By Kate Sullivan, CNN
President Joe Biden on Tuesday blamed the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine for troubling economic news as he and his administration went on the defensive over mounting inflation and rising gas prices.
The President’s speech at the White House was advertised by his advisers as being focused on his plan to fight inflation. While Biden did speak about inflation, he spent a significant amount of time attacking Republicans for a plan put out by the head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm rather than laying out any new proposals to combat the worst inflation the country has seen in 40 years.
Biden said combating inflation is his top domestic priority and acknowledged “families all across America are hurting.”
“They’re frustrated. I don’t blame them. I really don’t blame them. There’s a lot we have to do,” Biden said.
When asked by CNN’s Jeremy Diamond if his administration bears some responsibility for the rising prices, the President said, “I think our policies help, not hurt.”
During his speech, the President pointed to several steps his administration has already taken to bring down gas prices, including directing the release of one million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and enacting emergency measures to expand biofuel sales during the summer. He also cited his proposals to raise taxes on billionaires and other super-wealthy Americans and lower prescription drug prices for millions of Americans by letting Medicare negotiate drug prices, saying those ideas could help bring down inflation.
However, many of those proposals face a dead-end in Congress, and the President expressed frustration that Democrats don’t have the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass the kind of legislation he’s proposed. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
“We control all three branches of government — well, we don’t really,” Biden said.
Biden’s speech comes at a moment when bad economic news appears to be piling up and Democrats are getting worried about what it could portend for their chances in November’s midterms.
A CNN poll conducted by SSRS showed fewer than a third of Americans think the Democratic Party’s economic visions aligns with their own. Gas prices have also jumped to fresh record highs, with AAA reporting on Tuesday that the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is at $4.37 — a 17-cent spike in the past week. Last week the Federal Reserve announced it was taking aggressive action to lower inflation and is raising interest rates by a half-percentage point — something it hasn’t done in 22 years.
The administration has repeatedly pinned the blame for rising gas and energy prices on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the President again on Tuesday referred to it as “Putin’s price hike.”
Biden spent much of the speech repeatedly hammering “MAGA Republicans” and the extreme “ultra-MAGA” policies he says they would enact if the party wins control of Congress in the midterm elections.
“Americans have a choice right now between two paths reflecting two very different sets of values,” Biden says.
In the past week, Biden has ramped up his rhetoric against Republican and argued the far-right has overtaken the party as he tries to sharpen the contrast between his administration’s policies and what Republicans are proposing. It’s a significant messaging shift for a President who campaigned on unifying the country and turning down the political temperature and comes as Democrats scramble for an effective campaign message six months out from Election Day.
The President has seized on a plan put forward by Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the head of Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, as a primary example that leaders on the right fit into former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mold.
Scott’s plan, Biden argues, would raise taxes on working-class Americans and sunset programs like Social Security and Medicare. It includes several Trumpian proposals and even calls for completing a border wall and naming it after the former President. GOP leader Mitch McConnell has publicly rebuked the plan and wants to keep the focus on criticizing the Biden administration heading into the midterms.
“My plan is to lower everyday costs for hardworking Americans. And lower the deficit by asking large corporations and the wealthiest Americans to not engage in price gouging and to pay their fair share in taxes,” Biden said. “The Republican plan is to increase taxes on the middle class families, let billionaires and large companies off the hook as they raise profits, raise prices and reap profits at record amounts. And it’s really that simple.”
This story has been updated with additional developments on Tuesday.
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CNN’s Donald Judd and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.