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Biden holds a rare solo news conference ahead of his 1-year tenure

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, President Joe Biden held a formal White House press conference on Wednesday, answering journalistic questions about his handling of the pandemic, the economy and the legislative agenda that characterized the country as united - but not so much as it could be - and raised eyebrows by saying that Russia would probably invade Ukraine.

"It's been a year of challenges, but it's also many years of tremendous progress," Biden said at the outset, ticking through the successes of his administration before asking questions from journalists.

With Biden facing the limits of what he can achieve with an evenly distributed Senate, unable to get either his signature package on social spending or major suffrage reforms through Congress in recent weeks, and with the pandemic still furiously far into his second, his approval rating in polls has hit a record low level. A Quinnipiac survey on January 12 showed that his approval rating was 33%, down 3 points from November.

Asked at one point about the declining numbers indicating that Americans are dissatisfied with his job performance, Biden replied bluntly, "I do not believe in the polls."

The president proclaimed victories over the past year to launch the news conference, including the administration of more than 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and record-low unemployment rates in many states.

"Should we have done more tests earlier? Yes," Biden said in his introductory remarks. "But we're doing more now. We've gone from zero home tests a year ago to 375 million tests on the market this month."

He said the bottom line about COVID-19 is that the country is "a better place than we have been and have been so far" and reiterated his position not to go back to shutdowns and school closures.

"Some people may call what's happening now a new normal. I call it a job that has not yet been completed," Biden said with confidence. "We are moving towards a time when COVID-19 will not disrupt our daily lives, or COVID-19 will not be a crisis, but something to protect against and a threat. Look, we are not there yet. We will get there . "

The first question for Biden was whether he thinks he was overshadowing the American public what his administration could achieve in office a year later.

"Look, I have not promised too much," replied a defensive Biden. "I have probably surpassed what anyone thought would happen. The thing is, we are in a situation where we have made tremendous progress."

Then he recognized a weakness.

"One thing I have not been able to do until now is get my Republican friends to join the game of making things better in this country," Biden said. "I had not foreseen that there would be such a faithful effort to ensure that the most important thing was that President Biden did not get anything done."

In a response to ABC News senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce, Biden initially said there was no need to turn down his agenda despite the appearance that Democrats are not getting their priorities through - before he admitted that he would be willing to break up policy points to adopt provisions that have bipartisan support.

"I'm not trying to - I'm not asking for castles in heaven," Biden replied. "I'm asking for practical things the American people have been asking for a long, long time. And I think we can get it done."

The bite told Bruce: "I'm convinced we can get pieces - large chunks of the Build Back Better Act signed into law" - that seem to support the landmark legislation for the first time.

Asked later to follow up on whether he would split the Democrats' proposed extension to the social safety net, Biden said: "It is clear to me that we will probably have to break it up."

"I'm not going to negotiate myself on what should and should not be in it, but I think we can break the package, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest. later." he added. The massive package includes items from free universal pre-K to paid federal family and sick leave.

"But I also think we'll be able to get significant pieces of legislation - if we do not get it all now - to build to get it, so that we get a large part of the John Lewis legislation (John Lewis Voting Rights). Advancement Act) as well as the For the People Act, ”Biden said.

On foreign policy, Biden said for the first time publicly that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to invade Ukraine - but warned that he would "pay a serious and expensive price for it."

In a few responses on Ukraine, NATO and Russia, however, Biden almost admitted that NATO is not united on how to react and seemed to draw a red line card from a total invasion for a total Western reaction - potentially giving Putin space to something less than troops crossing the border but still strongly destabilizing for Ukraine.

While Biden said he still believes Putin still does not want "any full-blown war," Biden said he believes Putin will "test" the United States as much as he could.

In connection with his personal performance, Biden outlined three things he would do differently in his second year in office. He said he intended to get out of Washington more often to meet with Americans face-to-face, welcome "more advice from outside experts" to constructive criticism and become "deeply involved in these off-year elections," as the midterm elections approach.

Asked later about the 2024 ambitions, Biden said Vice President Kamala Harris would be his deputy.

He concluded the nearly two-hour-long press conference by acknowledging that this is the first time he has been in this role while in Washington for more than five decades. Biden said the Americans "want me to be president and let senators be senators."

"And so, if I've made - I've made some mistakes, I'm sure. If I've made a mistake, I'm used to negotiating to get things done, and I've had relative success in the U.S. Senate in the past, "Even as vice president. And I think that role as president is a different role," he said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki created a pre-emptive defense of the president a day earlier, telling reporters, "You do not get everything done in the first year."

"But what we're fine with ... is getting into an incredibly difficult situation, fighting a pandemic, an economic a massive economic downturn, as a result, an administration that was before us that did not deal effectively a lot of these crises that a lot of progress has been made, "she added.

"We have to build on that. The work is not done, the job is not done, and we certainly do not convey that, so our goal, and I think that what you want to hear the President talk about tomorrow, is how we build on the foundation we laid in the first year, Psaki said.

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield cited the $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief law, the U.S. rescue plan and a larger, two-part infrastructure package as two achievements that Biden will highlight in an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday. But she also acknowledged that the president can do more on other issues.

"He has been laser-focused on taming COVIDs and boosting the economy. He would be the first to say we are not where we need to be at them," Bedingfield said.

Wednesday's session marks just the second time Biden has held a solo-formal press conference in the White House. The first such news conference was held on March 25, 2021.

Since then, he has held five news conferences on foreign travel, and three in collaboration with other foreign leaders in the White House, for a total of nine news conferences. While Biden often answers questions shouted by the press at other events, his number of formal news conferences is the lowest for any president since Ronald Reagan, according to data from the University of California Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project.

ABC News' Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.

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