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President Biden holds rare formal press conference to mark his 1st year office

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden is in a rough patch. He's at the end of his first year in office and finds his legislative agenda stalled, this pandemic still raging, and Russia is now threatening to invade Ukraine. His approval ratings are at a low, but he told reporters today that he plans to stay the course.

NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe was watching it all and joins us now to talk about it. Hey, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: Hi. OK, so this was a rare press conference, right? And it went on for a really long time, more than an hour and 50 minutes - almost two hours. What was the biggest headline, in your view, when it comes to his first year in office?

RASCOE: One of the biggest takeaways is that Biden acknowledged that he has run into challenges. He's in a rough patch, as you said, and that he does have to make some changes. He says that he still has confidence in his staff, but that he is planning to get out of the White House more.

One thing that he said he hasn't done is he hasn't gotten out into the Black community enough. And this does keep coming up because, you know, he said that he would have the Black community's back, and he talked about this because they were so important in the primary.

But there is this belief from the White House that they are not telling their story. They want to make their case. Biden also said he's going to be seeking more outside advisers and more guidance and input from outside of the White House. And he said that he plans to actively campaign with Democrats ahead of the November congressional elections to explain what he's done and what he wants to do.

CHANG: Right. Of course, Biden's first year in office was dominated by how to respond to COVID, something that he had promised to help defeat. Obviously, COVID is still very much with us. Let's take a listen to what Biden said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Some people may call what's happening now the new normal. I call it a job not yet finished. It will get better. We're moving toward a time when COVID-19 won't disrupt our daily lives.

CHANG: OK, so what have we learned, Ayesha, about what Biden plans to do differently in his second year when it comes to COVID?

RASCOE: Well, he acknowledged that people are frustrated and that they're unhappy about the way COVID is still impacting their life. But Biden also admitted that the White House could have moved sooner on testing and gotten that ramped up faster, especially after all of the setbacks that have happened around testing and struggles and shortages that have happened around testing recently.

Still, Biden argued that the U.S. is in a much better position than it was a year ago. And as far as testing, the government has bought about a billion tests and is distributing them to households and other facilities. And Biden is still pressing for more people to get vaccinated. He's saying that that is still the best way to keep the pandemic under control.

CHANG: Right. And what about other parts of his domestic agenda? Any meaningful changes there?

RASCOE: There was - a big headline is that he admitted that he will have to likely break up the sweeping Build Back Better package, which is supposed to be made up of social safety net spending and climate initiatives, and that it will likely have to go into smaller chunks. That's because he just doesn't have the support of all 50 Democratic senators to pass it, which is what he needs. And so he says there's enough support for spending on energy and environment. And he hopes to keep an extension of the child tax credit, but he's not sure whether that will make it.

CHANG: Right. Of course, as we mentioned, this news conference comes as Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine. What did President Biden say about where things stand on that front?

RASCOE: Biden said that he actually suspects that Russia will go into Ukraine, but he said that Biden - but Biden said that Putin will face severe economic penalties if he does anything like that and that it will affect Russia's ability to do business in U.S. dollars. If he does invade Ukraine, he threatened severe sanctions.

CHANG: That is NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Thank you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.