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Week in politics: Biden hits 1-year anniversary in office

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden observed his first anniversary in office this week, and he told a two-hour long press conference...

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look; I didn't overpromise, but I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen. The fact of the matter is that we're in a situation where we have made enormous progress.

SIMON: NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What do you make of this debate, Ron, that's picked up in the wake of that press conference about whether the president, who certainly knew about the split in the U.S. Senate, promised more than he could deliver?

ELVING: Of course he overpromised. All candidates overpromise. And if they win, they always find out it's harder than they thought, and things happen they can't control. You know, this much is clear, Scott. Expectations for this administration were far too high. And whether Biden set them or progressive allies and advocates did it - or perhaps it was the media - a lot of us got carried away talking about Biden's chance to be, you know, the new LBJ or the new FDR when he never had that kind of support in Congress that those presidents had. Expectations of that kind can be fatal.

SIMON: Yeah. What stands out for you from the president's first year?

ELVING: The big things were COVID and the economy and the divisions in the country. Biden made progress against the pandemic in his early months, and then he ran into a lot of anti-vax and anti-mandate resistance. And then two new variants in delta and omicron really slammed us back. On the economy, Congress passed his big American Rescue Plan and the big infrastructure bill - $3 trillion, all told. The first got done with just the united Democrats. The second, the infrastructure bill, had substantial Republican support. So we had a historic year for creating jobs and raising wages but also a big surge in inflation that's really dominating the conversation right now and knocking the stock market back down.

The rest of the Biden agenda was 100% opposed by the Republicans - the voting rights bills, the Build Back Better package, climate change, social programs. Biden might have overcome all of that if he had the full support of all 50 Democrats, but he came up short by two. So call it overpromising or underdelivering. In the end, the earlier wins were upstaged by the disappointments.

SIMON: Of course you mentioned voting rights, and the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, brought that bill to the floor for a vote even though he knew they would lose it. Why did he call the question just to fail?

ELVING: To highlight the issue, to make people take sides and do it in public. If you want busy folks around the country to know that decisions are being made about their voting rights, you need to showcase that issue, elevate that debate and have a vote. And in this case, every Democrat was in favor of the bills. But the Republicans wheeled out the filibuster, and two Democrats - Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema - were not willing to spike that cannon. They want it to be there for themselves or for their party to use on something they're opposed to down the road. So that's why the filibuster lives on, now in its third century - in some ways, may be more powerful than ever.

SIMON: And another set of words from the president's press conference that's gotten a lot of attention - you said NATO members disagreed on how to respond to, quote, "a minor incursion of Ukraine." I don't know what a minor incursion is, but what the president - was he perhaps saying too candidly that in the end, NATO and the U.S. can't do much or is unwilling to do much about Russia moving into Ukraine?

ELVING: Biden was out Thursday night saying any Russian military units crossing the border would be met with forceful response. But it's obvious we don't have an army in the field to meet the Russian army. Neither does anyone else in NATO. So we'd be supplying and aiding the Ukrainians as they defend themselves, and we'd be waiting to see how long Russia keeps it up. We also have the power to hurt Russia economically, possibly badly. But there would be blowback from that - higher oil prices, shut-offs and the natural gas supplies in Europe. We've got to keep in mind our allies and their interests and concerns.

SIMON: Supreme Court ruled against President Trump's - former President Trump's attempt to block the release of pages from the National Archives.

ELVING: The ruling was not just about Trump being out of office. It said the subject of this investigation, January 6, is so serious that even a sitting president could not withhold this information. So the committee is getting files and phone logs and a fuller picture of the White House role in what happened on January 6.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.