President Joe Biden said he expects Russia will invade Ukraine but said Moscow would face a “severe cost” if it carries out “what they’re capable of doing” with the forces amassed on the border between the countries.
Holding his first question-and-answer session with reporters in months, Biden said that his guess is that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will move in” on Ukraine but said Putin “has never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed” if he does so.
“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades and it depends on what it does,” he said. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do etc., but if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces they’ve amassed on the border it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine and our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.”
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was aware that “there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice” in remarks to staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev.
During his press conference, Biden warned that the physical loss of life if Russia chooses to invade Ukraine “is going to be heavy, it’s going to be real, it’s going to be consequential” even if Russia is able to “prevail over time.”
Biden also addressed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, noting the “frustration and fatigue” among Americans in combatting the virus. He declared, though, that the virus was “not cause for panic.”
“We’ve been doing everything we can, learning and adapting as fast as we can and preparing for a future beyond the pandemic,” he said.
He added that while the White House should have done more testing for COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic, his administration is “doing more now,” including beginning a rollout of free tests mailed to Americans on Tuesday.
Additionally, Biden said the nation is “in a very different place now” with regard to the virus due to vaccines, boosters, masks, tests and antiviral pills to treat infections.
Addressing concerns about schools remaining open, Biden said that “very few schools are closing” while noting steps his administration has taken to ensure those that remain open are safe.
“We had the ability to provide the funding through the Recovery Act … the first act we passed to be able to make sure schools were able to be safe,” he said. “So we have new ventilation systems availlable for them. We have the way they handle a scrub down … the bathroom, cafeterias, buses, etc.”
Amid rising prices throughout the nation, Biden declared that “we need to get inflation under control,” highlighting the responsibility of the Federal Reserve to “recalibrate the support that is now necessary.”
“The critical job of making sure elevated prices don’t become entrenched rests with the Federal Reserve, which has a dual mandate: full employment and stable prices,” he said.
Speaking on the eve of the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, Biden said that he “didn’t overpromise” in his campaign before entering office despite hardships facing his agenda.
“I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is that we’re in a situation where we have made enormous progress.”
Biden went on to say that he would not scale back his agenda, despite the fact that his Build Back Better Act, which he’d hoped would fuel his plan for social reforms and ambitious climate change initiatives has stalled in the evenly split Senate, along with legislation to protect voting rights.
“We knew all along that a lot of this was going to be an uphill fight and one of the ways to do this is to make sure we make the contrast as clear as we can,” Biden said. “I don’t think there’s anything unrealistic about what we’re asking for. I’m not asking for castles in the sky. I’m asking for practical things the American people have been asking for for a long time. And I think that we can get it done.”
The president said he expects “big chunks” of the Build Back Better bill to pass through Congress but added he was unsure that the child tax credit and help for the cost of community colleges would be able to pass so he would be open to removing portions in order to get approval for the larger package.
“I’m not going to negotiate against myself, as to what should and shouldn’t be in it, but I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, come back and fight for the rest later,” he said.
With regard to voting rights, Biden said he was satisfied with Vice President Kamala Harris’ performance after he tasked her with leading the White House strategy on voting legislation and confirmed she would return as his running mate if he chooses to run for president again in 2024.
Biden said he did not reach out to Republicans ahead of Wednesday’s vote on the voting rights legislation, instead focusing on reaching a consensus among Democrats.
“I was trying to make sure we got everybody on the same page in my party on this score,” he said. “And I didn’t call many Republicans at all.”
Biden went on to say that one of his failures in his first year in office was his inability to “get my Republican friends to get in the game of making things better in this country.”
Although he did not reference Donald Trump by name, Biden alluded to the former president as he expressed that Republican members of Congress had expressed they could not support his policies out of fear of losing primary elections.
“You ever think one man out of office could intimidate an entire party where they’re unwilling to take any vote contrary to what he thinks should be taken for fear of being defeated in the primary?” Biden said.
Media watchers have pointed out that Biden has held six news conferences since he took office a year ago — fewer than most of his recent predecessors over their first year. Wednesday’s was Biden’s second question-and-answer session in the United States. His last solo press conference was held March 25.
Looking forward, Biden said he hoped to spend more time outside of the White House and among American people in 2022.
“I’m going to go out and talk to the public. I’m going to do public fora. I’m going to interface with them,” he said. “I’m going to make the case of what we’ve already done, why it’s important and what we’ll do, what will happen if they support what else I want to do.”
The president also said he plans to be be “deeply involved” in engaging with Democrats during midterm elections.
“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 and scores of them already asked me to come in and campaign with them and to go out and make the case in plain simple language as to what it is we have done , what we want to do and why we think it’s important.”