President Biden Talks Gas Prices, Empty Shelves, School Closures and More in Marathon Press Conference

·8 min read
President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden

Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock

President Joe Biden faced reporters Wednesday during a rare press conference that lasted nearly two hours.

Standing at a podium in the East Room of the White House on the eve of the anniversary of his inauguration, Biden, 79, began by listing some of what he felt were his year-old administration's accomplishments, including the now 200 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 6 million new jobs created, health care costs dropping and more.

And then he addressed the major obstacles still facing him and his team — like high inflation — the combination of which are contributing to his slumping approval from voters as he enters the only other guaranteed year his party will remain in full control of the government.

"It's been a year of challenges," Biden said, "but it's also been a year of enormous progress."

There was plenty of news to come out of the marathon press conference, including when he reaffirmed that Vice President Kamala Harris will be his running mate in 2024 when he seeks reelection

Here's more of what the president said on a range of topics:

Gas & Grocery Prices

"COVID-19 has created a lot of economic complications, including rapid price increases across the world economy," Biden said. "People see it at the gas pumps, the grocery stores and elsewhere."

Making sure "prices don't become entrenched" is the responsibility of the Federal Reserve, Biden said, pointing to the central banking system's missions to enable full employment while keeping prices stable.

RELATED: Americans Are Paying Highest Gas Prices Since 2014 — and Some Experts Say Costs May Keep Increasing

Though he added that he respects the independence of the Fed, Biden told reporters his administration is taking action to combat rising prices.

Inflation continues to rise faster than in decades as an array of consumers and employers speak out about the price crunch.

Washington's Republican minority, meanwhile, says the administration has failed to take it seriously.

"Here at the White House and for my friends in Congress, the best thing to tackle high prices is a more productive economy with greater capacity to deliver goods and services to the American people, and a growing economy where folks have more choices and more small businesses can compete and where more goods can get to market faster and cheaper," Biden said at Wednesday's press conference.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Image

His plan is threefold, he explained.

"First, fix the supply chain," he said. "We heard dire warnings about how these supply chain problems could create a real crisis around the holidays. So we acted."

The president claimed images of empty store shelves Americans may see on TV are misleading. "Eighty-nine percent are full, which is only a few points below what it was before the pandemic," he added.

The second part of his plan is to pass his Build Back Better legislation — over the objection of congressional Republicans and the skepticism of some Democratic senators. Biden claimed the legislation would lower the costs of eldercare, childcare, and prescription drugs.

"No other plan will do more to lower the costs for American families," Biden said, adding, "If price increases are what you're worried about, the best answer is my Build Back Better plan."

RELATED: Joe Manchin Says He Will Not Vote in Support of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better Act: 'This Is a No'

The third part of the plan is to promote competition. "In too many industries, a handful of giant companies dominate the market in sectors like meat processing, railroads, shipping, and other areas," he said.

"Look, I'm a capitalist," Biden said. "But capitalism without competition is not capitalism, it's exploitation."

Going to School vs. Remote Learning

The president took issue with the way a reporter phrased a question about schools closing and the rift between some teachers, who are concerned about their health during the pandemic, and parents, who find it arduous to keep kids at home when schools shut down to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

"First of all, I'd put in perspective the question you asked. Very few schools are closing. Over 95 percent are still open," Biden said after a reporter mentioned a teacher "revolt" and a "learning loss" for students. "If anyone watches this on television — "'My God … all those schools must be closing. What are we going to do?' "

In-person learning remains popular, though many say they prioritize health and safety more. As the reporter indicated, some teachers, parents and even students across the country have taken issue with the pace of in-person learning as COVID variants circulate.

Biden said he believes his American Rescue Plan — as well as an additional $10 billion for COVID testing — provides what schools need to safely stay open.

RELATED: Biden Administration to Distribute 400 Million Free N95 Face Masks Nationwide

Hailey Gallagher and President Joe Biden
Hailey Gallagher and President Joe Biden

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz President Joe Biden (left) and Hailey Gallagher

"All that money is there. There's billions of dollars made available. That's there," he said. "Not every school district has used it as well as it should be used. But it's there. The president expects the number of schools open will go beyond the current 95 percent, reaching "as time goes on" 98 to 99 percent, he said.

The small percentage of schools that are closed is "always going to be the top of the news," he added, urging parents — as well as the news media — to keep things in perspective.

Russia & Ukraine

As Russia appears prepared for an invasion of its European neighbor — which may trigger a major crisis in the region — Biden warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has "never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves" into Ukraine.

"We've had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I," the president said.

"Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do," Biden added. "But if they actually do what they're capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia … our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy."

RELATED: Biden-Putin Meeting Off to a Chaotic Start with First Joint Appearance

Biden offered another glimpse at his conversations with Putin.

"He has no problem understanding me, nor me him," Biden told reporters, adding that he was frank with the Russian president when they spoke, asking him whether his country would be able to sustain the sanctions the U.S. and its allies have planned.

"You can go in and, over time, at great loss and economic loss, go in and occupy Ukraine. But how many years? One? Three? Five? Ten? What is that going to take? What toll does that take? It's real. It's consequential. So, this is not all just a cakewalk for Russia," Biden said.

Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin
Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images From left: Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden

Still, the president said he expects a conflict of some sort but not a full-blown war.

"Do I think he'll test the West, test the United States and NATO, as significantly as he can?" Biden said. "Yes, I think he will."

President Biden & the Conservative Press

Biden, who has held fewer press conferences in his first year in office than the three previous presidents, seemed pleased to be taking questions from reporters on Wednesday and even called on some correspondents from more adversarial outlets.

"How many more hours am I doing this? I'm happy to stick around," he said at one point well into the two-hour event.

Fox News' White House Correspondent Peter Doocy was out of his seat at this point, hand raised, hoping to be called on.

"You always ask the nicest questions," Biden said, acknowledging the fiery reporter who often goes head-to-head with Biden's Press Secretary Jen Psaki in the White House briefing room.

"All right, I got a whole binder full," Doocy replied.

"I know you do. None of them make a lot of sense to me," Biden said with a smile. "Fire away."

"Why are you trying so hard in your first year to pull the country so far to the left?" Doocy asked.

"Well, I'm not.," the president answered. "I don't know what you consider to be too far to the left." Biden then mentioned providing money for COVID prevention and recovery, his bipartisan infrastructure bill and efforts to help working-class families. "I don't know how that is pointed to the left."

Peter Doocy
Peter Doocy

Fox News Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy at the White House

He continued, telling Doocy, "You guys have been trying to convince me that 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."

Later, Newsmax's James Rosen had a chance to ask a question in one of the more unusual moments of the two hours.

"Thank you very much for this honor," Rosen began. "I'd like to raise a delicate subject but with utmost respect for your life accomplishments and the high office you hold."

He then asked the president about a poll suggesting that some voters question whether Biden is "mentally fit."

"Well, I'll let you all make the judgment whether they're correct," Biden said. "Thank you."

But Rosen wasn't done. "The question I have for you, sir, before — if you'd let me finish — is: Why do you suppose such large segments of the American electorate have come to harbor such profound concerns about your cognitive fitness? Thank you."

Before moving on to finish the presser, he replied, "I have no idea."