Biden Takes Questions On Border Surge, Filibuster And China In First Press Conference

More than two months into his term, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. held his first press conference Thursday afternoon in the East Room of the White House, where he faced questions on a range of issues and seemed at times to falter.

The president first spoke about his progress in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, before taking questions on issues including immigration, migrant children, the environment, the filibuster and troops in Afghanistan.

President Biden set a goal to reach 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations within his first 100 days. That goal was reached last week, on day 58, so the president is upping that goal to 200 million COVID-19 vaccinations by his 100th day in office.

“Help is here, and hope is on the way.” said Biden. “As of yesterday, more than 100 million payments of 1,400 dollars have gone into people’s bank accounts. That’s real money going into people’s pockets bringing relief instantly almost, and millions more will be getting their money very soon.”

U.S. President Joe Biden talks to reporters during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Biden also touted a Department of Education survey that shows that nearly half of kindergarten through eighth grade schools are fully open five days a week for in-person learning and vowed to get more schools open by his 100th day.

“I got elected to solve problems,” said Biden.

“Yes, my plan is to run for re-election,” he said, adding that he “fully expects” Vice-President Harris to be on his ticket. However, Biden, 78, says that he is a great “respecter of fate” and has never been able to plan that far ahead for certain.

Biden also said he would be announcing his next major initiative — an infrastructure plan — Friday in Pittsburgh in greater detail. Biden said his plan is to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure—both physical and technical—so that the U.S. can better compete on the world stage and create more good, well-paying jobs.

President Biden on The Filibuster

After weeks of congressional Democrats arguing about the fate of the filibuster, the president weighed in. Biden said that between 1917 and 1971, there were 58 motions to break a filibuster, but last year alone there were five times as many, and he expressed his interest in returning to older filibuster rules.

“So it’s being abused in a gigantic way,” said Biden. “It used to be that you had to stand there and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, until you collapsed. And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing, so filibusters broke down, and we were able to get a quorum and vote. So I strongly support moving in that direction.”

The president dodged the question of whether it should take 51 or 60 votes to break a filibuster, but seemed to be moving toward supporting further changes.

“If we have to, if there’s complete chaos because of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”

Troops In Afghanistan 

The president resisted promising the current May 1 target to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan would be met, but said he did not expect troops to still be present in the country into 2022.

The Surge Of Unaccompanied Minors At The Border

Biden took questions on the influx of child migrants at the southern border, and waved off concerns that unaccompanied children are coming because of a belief that he will be lenient with them. He said the rise in migration happens every winter, even under President Donald J. Trump.

Although Biden noted his administration’s efforts to open more facilities to house unaccompanied children until their cases can be handled and sponsors found, he said that Vice President Kamala Harris would work with other countries to address the reasons so many leave their homes for the U.S., just as he did when he was Vice President.

“I was able to get [child migration] slowed up significantly by working with the heads of state of those communities,” Biden said of his experience as vice president. “What I was able to do was not give money to the heads of state, because so many are corrupt, but I was able to say ‘Ok, you need lighting in the streets to change things.’ I put the lighting in.”

On China

“Look around the world. We’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution of enormous consequence. Will there be middle class? How will people adjust to these significant changes in science and technology, the environment?” said Biden. “Are our democracies equipped because all the people get to speak?

He described the current era as “a battle between the utilities of democracy and the utilities of autocracies.”

“That is what is at stake here. We have to prove that democracy works.”

Biden spoke of the time he spent with China’s President Xi Jinping, and how his time as Vice President at the same time that Xi held the equivalent position in China served him well. He stated that despite many disagreements, they communicate well with each other because of that history.

“China has an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the most powerful country in the world, and the wealthiest country in the world,” said Biden. “That is not going to happen on my watch. Because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand.”

(Edited by Kristen Butler and Stan Chrapowicki)

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