President Joe Biden gave a nearly two-hour press conference, wherein he gave multiple comments that caused the White House to enter damage control mode.
After nearly a year of media complaints about their lack of access to the president, Biden’s lengthy conference received widespread criticism.
The most vocal critics called it a “disaster,” but even mainstream outlets like The Washington Post reported that it “wound up reinforcing why he generally has been kept out of such lengthy back-and-forths.”
First, Biden said that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine might merit a lesser response.
“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,” Biden said. “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, etcetera.”
“But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing, with the force 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,” he added.
The White House quickly swooped in, with press secretary Jen Psaki issuing a statement hours later.
“President Biden has been clear with the Russian president: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies,” Psaki said.
Still, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a direct rebuttal to Biden’s remarks.
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Zelensky tweeted. “Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power.”
Biden’s comments on the integrity of the upcoming 2022 midterm elections also raised eyebrows.
When asked if he believes the election would be fair if Congress doesn’t pass voting rights legislation, Biden said: “Well, it all depends on whether or not we’re able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election.”
Later, when asked again about election outcomes, Biden said the midterms could “easily be illegitimate.”
Psaki took to Twitter to address the president’s words, saying he “was not casting doubt on the legitimacy in the 2022 election.”
She echoed similar sentiments on Thursday morning, during a rare appearance on Fox News.
“The point he was raising was both that in 2020, even amongst challenging circumstances, efforts to suppress the vote and the midst of a pandemic, there was record turnout, [among] Democrats and Republicans record turnout to go to the polls,” Psaki said.
When asked if the Ukrainian government had been in touch with the White House, Psaki said: “Our national security team has been in touch.”
“[Secretary of State] Tony Blinken is in Europe right now. Also, I would note the foreign minister conveyed just this morning that he is confident in the support of the United States, and he should be, because we are supportive, and we have their backs.”
Biden sought to clarify his remarks, offering a much different sentiment than before.
“I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding. If any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” he said. “Let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Biden’s comments “bizarre.”
“President Biden needs to clean up his remarks he needs to clearly state American resolve and clearly demonstrate American leadership,” McConnell said.