The Inside Story-Biden’s First Year TRANSCRIPT




TRANSCRIPT

The Inside Story: Biden’s First Year

Episode 23 — January 20, 2022

Opening Animation:

U.S. President Joe Biden:

I Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. do solemnly swear...

Voice of PATSY WIDAKUSWARA, VOA White House Bureau Chief:

A challenging first year for President Joe Biden.

From managing the pandemic to uniting the nation.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

From competition with China to Russia’s growing shadow over Ukraine ...

The challenges, accomplishments and expectations ...

on The Inside Story: Biden’s First Year

The Inside Story:

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

I’m Patsy Widakuswara, VOA’s White House Bureau Chief.

Behind me is the White House where President Biden is ending his first year in office with low approval ratings largely due to an economic recovery dragged down by inflation and a pandemic that is surging yet again.

This despite him reaching consensus to pass a 1.9 trillion-dollar stimulus plan and a 1 trillion-dollar infrastructure package.

A 1.9 trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief package pushed through by the Biden administration in March has helped American businesses and families weather the financial impact of the pandemic.

The package sent $1,400 in stimulus funding to millions of Americans, and monthly payments that have proven successful in reducing poverty

But for many, rising inflation has minimized the impact of that assistance.

Telilia Scott, US Consumer:

Due to the COVID, people don’t have money. We’re just starting back to work, and stuff like this. This is outrageous, with the prices of the gas today.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

Consumer prices in December were 7% higher than those of the year-ago period, marking the highest inflation rate in 40 years.

Inflation has dampened economic recovery in a year that the administration says has shown the biggest job growth in American history.

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary:

Look at the initial unemployment claims. They’re on average 800 — they were at 812,000 a year ago. They’re now at 210,000. Unemployment rate and obviously job creation, the year before the president took office and the last year. As it relates to COVID, if we look to a year ago, only 1% of adults were fully vaccinated. 74% of adults are fully vaccinated now.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

A relatively smooth rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has offered protection to more than 200 million Americans, and even provided a brief return to normalcy last year.

That is, until omicron caused cases and hospitalizations to spike yet again.

The pandemic and inflation have been two major factors in President Joe Biden’s sinking approval ratings at the end of his first year, around 45 percent, according to Ipsos, a market research firm.

Mallory Newall, Ipsos:

The president campaigned on eradicating COVID and getting the economy, getting America back to normal. And the longer that the pandemic goes on, the more uncertainty Americans have, and frankly, the more frustration they feel about the fact that they’re still dealing with the pandemic.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

Meanwhile, Biden’s legislative agenda is also a mixed bag. He pushed through a $1 trillion infrastructure law with Republican support — the biggest investment in the nation’s public works in a generation.

But he has yet to pass Build Back Better, his $1.75 trillion social spending and climate change plan, even though it has already been cut in half from its original size.

Other legislative agenda items remain stuck. Two voting rights bills that would greatly expand federal control over elections are stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition.

Some analysts say the administration and Democrats need to reset their agenda.

Kevin Kosar, American Enterprise Institute:

They have to ask themselves, realizing that Republicans are going to have very little interest in playing ball ((cooperating)) on high salience issues, what are the smaller things that they could work on that might build up over time and kind of change the narrative from ‘hey, this guy came in and took big swings at the plate and whiffed’ to ‘hey, this guy showed up, and he hit a lot of singles’ Change the narrative from Biden came with two ambitious agendas and failed, to he tried and achieved many smaller victories.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

And despite Biden’s promise to heal a divided nation, Americans are still deeply polarized following the Capitol siege by supporters of Donald Trump on January 6, 2021. Polls suggest most Republicans still believe the baseless claim pushed by the former president, that the 2020 election was stolen.

Back in June, six months into the Biden presidency, more than 60 percent of Americans approved of his pandemic response.

Since then, Delta and Omicron variants, vaccine hesitancy and mixed messaging from the administration have pushed Biden’s pandemic approval rating to below 50 percent.

More from VOA’s Arash Arabasadi.

ARASH ARABASADI, VOA Correspondent:

Joe Biden campaigned on ending the pandemic. Now one year into his presidency, the pandemic is rolling into its third year.

Tom Hart, President of the ONE Campaign:

The president is really succeeding on the global response through direct commitments from the United States to countries in need in terms of doses, in terms of dollars, in terms of cooperation.

ARASH ARABASADI:

What hasn’t happened, says ONE Campaign’s Tom Hart, is bigger buy-in from Biden’s counterparts.

Tom Hart, President of the ONE Campaign:

Where they are not yet succeeding is providing the leadership to gather other countries together in a unified campaign to end the pandemic. What’s happening is wealthy countries are making individual commitments, and they sound good, but the parts are not adding up to the whole.

ARASH ARABASADI:

As COVID cases skyrocketed due to the omicron variant, January marked the first time that polls showed more Americans disapproving of Biden’s handling of the pandemic.

Eric Feigl-Ding, Senior Fellow, Federation of American Scientists:

I think the Biden administration, overall, has done well when it put its mind to it. So, I think they get an A minus, B plus. However, the issue is, oftentimes, some of their policies have over-relied on (a) vaccine-only approach.

ARASH ARABASADI:

Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding says the Biden administration could have done more to combat misinformation and to ensure that emergency funding for schools upgraded ventilation systems.

He faults the Biden administration for not providing home COVID tests and N95 masks for free or at cost after the president recently announced an insurance-based reimbursement program.

Eric Feigl-Ding, Senior Fellow, Federation of American Scientists:

Altogether, this is a pandemic of political leadership as well as the virus, as well as human behavior and politics around the human behavior. So, the Biden administration is not in control of every aspect of those, especially the misinformation. This is all the more important, and it reveals that the pandemic is not just solely a biological phenomenon. It is an information phenomenon.

ARASH ARABASADI:

Critics say the Biden administration must do more on the global stage as well as at home to get more vaccines to more people and convince the vaccine hesitant to come on board.

Arash Arabasadi, VOA News.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

A bitterly divided U.S. Congress is presenting a challenge to Biden’s ability to deliver on his agenda.

And that includes voting rights legislation to prevent states from imposing laws that limit voting access.

Republicans say those laws are in place to prevent voter fraud.

VOA’s Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson takes us inside the debate.

KATHERINE GYPSON, VOA Congressional Correspondent:

A final plea from the president of the United States ... Joe Biden on Capitol Hill Thursday making the case one more time for passage of a major voting rights bill.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

As long as I have breath in me, as long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

After months of failed attempts to pass the legislation in an evenly divided Senate, Biden encouraged Democrats to break the filibuster — a major rules change — bypassing Republicans to open up the opportunity for debate.

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary:

This is a historic chance to save our democracy, and we need to protect the fundamental form of American government. And his view is this absolutely should be bipartisan.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

But the White House failed to convince Senator Kyrtsen Sinema — who is the key Democratic vote needed for that change.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat:

Eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come. It is clear the two-party strategies are not working. Not for either side. And especially not for the country.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

Sinema’s argument for compromise puts her in the company of Republicans, who argue breaking those Senate rules would be harmful to American democracy — and repeatedly have blocked any attempts to debate voting rights.

Mitch McConell, Senate Minority Leader:

President Biden and Senate Democrats have been shouting, actually shouting, at the American people that an evil, racist anti-voting conspiracy will destroy democracy forever unless Democrats get total one-party control of the entire government starting next week.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

But Democrats say this legislation comes at a crucial moment for the United States, as it would expand access to the ballot box for minorities, including African Americans who have faced decades of discrimination and barriers to voting.

Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader:

If there was ever a power grab, it’s what is happening in the state legislatures right now, where Republican legislators are taking away people’s sacred right to vote and aiming it particularly at certain groups: people of color, young people, people in urban areas, older people, disabled people.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

A variety of polls show many Americans broadly support the ideas in the voting rights legislation — but are divided along partisan lines when it comes to ending the filibuster.

Katherine Gypson, VOA News, Washington.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

The political divide over voting rights is just one of the many challenges that Joe Biden is facing in year two of his presidency, with the clock ticking toward November’s congressional elections.in

Capri Cafaro is a former member of the Ohio Senate.

She is currently an executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs.

She spoke to "The Inside Story" producer, Elizabeth Cherneff about the president’s plan moving forward.

ELIZABETH CHERNEFF, Producer, The Inside Story:

The President is of course facing pressure from across the aisle. He’s also facing pressure from different wings of his party, that’s the moderate and progressive wings in the Democratic Party. What do you feel is the impact of that infighting for the Democrats for the midterms and then also for the party’s future?

Capri Cafaro, American University School of Public Affairs:

I mean, I think that the Democrats, because there has been such a lack of traction and success to achieve the goals that I think were set out by the Biden Harris administration in the beginning of taking over 2021, I think that that is going to continue, that infighting. I think it’s going to erode any kind of unity that might exist within the party, geographically, ideologically, you know, and a number of other factors that I think draw into that.

I think to say that linking a Democrat to the Biden White House is not a winning formula for success, I think, in this midterm election. And that’s bearing out in in opinion polls about Biden and even opinion polls about, you know, self-identifying as, as a Democrat or Republican. More and more individuals are self-identifying as Republicans than ever.

And I think part of that, I think is because there is this perception, whether or not it’s real or not, but I think there’s a perception that the Democratic Party maybe has lost sight of maybe wanting to compromise, maybe it’s more progressive than what people perceive as a center right nation in the United States. So it really is going to be a very difficult midterm climate.

ELIZABETH CHERNEFF:

So the public’s general impressions right now are kind of hovering around 40%, give or take, somewhat low but they may not be lasting and there’s always fluctuations in opinion. What can President Biden do? Do you think to sort of regain public confidence in his administration to get things done?

Capri Cafaro, American University School of Public Affairs:

I think, I think it would be wise for President Biden to maybe work with the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate to pare down some of those very large agenda pieces of legislation, whether it’s voting rights or even social spending bill. Pick out two or three items that they feel they can actually pass or might be able — like the child tax credit or even some of these matters of paid family leave. There are some elements that I think might be able to get traction by both Democrats and Republicans. Focus on the items that may have the best ability for success and actually get passed into law. And I think sending that message to the American public as well as to Congress I think would say the Biden administration is here, not to just put forth what we often hear as a wish list of policy priorities, but actually mean business to pass the elements that are possible in order to at least move the ball forward.

ELIZABETH CHERNEFF:

Under Biden, how would you assess the US relationship with Russia and China right now?

Capri Cafaro, American University School of Public Affairs:

I would say that the relationship is strained obviously with both Russia and China. and I, you know, in some, in some circumstances, certainly with China, our relationship even under the Trump administration was strained because of the tough stances that the Trump administration took on matters of trade and tariffs and the like. And I think those matters continue. Democrats historically have been very critical of unfair and unbalanced trade relationships between China and the United States and workplace and human rights violations that exist in China.

You know, the same I would say, with Russia. I think that again, depending on who you’re talking to, you know, some may say that we are weaker with Russia, depending on the position you take, because I think the argument may be "well you know in the previous administration, Russia would not have encroached on Ukraine. and it was under the Obama administration that Russia went in and annexed Crimea in 2014. The United States isn’t stepping up for lethal aid and so we’re weak."

All of these things are definitely a part of the narrative as far as the United States not being strong enough against Russia. But there is no two ways about the fact that relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation remains incredibly contentious.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

President Joe Biden came into office with the message that "America is back."

He promised that diplomacy would replace military power as the main instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

One year in, we take a look at how America’s allies and enemies are interpreting that message.

It’s been a quite a year in U.S. foreign policy — with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, widely seen as the biggest failure of President Joe Biden’s first year in office.

Michael Kugelman, Wilson Center:

Terrorism has intensified, and the Taliban takeover has led to sanctions that have put Afghanistan in a position where it has an acute humanitarian crisis that could well lead to mass famine. And I think that this very precipitate, chaotic U.S. withdrawal is seen as links to those outcomes.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

The withdrawal is in line with the administration’s goal to decrease military engagement in the Middle East.

But challenges remain, including existing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and the stalled effort to rescue the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers that the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018.

Still, following years of America First under former President Donald Trump, Biden’s message is that America is back.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries that dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technical exploitation or disinformation. But we’re not seeking, say it again, we are not seeking a new Cold War, or a world divided into rigid blocs.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

But Biden has drawn fault lines — what he calls the struggle between democracies and autocracies. He rallied more than 100 countries at a virtual Summit for Democracy in December, excluding Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he met virtually on separate occasions, reinforcing a key theme in his foreign policy doctrine.

Stacie Goddard, Wellesley College:

Global cooperation around complex issues with the environment and pandemics that require cooperation with China, that require cooperation with Russia. But on the other hand, also trying to keep on this theme of the United States will cooperate with democracies, the United States is a democratic nation. And the United States does see an authoritarian challenge as a significant challenge.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

China, now a major adversary in military might and geopolitical influence, is Biden’s foreign policy priority.

But Russia, another rival, is not staying on the sidelines, mobilizing tens of thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border.

Andrew Lohsen, Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Russia is not a solved problem. It’s still a major actor that has interests that are divergent with the United States and our European allies. And so it really can’t be put in the box. I think what we’re seeing here is some behavior from the Russian Federation to remind the United States that it’s so they’re interested in wanting to pursue and that those interests can’t be ignored.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

Another unsolved problem is North Korea, where the administration is unwilling to cut a deal unless Kim Jong Un commits to winding down his nuclear weapons program.

In this week’s press freedom spotlight:

Julian Assange is appealing to Britain’s Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that the Wikileaks founder be extradited to the United States.

The 50-year-old founder of the whistleblowing website is facing charges of hacking and theft.

But press freedom advocates say Assange’s case could have broader implications.

More from our Henry Ridgwell in London.

HENRY RIDGWELL, VOA Contributor:

The ruling by British High Court judges Friday overturned an earlier court decision in January blocking Julian Assange’s extradition from Britain to the United States.

In that earlier decision, Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled there was a high risk that Assange would commit suicide if held in an American prison.

U.S. prosecutors appealed — and the British High Court has ruled in their favor.

Marcy Wheeler, U.S. Author on National Security and Civil Liberties:

Basically, judging that the assurances they gave to the U.K. that Assange would not be subjected to basically isolation or solitary confinement, unless he does something new to merit it — that those were sufficient to address the concerns raised by Vanessa Baraitser about Assange’s likelihood to commit suicide in U.S. jails.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

U.S. authorities accuse Assange of conspiring to gain access to U.S. military databases containing classified documents that were later published in WikiLeaks.

Supporters of Assange reacted to Friday’s court ruling with dismay. Assange’s fiancee and mother of his child said the U.S. assurances were "inherently unreliable."

Stella Morris, Partner of Julian Assange:

Julian represents the fundamentals of what it means to live in a free society, of what it means to have press freedom, of what it means for journalists to do their jobs without being afraid of spending the rest of their lives in prison.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

Friday’s ruling now leaves the decision to extradite Assange in the hands of Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel. However, defense lawyers can appeal the ruling.

Marcy Wheeler, U.S. Author on National Security and Civil Liberties:

They’ve also talked about appealing the underlying decision that ruled this did not impinge on journalism. It’s unclear whether they’re going to do that next. They also could appeal to the European courts.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

Recent revelations could be used by the defense in their appeal. A former Wikileaks insider turned FBI informer has said that he fabricated evidence used by the prosecution.

And in September, Yahoo News published a story alleging that the CIA had plotted to kidnap or even kill Assange in 2017.

Assange argues the freedom of the press is at stake. In 2010 and 2011, he oversaw the publication by Wikileaks of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and military reports relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were leaked by

former U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning. Assange says the leak exposed abuses by the U.S. military.

He faces 18 U.S. federal charges relating to allegations of hacking, theft of classified material, and the disclosure of the identities of U.S. informants, which prosecutors say put their lives at risk.

Marcy Wheeler, U.S. Author on National Security and Civil Liberties:

One of the things (Judge Vanessa) Baraitser said in deciding that he was not protected as a journalist is that at the very same time, he was soliciting these files from Chelsea Manning and offering to crack a password in doing it, he was also hacking targets in Iceland, he ultimately hacked — or attempted to hack — a Wikileaks dissident. There’s a lot in there that Wikileaks doesn’t like to talk about because it has nothing to do with journalism.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

Human rights and press freedom groups have strongly condemned the High Court decision.

Any appeals must be lodged within the next two weeks — but it’s possible judges would reject any further hearings on the case.

Henry Ridgwell, for VOA News, London.

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA:

That’s all the time we have for now.

Follow me on Twitter at pwidakuswara ...

Follow VOA News on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Stay connected at VOANews.com

Thanks for being with us.

See you next week for The Inside Story.

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