Vaccines, Migrants, China & More in Joe Biden’s 1st Press Briefing

Sixty-five days into his term, Joe Biden held the first press conference of his presidency in the White House.

6 min read
Sixty-five days into his term, US President Joe Biden held the first press conference of his presidency at the White House.

Sixty-five days into his term, on Thursday, 25 March, US President Joe Biden held the first press conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House, answering questions from reporters about a host of issues such as COVID-19 vaccines, immigration, the threat from North Korea and relations with China.

Addressing the media, President Biden announced a new goal to vaccinate 200 million Americans within his first 100 days in office. “It’s ambitious, twice our original goal, but no other country has come close. I believe we can do it,” he said.

President Biden also said that his administration has sent out 100 million payments of the $1,400 stimulus checks to people's bank accounts as a result of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, adding that "millions more will be getting their money very soon."

Expect to Run for Re-Election, Says Biden

Biden also said he expects to run for re-election in 2024, in answer to a question from a reporter.

"Yes, my plan is to run for re-election. That's my expectation," the president said, adding that he expected Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate.

"She's doing a great job. She's a great partner,” he said.

Need to Hold China Accountable, Says Biden

Asked about China, President Biden said that there was a need to “hold China accountable to follow the rules; to follow the rules.”

Speaking about the meeting of the informal grouping of four countries termed Quad earlier in March, he said, "Earlier this month, and apparently got the Chinese attention, that's not why I did it, I met with our allies on how we're going to hold China accountable in the region; Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, the so-called quad. Because we have to have democracies working together.”

Biden claimed that China President Xi Jinping “doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body,” saying, “He’s one of the people, like Putin, who thinks autocracy is the wave of the future.”

He also said that in his phone call with his Chinese counterpart, he had made it clear that while he foresees “stiff competition with China,” they would play by international rules.

However, he stressed that the US would remain the world’s economic leader despite Chinese efforts to knock them out.

“That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand,” Biden assured.

The US president also addressed the human rights issues dogging China, saying, “Americans value the notion of freedom. America values human rights... And as long as you and your country continue to so blatantly violate human rights, we're going to continue in an unrelenting way to call to the attention of the world and make it clear, make it clear what's happening.”

Surge in Migrants ‘Seasonal’

Speaking about the surge of migrants on the US-Mexico border and his administration's response, Biden said that it was seasonal and happens every year.

"Truth of the matter is nothing has changed... As many people came, 28 percent increase in the children in the border in my administration, 31 percent in the last year in 2019 before the pandemic in the Trump administration. It happens every single solitary year," Biden said in response to a question.

“I’d like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not... It happens every year,” he said, arguing against claims that his administration is more lax than the Trump administration over immigration.

Biden said he intends to rebuild the immigration system, and said that the country is sending back the "vast majority" of families coming to the US-Mexico border.

"Tens of thousands of people who are over 18 years of age and single people, one at a time coming, have been sent back, sent home. We're sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming. We're trying to work out now, with Mexico, their willingness to take more of those families back,” Biden said.

“Those coming across the border who are unaccompanied children, we’re moving rapidly to try to put in place what was dismantled,” he added.

Biden also added that unlike the previous administration, he would not let an unaccompanied child at the US border starve to death.

"The idea that I'm going to say, which I would never do, if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border we're going to let them starve to death and stay on the other side, no previous administration did that either, except Trump. I'm not going to do it,” Biden told a reporter.

When asked about conditions at some border protection facilities, Biden said it was "totally unacceptable," adding that his administration is searching for other locations for the children.

Hired to Solve Problems: Biden

Expressing hope that he would be able to make a difference on important issues like the climate crisis, gun reform and immigration, despite opposition from Republicans, Biden said, "We are going to move on these (issues) one at a time and try to do as many simultaneously as we can.”

“I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together or decide that the way in which they want to proceed is to just decide to divide the country,” he said.

"I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to move forward and take these things as they come,” he added.

"I have been hired to solve problems... not create divisions," Biden said.

1 May Deadline ‘Difficult’: Biden on Withdrawal From Afghanistan

Speaking about the deal with Taliban to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan, President Biden said it would be difficult to meet the 1 May deadline. Biden also called the deal negotiated by President Trump’s administration “poorly designed.”

"It's going to be hard to meet the 1 May deadline. Just in terms of tactical reasons, hard to get those troops out," Biden told reporters, but added that the US has no intention of staying “for a long time.”

"We will leave. The question is when we leave," Biden stated, adding in response to a question that he “can't picture” US troops still in Afghanistan in 2022.

He added that the US is consulting with its allies on how to proceed.

Biden Issues Warning to North Korea

In answer to a question about the threat from North Korea in light of their launches of ballistic missiles, President Biden said there would be "responses" if North Korea continued to do so.

“We’re consulting with our allies and partners and there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly,” Biden warned.

Biden also said that he agreed with former President Barack Obama who had said in 2016 that North Korea is US’ biggest foreign policy threat.

Growing Pressure on Biden

Biden’s solo media exposure comes a little or a lot behind his recent predecessors, with the last four presidents – Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton – holding their presidential press conferences in the first 60 days of assuming office. Donald Trump had held five press conferences by this point.

According to a report in The Atlantic, pressure for the president to conduct his first news conference had been escalating for weeks, as the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saw reporters questioning her on this at her daily briefings.

Amid an atmosphere of speculation over Biden’s reluctance to meet the media, The Atlantic reports that the most widely believed theory is that Biden aides fear his infamous gaffes. “He’s not that quick on his feet,” Frank Luntz, longtime pollster, told the publication.

To add to the pressure, Washington Post reported that since the announcement of the press conference, the president has faced a flurry of internal crises, including two mass shootings.

Until last week, the event was likely to address questions pertaining to the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 health crisis, with Biden offering updates on his early accomplishments.

However, the shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, that left 10 dead, and the other last Wednesday that left eight people dead in the Atlanta area have made things complicated for him.

Reacting to these tragedies, Biden on Tuesday entered a heated debate on the role of guns in society, appealing for stricter gun law restrictions.

Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign saw rare news conferences, but the president did appear in debates several times, including a few with Donald Trump, without harming his prospects.

(With inputs from The Atlantic and The Washington Post)

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