“Hope is here, help is on the way.”
That was President Joe Biden’s message at his first press conference of his presidency Thursday, his 65th day in office, where he touted the benefits of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, while also fielding tough questions from reporters about key issues, including migration at the U.S.-Mexico border and the fate of the filibuster.
The president pledged to deal with the numerous problems facing his administration, including the recent mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia, a surge of migrants crossing the southern border, and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed almost 550,000 Americans and devastated the U.S. economy.
“I am going to deal with all of those problems,” Biden promised, noting: “I want to get things done. I want to get them done consistent with what we promised the American people.”
Here are takeaways from the president’s first press conference:
In early December, Biden announced his goal to administer 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses within his first 100 days in office.
The administration reached that goal last week, on Biden’s 58th day in office.
On Thursday, the president announced that he is doubling that goal, now aiming to administer 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office.
“I know it’s ambitious, it’s twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has come close to what we're doing,” Biden said of the new objective.
According to the CDC, over 130 million vaccines have been administered nationwide. That’s far and away higher than the amount of vaccines administered in any other country, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Over 43 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against the disease, meaning they’ve received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or have completed the single-dose Johnson & Johnson regimen.
But the U.S. does not even make the list of top five countries by percentage of population fully vaccinated against the virus, with only 13% of Americans having completed a full vaccine regimen.
Biden’s revamped goal came on the heels of an announcement from the The White House pledging a $10 billion investment aimed at expanding COVID-19 vaccine access to the highest-risk and hardest-hit communities in the United States, as well as an effort to expand vaccine confidence nationwide.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will invest $6 billion in funds – largely from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill – to expand vaccine access in underserved communities, according to the White House.
President Biden blamed seasonal spikes and the Trump administration’s lack of preparation for the overwhelming number of migrants crossing the border in recent weeks, though he also defended his speedy rollback of the previous administration’s restrictions, including one that turned away unaccompanied minors who reach the U.S.
“I guess I should be flattered people are coming because I'm the nice guy,” he said.
“The idea that I'm going to say – which I would never do – that an unaccompanied child ends up at the border [and] we're just gonna let them starve to death and stand the other side,” President Biden said in his first formal press conference. “No previous administration’s done it either, except Trump. I'm not going to do it.”
The majority of migrants are being turned back at the border under a public health order put in place last year under President Trump, citing the pandemic. Biden has kept the order in place, except for unaccompanied children, which has overwhelmed border agents and other officials working to care for the children. More than 16,000 were in government care as of Wednesday night.
“We’re building back up the capacity that should have been maintained and built upon, that Trump dismantled. It’s going to take time,” the president said.
But Biden also said that families should continue to be turned away. Some have been released into the U.S. in recent weeks since Mexico can’t accept all of them.
“They should all be going back,” he said.
Claiming asylum at the border due to a credible fear is a legal way to enter the U.S., but amid an overwhelming number of people, the Biden administration has said it hopes to reduce the need through changes in the asylum process and through long term solutions within Central American countries.
President Joe Biden said he plans to slowly chip away at the key issues he touted during his campaign — namely immigration, climate change, and gun control — as his time in the White House continues, but stressed that the “most urgent problem facing the American people” is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn it caused.
When asked if he would be able to push through key aspects of his agenda despite GOP opposition in Congress, the president pointed to the recently-passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan as evidence that he will be able to further champion progressive legislation.
“I've been hired to solve problems, not create division,” Biden said Thursday, adding: “My Republican colleagues are going to have to determine if we’re going to work together or if the way they want to proceed is to decide to divide the country and continue the politics of division.”
Biden’s plan notably did not receive a single GOP vote in the Senate, and every single House Republican — plus one Democrat — also voted against the final bill.
The topic of the filibuster — the 60-vote threshold to end debate and pass major legislation in the Senate — came up a number of times throughout the news conference.
Biden noted that the filibuster is “being abused in a gigantic way,” and noted a desire to return to the “talking” filibuster — where Senators would have to physically stand on the Senate floor and speak to filibuster a bill.
“I believe we should go back to a position of a filibuster that existed just when I came to the United States Senate 120 years ago,” Biden said, joking about when he was first elected to the chamber in the 1970s.
Biden acknowledged that a 50-50 deadlocked Senate leaves little room for error for the Democratic caucus, but said that “I’m a fairly practical guy. And I want to get things done ... I have never been particularly poor at calculating how to get things done in the United States Senate.”
The president promised that “we’re going to get a lot done,” but added that “if we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos because of the filibuster, we're going to have to go beyond what I'm talking about."
The president also touched on recent efforts by Republicans to overhaul voting laws across several states, including a bill in Georgia that would add new requirements and restrictions on absentee voting and giving the GOP-led legislature greater control over the administration of elections.
“What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick,” Biden said, adding: The Republican voters I know find this despicable ... I'm not talking about the elected officials, I'm talking about voters.”
The Georgia bill, which Democrats and voting rights groups say would disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color, is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states across the country after former President Donald Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his election loss in November.
“I’m convinced that we’ll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing — this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” Biden said, referencing laws enacted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that enforced racial segregation in the South.
Senate Democrats on Thursday stepped up their efforts to muscle through the largest overhaul of U.S. elections in a generation, setting up a fight with Republicans that could bring partisan tensions to a climax in the evenly split Senate and become a defining issue for President Joe Biden.
President Biden again cast doubt on the United States withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline the Trump administration promised the Taliban.
Biden said it’s “going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” but said that he “can’t picture” troops being in Afghanistan next year.
“I'm in the process of making that decision now as to when they'll leave,” the president said in an interview last week with ABC News. “The fact is that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the former president worked out. And so we're in consultation with our allies, as well as the government.”
In the interview, Biden blamed the lack of cooperation from the Trump administration and his transition team for the uncertainty.
“The failure to have an orderly transition from the Trump presidency to my presidency, which usually takes place from Election Day to the time being sworn in, has cost me time and consequences,” he said.
As of January, there were 2,500 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.
A day after North Korea test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles — their second missile test in the past week — Biden said the U.S. is in talks with its allies about what action to take.
“There will be responses,” he said. “If they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly.”
Biden, however, said he is open to exploring “some form of diplomacy” with North Korea.
“But it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization,” he said.
When asked if he agrees with former President Barack Obama’s warning to Donald Trump that North Korea would be his top foreign policy issue as president, Biden answered flatly, “Yes.”
Biden said he’s not looking for a confrontation with China but is prepared to engage in “steep, steep competition” with the country. Biden added that fair competition will require the U.S. holding China accountable for its actions.
“We'll have strong competition but will insist that China play by the international rules – fair competition, fair practices, fair trade,” he said.
To keep pace, Biden vowed to invest in American workers, medical research and “industries of the future” such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotechnology.
“China is out-investing us by a long shot because their plan is to own that future,” he said.
Biden also said the United States cannot turn a blind eye to China’s human rights violations.
He said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping, “As long as you and your country continue to so blatantly violate human rights, we are going to continue in an unrelenting way to call to the attention of the world and make it clear what's happening.”
“The moment a president walks away from that, as the last one did, is the moment we begin to lose our legitimacy around the world,” Biden said, taking a shot at Trump.
Biden said Xi is very smart and straightforward but that he “doesn't have a democratic, with a small "D," bone in his body.” He also said the Chinese president was like Russian President Vladimir Putin in that he “thinks that autocracy is the wave of the future [and] democracy can't function in an ever-complex world.”
While it wasn’t a full-throated announcement that he’s seeking reelection, President Joe Biden said Thursday that he intends to make another White House run in 2024.
“My plan is to run for reelection. That's my expectation,” Biden said during his first news conference as president, later placing an emphasis on the word "expectation."
A reporter noted that former President Donald Trump had filed for reelection shortly after being inaugurated in January 2017.
“My predecessor needed to,” Biden responded, laughing. “My predecessor -- oh, God, I miss him.”
Biden suggested it was too early to discuss reelection.
“I don't know where you guys come from, man,” he said. “I've never been able to travel. I'm a great respecter of fate. I've never been able to plan 4½,, 3½ years ahead for certain.”
When asked if he thinks he would face Trump again, Biden said: “I don’t even think about — I have no idea. I have no idea whether there will be a Republican Party.”
The president did say he “would fully expect” that Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate again.
“She's doing a great job,” he said. “She's a great partner.”
President Biden said that his next major initiative will be infrastructure, teasing that he will announce details of his plan in the coming days.
Biden said the goals of his plan will be “to rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure, of this country so we can compete and create significant numbers of really good-paying jobs.”
The president pointed out that “used to be” a Republican initiative and believes that the majority of the American people are dissatisfied with the state of the country’s infrastructure.
“The future rests on whether or not we have the best airports that can accommodate air travel, ports that you can get in and out quickly,” Biden said, pointing out that companies care about things like distance to interstate highways and freight rails, water quality, and other concerns in local areas.
Biden also chastised the current state of American schools: “How many schools where the kids can't drink the water out of the fountain? How many schools are still in the position where there's asbestos? How many schools in America that we’re sending our schools to don’t have adequate ventilation?"
The White House reportedly has its sights set on a sweeping $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs bill that would encompass major domestic priorities such as universal pre-kindergarten, free community college, and paid family leave.
The proposal would reportedly be split into two components – the first, a major infrastructure package, would devote about $1 trillion for roads, bridges, ports, rail lines, electrical vehicle charging stations, and the cellular network, among other items, facilitating economic competitiveness while shifting to cleaner energy solutions.
The second would include investments in workers with free community college, universal pre-kindergarten, and paid family leave.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.