majority. Opposition from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is expected to prevent passage.
It will mark the second time in a week one of Biden’s fellow Democrats has undercut the president’s message. Sinema delivered a speech on the Senate Floor last Thursday reaffirming her opposition to filibuster changes less than an hour before Biden arrived at the Capitol to meet with Democrats to push voting rights.
—  Joey Garrison
The U.S. is threading a delicate needle on Russia and Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed to Ukrainian leaders on Wednesday that the United States and its European allies will support the eastern European country as it grapples with the threat of Russian invasion. 
But while offering a diplomatic off-ramp to Russian leaders, Biden administration officials are suggesting the U.S. would support an insurgency in Ukraine should Russia invade the country, according to a report Wednesday in the New York Times.
The top diplomat’s trip is part of broader engagement between the West and Russia, after talks between the two countries hit a wall last week. Russia has repeatedly said Ukraine’s drift toward the West and NATO is a threat to its national security and that it is willing to use force to reverse the country’s trajectory.
Understanding what’s going on:Is a Russian invasion of Ukraine imminent? Here’s what we know
— Matt Brown
President Joe Biden did not get a single question about the coronavirus pandemic at his first solo press conference, held at the White House last March.
That’s unlikely to be the case Wednesday.
Infections have been on the rise since the highly contagious omicron variant began sweeping the country last month, causing workforce disruptions and once again overburdening hospitals.
Biden has faced criticism from public health experts and even members of his own party over the shortage of at-home tests and other matters. The president is likely to tout recent actions, including Tuesday’s launch of a website to distribute free, at-home COVID-19 tests. The White House announced Wednesday it will also distribute 400 million free, high-quality masks through pharmacies and community health centers.
Still, Biden could be pressed on whether those actions are too little, too late and what more the administration can do as the pandemic approaches its third year.
Biden began his presidency saying his top priorities were addressing the pandemic its economic fallout.
— Maureen Groppe
While COVIDTests.gov was expected to start accepting orders on Wednesday, an “Order free at-home tests” button was added Tuesday, which brings users to usps.com/covidtests to order four at-home free tests.
USA TODAY tested the site and got a message that “COVID-19 tests will start shipping in late January.” The Postal Service will only send one set of  four free at-home coronavirus tests to valid residential addresses, the site said.
More info:At-home COVID test website launches early. How to order free testing kits from the government
— Kelly Tyko and Maureen Groppe
One of the topics President Biden will almost certainly be asked about on Wednesday is the filibuster — but what is it, exactly?
The filibuster is a controversial Senate rule that can advance or stall key legislation.
Once an obscure procedure, it”s been increasingly used to stall priorities of the majority coalition, most notably on issues relating to race and civil rights.
When senators have been at their most intransigent, majority parties have created filibuster exceptions for key areas of legislating, including for executive and judicial appointments.
Learn more here:What is the filibuster? A look at the Senate’s consequential quirk and debate on its future
— Matt Brown
President Joe Biden nominated a Muslim woman for a federal judgeship for the first time in U.S. history Wednesday as part of his administration’s push to reshape the federal judiciary with diversity.
Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, is Biden’s nominee for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. If confirmed by the Senate, Choudhury would become the first Muslim woman to serve as a federal judge and the first Bangladeshi American.
The latest round of eight nominations – the 13th since Biden took office one year ago – brings Biden’s total judicial nominees to 83 and continues his administration’s efforts to put more women and judges of color on the federal bench.
Get the whole story:Biden nominates Muslim woman to the federal bench, a first in US history as he diversifies the judiciary
— Joey Garrison
On the same day that President Joe Biden is set to speak to the press, the White House announced that his administration will start shipping 400 million free non-surgical N95 face masks to distribution sites nationwide this week to fight the surging omicron COVID-19 variant. 
Americans will be able to pick up their masks at one of “tens of thousands” of pharmacies, thousands of community centers and other locations across the country beginning late next week, the White House said.
The move comes as the rise in omicron COVID-19 cases has overwhelmed hospitals across the country, leading to mounting criticism over Biden’s ability to contain the pandemic. Recent polls have found more Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the pandemic than approve, undercutting a onetime strength for Biden. 
The White House expects the program to be fully up and running by early February. 
Read the full story here:Biden administration to ship free 400 million N95 masks across the US starting this week
— Joey Garrison
President Joe Biden’s press conference comes as his approval rating has been on a slide for months, led by concerns over his handling of the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Quinnipiac University poll last week found only 33% of Americans approve of Biden’s job performance – his lowest mark so far of his presidency – while 53% disapprove.
The results prompted White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon to issue an internal memo calling the poll an “outlier.” She noted that Biden’s approval rating remains significantly higher, 43%, in the FiveThirtyEight average of polls and questioned the Quinnipiac poll’s methodology.
Despite the poll finding less than 40% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the economy and coronavirus, the White House is touting these areas as Biden completes his first year in office.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed a pair of charts at Tuesday’s press briefing that highlighted 6.4 million jobs created since Biden took office, 74% of Americans fully vaccinated and a fall in the unemployment from 6.4% to 3.9%, among other metrics.
– Joey Garrison


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