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White House Correspondents Analyze Biden’s Presidency at First IOP Forum of 2022

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Four veteran White House correspondents examined the challenges facing President Joe Biden after concluding his first year in office, ranging from foreign policy to the Covid-19 pandemic, during the Institute of Politics’ first John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum of the year.

In a virtual forum held on Wednesday, David E. Sanger ’82, White House and national security correspondent for the New York Times; Abby D. Phillip ’10, senior political correspondent for CNN; Kelly O’Donnell, senior White House correspondent for NBC News; and Dan Balz, chief correspondent for the Washington Post and IOP senior fellow, analyzed the major issues troubling Biden as he prepares to lead the Democrats to the midterm elections this November.

The journalists kicked off the event by discussing news that broke Wednesday that Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer plans to retire. Phillip, a former Crimson News editor, said his retirement is indicative of diminishing bipartisanship in Washington, D.C.

“The partisanship of confirmations is probably here to stay,” Phillip said. “I think it’s probably the case that if there is a Senate that is different from the party of the president sitting in the White House, it is unlikely that there will be any movement on a Supreme Court justice.”

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O’Donnell said the Biden administration would welcome the announcement of Breyer’s retirement at a time when polls are showing African American voters losing faith in the president. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

“Here is a moment where he can choose a woman of color who is distinguished, and will be the focus of a lot of national discussion, and will have a chance to have a huge impact in the future,” she said. “That’s a big legacy opportunity for President Biden.”

The panel also discussed the legislative setbacks Biden has faced and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Biden administration came in knowing that this was job one – that they had to deal with the pandemic, and they had to do something about it as rapidly as possible,” Balz said. “Just at the moment where they were hoping to declare, if not full victory, at least freedom is around the corner, they were slammed by the Delta variant.”

Sanger, an adjunct lecturer at the Kennedy School, spoke about the buildup of Russian troops on the border to Ukraine and its implications for U.S. foreign policy.

“I can’t stress to you enough the degree to which the Biden administration is really in crisis mode on this,” he said.

The event concluded with a discussion about how the Biden administration’s desire to focus its foreign policy agenda on China has been sidelined by the Russian military presence on the Ukrainian border.

In an interview after the forum, Sanger — a former Crimson News editor — said his love for the IOP stems from his time as a Harvard undergraduate.

“It’s just a wonderful place where the real world meets the theory and sometimes the practice of what's taught in the Kennedy School,” he said.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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