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Biden gives a rare formal press conference following the midterms

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Midterms are traditionally tough for the party in power, especially for presidents whose popularity ratings are not that great. But last night, things went surprisingly well for Democrats and for President Biden. Today, he took a bit of a victory lap at the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It was a good day, I think, for democracy. And I think it was a good day for America.

CHANG: It was a rare formal press conference for President Biden. And here to give us more details is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So in recent history, presidents who do this day-after-the-Election-Day press conference, they usually or they have used words like shellacking or thumpin' to describe what happened to their party in the midterms. Can you tell us, like, how did President Biden describe this election?

KEITH: Well, this wasn't a thumpin' or a shellacking, and he avoided adding any new adjectives to the political lexicon. I would say that he was relaxed. He was confident. As we know, control of both the House and the Senate are still up in the air. But he said that the message that he took from the election was that the American people want him to work together with Congress. And to that end, he plans to invite leaders over to the White House later this month. But I have to say, he was also unapologetic. When asked how he would change or what he would change about his governing going forward, he said he wouldn't change a thing.

CHANG: But, really, isn't it a little soon to be doing a victory lap here? Like, we don't even know how this is all going to shake out yet or how his agenda will be affected by the results, right?

KEITH: Yeah. He was asked about his agenda going forward, and he said that he would veto any attempts to reverse the legislation that he and Democrats passed in the first two years and that he would not accept any cuts to Medicare or Social Security. In not so many words, he seemed to be saying that if Congress passed nothing else, he would still consider it a success to implement what has already been passed in the first two years. And he was relatively dismissive of the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, saying that he hadn't had much need to interact with him before.

CHANG: Right.

KEITH: If Republicans do end up winning control of the Senate, that could put the brakes on Biden's efforts to get judges confirmed. But with divided government, ambitions generally get scaled back. You and I have both covered divided government, you know, and things like just keeping the lights on and keeping the government funded can be challenge enough. Asked about potential investigations, including into his son, Hunter, Biden implied that Republicans could end up overreaching.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: I think the American people will look at all of that for what it is. It's just almost comedy. I mean, it's - but, you know, look; I can't control what they're going to do. All I can do is continue to try to make life better for the American people.

KEITH: And that sounded to me like a president who, if his party doesn't have control of Congress, will take a political foil as a consolation prize.

CHANG: Well, Biden has said in the past that he does intend to run for president in 2024. Do these midterms make that even more likely now? Like, what did he say about that?

KEITH: Yeah, he was asked a couple of times. He reiterated that he plans to run and that the midterms didn't affect that. But he also said, as he has before, that he respects fate and that he has to have a family conversation, one that he expects will happen sometime between Thanksgiving and the new year. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: My judgment of running when I announce, if I - my intention is that I run again. But I'm a great respecter of fate. And this is ultimately a family decision. I think everybody wants me to run, but we're going to have discussions about it. And I don't feel in any a hurry one way or another.

KEITH: He was asked what he would say to Americans who don't want him to run, and he said, watch me. And then he was asked about the possibility of former President Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis running, and he laughed and said that it would be fun to watch them take each other on.

CHANG: Anything else stand out to you from this press conference?

KEITH: He was asked to weigh in on Elon Musk and his purchase of Twitter with help from foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia. And Biden said that he thought that that was something that should be looked at, though he was quite careful in choosing his words.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.