During his first press conference as president, Joe Biden on Thursday denied that his policies and rhetoric were to blame for the surge of migrants at the border, doubled his first 100 days COVID-19 vaccination goal, and chastised Republicans for pushing voting restrictions that he called “un-American” and “sick.”
Biden also addressed American foreign policy in Afghanistan, China and North Korea; took digs at his predecessor, Donald Trump; and said he expects to run for re-election in 2024.
When asked if he is open to eliminating the Senate filibuster, Biden agreed with critics who say it is a “relic of Jim Crow” that’s been abused. But he declined to fully endorse getting rid of the rule.
And he painted himself as a realist who was “hired to solve problems, not create divisions.”
Biden, who wore a navy suit and navy-striped tie, started the press conference with a “progress report” on his administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. After already hitting his initial goal of vaccinating 100 million people in his first 100 days in office – not a particularly ambitious goal considering the Trump administration was already vaccinating a million people per day before Biden took office – Biden announced that he was doubling the goal to 200 million. “I know it’s ambitious,” he said.
He also said that he was nearing his goal of having a majority of elementary and middle schools fully open in his first 100 days. “We’re really close,” Biden said.
The first questions of the day were about the growing crisis at the southern border, a topic reporters came back to several times throughout the hour-long press conference.
Biden denied that his policies or his rhetoric about immigration is the cause of a surge of migrants at the southern border, instead attributing it to an annual increase of people making the trek to the United States during the winter months. Biden campaigned on instituting more humane border policies, dismantled several Trump-era measures designed to deter people from making the trek to the U.S., and has proposed a path to citizenship for approximately 11 million illegal immigrants currently believed to be living in the country.
Biden joked that he wished it was true that migrants were rushing to come into the country because “I’m a decent man.” He pointed to a similar surge under Trump in 2019, and questioned if that surge was “because he’s a nice guy, doing good things on the border?”
“I like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not,” Biden said.
Biden called the over-crowded Border Patrol facilities “totally unacceptable,” but said most of the unaccompanied minors currently in the facilities aren’t young children, but older, teenage boys. Biden promised to eventually grant reporters full access to the facilities, but wouldn’t say how soon that would happen. “I don’t know. To be clear,” he said.
Biden has denied reporters access to most over-crowded border facilities. On Wednesday, in the leadup to the press conference, the administration allowed a reporter and camera crew to enter one Texas facility.
Biden attacked Republican efforts to tighten voting rules in several states as “un-American” and “sick,” and said they make “Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
“The Republican voters I know find this despicable,” he said.
Biden appeared to dodge a question about gun control measures, including legislation about gun manufacturer liability and going after so-called “ghost guns,” homemade or improvised weapons that don’t have serial numbers. “It’s a matter of timing,” Biden said, before pivoting to plug a $3 trillion proposal to rebuild American infrastructure and combat global climate change.
When questioned about a possible re-election effort in 2024, Biden said he expects to run, but declined to officially announce a bid, saying he’s not planning that far ahead. Biden, who is 78 and the oldest American president ever, will be in his 80s in 2024.
Biden laughed when asked if he expected Trump to be his Republican opponent in 2024, and quipped “I have no idea if there will be a Republican Party.”
Biden was asked about plans to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, in accordance with a U.S.-Taliban agreement. He said it would be a hard deadline to meet. But he said “I can’t picture” U.S. troops remaining in that country next year.
“We’re not staying a long time,” Biden said. “We will leave. The question is when we leave.”
Regarding North Korea launching two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, its first provocative actions since Biden took office, Biden said he is consulting with allies and partners. “If they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly,” Biden said of North Korea. “But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
With Thursday’s press conference coming on the 64th day of his term, Biden waited longer than any president in 100 years to face reporters. In a Monday appearance on Fox News, Trump predicted that Biden would receive “softballs” from a press that “protects him totally.”
During the press conference, which started about 10 minutes late, Biden took questions from 10 reporters. He did not take any questions from Fox.