President Joe Biden on Thursday said he would be ‘flattered’ if migrants were coming to the United States because of him as he was grilled about his border policy during the first formal press conference of his presidency.
He also ridiculed the idea the surge in migrants at the border is because he’s a ‘nice guy.’
‘Look, I guess I should be flattered that people are coming because I am the nice guy, that that is why they are coming, that I am a decent man or however it was phrased. That that is why they are coming, because Biden is a decent guy. But the truth is nothing has changed,’ he said.
Biden was referring to Republican arguments that the migration surge is because of his more ‘humane’ policies. Republicans also claim that the border surge is because Biden rolled back some of former President Donald Trump’s stricter policies.
Biden also repeated his argument that Trump is to blame for the thousand of migrants trying to cross into the United States. More than 5,000 migrant children are being held in U.S. custody after trying to cross the border alone.
‘Does anybody suggest there was a 31% increase under Trump because he was a nice guy and he was doing good things at the border? That’s not the reason they are coming. The reason they are coming is that it’s the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying on the way because of the heat and the desert, number one. Number two, they are coming because of the circumstances in-country,’ he said.
Biden took questions for nearly an hour in his first presidential press conference, answering multiple queries from the Associated Press, PBS, The Washington Post, ABC News, Wall Street Journal, NBC News, CBS News, CNN, Bloomberg, Univision.
He grew testy at a few times but maintained his folksy attitude throughout much of the back-and-forth. His voice sounded hoarse as he answered questions from reporters he called on from a list on the podium. Sometimes he paused and sounded tentative as he spoke.
‘Folks, I’m going,’ he said as he ended the event.
The border policy and images of children crossing over from Mexico dominated the event. In his remarks, Biden claimed that President Trump left children to starve on the border although it’s unclear what he was referring to.
‘Look, the idea that I’m going to say, which I would never do, if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border we are just 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. I’m not going to do it,’ he said.
He expressed no regret for signing executive orders that rolled back Trump policies and for stopping construction on Trump’s border wall.
‘First of all, all of the policies that were underway did not help at all, did not slow up the amount of immigration, as many people coming. Rolling back the policies of separating children from their mothers? I make no apology for that. Rolling back the policies of remain in Mexico sitting on the edge of the Rio Grande, the muddy circumstances, not enough to eat. I make no apologies for that. I make no apologies for ending programs that did not exist before Trump became president that have an incredibly negative impact on the law, international law, as well as on human dignity. And so I make no apologies for that,’ he said.
He was referring to Trump’s decision to separate migrant children from their families, a policy that came under heavy criticism and was eventually repealed by Trump.
President Joe Biden ridiculed the idea the surge in migrants at the border is because he’s a ‘nice guy’ as he kicked off his first formal press conference
He also committed to letting the press into the shelters on the border holding migrant children, including the shelters where there is overcrowding and not enough bed.
And he said he hasn’t visited the border yet because of the large amount of people that travel with him as president. He has sent administration officials to the border to observe the situation and report back.
‘One of the reasons I haven’t gone down, my chief folks have gone down, is I don’t want to become the issue. I don’t want to be bringing all the Secret Service and everybody with me to get in the way. So this is being set up and you will have full access to everything once we get this thing moving,’ he said.
Biden also said he plans to run for a second term and joked he misses Donald Trump as he kicked off his first formal press conference of his presidency.
He was asked why he hasn’t announced his intentions for the 2024 election given that his predecessor – former President Trump – had set up his re-election committee by this point in his first term.
‘My predecessor needed to. My predecessor, oh god, I miss him,’ Biden said. ‘My answer is yes, I plan to run for reelection, that is my expectation.’
But Biden grew testy when pressed about a re-election campaign.
‘Look, I don’t know what you guys come from. I’ve never been able to travel, I am a man of faith, I have never been able to plan three, four years in advance,’ he said.
He did say he would expect Vice President Kamala Harris to be his running mate again.
‘I would fully expect that to be the case, she is doing a good job. She is a great partner,’ he said.
But he wouldn’t speculate on who his Republican opponent might by four years from now and said he had no idea if it would be Trump or even if there would be a Republican Party to run against him.
‘I have no idea,’ he said when asked if Trump would be his opponent in 2024. ‘I have no idea if there will be a Republican Party, do you?’
President Biden again blamed President Trump for the situation at the border
President Joe Biden said he plans to run for a second term and joked his missed Donald Trump as he kicked off his first formal press conference
Biden saved some of his most emphatic language to denounce Republican efforts to roll back voting access.
‘It’s sick. Deciding, some states, that you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote,’ Biden said.
‘Deciding that you’re going to end voting at 5 o’clock when working people are just getting off work. Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots’ except under ‘rigid circumstances,’ he said.
‘It is the most pernicious thing,’ Biden said. ‘This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle’ he said.
The president echoed remarks by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York at a Rules Committee hearing this week where he blasted efforts in Georgia and Arizona to restrict voting.
Biden said he would work to push through a House-passed bill to expand voting rights. It is a sweeping measure that would fix a minimum for in-person voting, push automatic voter registration, and a raft of other measures. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has ripped it as a power play.
Biden also called for ‘educating the American public’ on the issue. He said Republican voters he knows finds the restrictions pushed in GOP-controlled legislatures ‘despicable.’
And, less than 20 minutes into the press conference, Biden issued his first noticeable gaffe.
When asked about getting legislation passed in Congress if the filibuster remains – especially in regards to immigration policy – Biden stumbled toward the end of his answer when attempting to describe how to get things done in the federal legislature.
‘I’m going to say something outrageous – I have never been particularly poor at calculating how to get things done in the United States Senate,’ the president, who spent 36 years in the Senate representing Delaware, said.
‘So the best way to get something done if you hold it near and dear to you that you’d like to be able to – well, anyway,’ Biden said, cutting himself off and trailing off.
After a long pause he continued in concluding his answer: ‘We’re ready to get a lot done and if we have to, if there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.’
Biden also challenged Republicans to work with him during his time in office, pointing out he didn’t need them to pass legislation.
‘My Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together or decide the way they want to proceed is to just divide the country, continue the politics of division. But I’m not going to do that, I’m just going to move forward and take these things as they come,’ he said.
Democrats control both chambers of Congress on Capitol Hill and Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan was passed without a single Republican vote.
‘I want to get them done, consistent with what we promised the American people,’ he said.
‘People’s lives are changing. So let’s see what happens. All I know I’ve been hired to solve problems,’ he said.
During the question-and-answer period, Biden brushed off comments McConnell made on Fox News Wednesday. The Kentucky Republican said he hadn’t yet received an invite to the White House and mistakenly said he hadn’t spoken to Biden since before the inauguration. His office later clarified their last conversation was on February 1.
McConnell’s broader point was that Biden had moved ‘far left’ and was no longer interested in bipartisanship.
‘Look, I know Mitch well, Mitch knows me well, I would expect Mitch to say exactly what he said,’ the president said.
Biden emphasized that he was interested in bipartisanship.
‘When’s the last time a president invited the opposite party down at least half a dozen times to talk about issues … We’re working with a group of 20 members of the Senate right now and House on how we reestablish our ability to make computer chips, how we get ahead of the game, how we can work together – we’re working together on a bunch of things,’ he said.
Biden said he’d like to have ‘elected Republican support.’
‘But what I know I have now is I have electoral support from Republican voters. Republican voters agree with what I’m doing,’ Biden said.
Biden started his first formal press conference, which lasted about hour, with the announcement of a new goal of 200 million COVID vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office.
‘Today I’m announcing that, we will by my 100 day in office, have administered 200 million shots in people’s arms. That’s right 200 million shots and 100 days. I know it’s ambitious – twice our original goal,’ he said before he took questions.
He made the pronouncement – double his original goal – from the East Room of the White House, standing at a podium with the presidential seal.
Biden hit his original benchmark of 100 million shots last Friday, his 59th day in office. It was a target critics called too low. At the current pace of 2.5 million shots a day, the administration is on track to hit the 200 million mark by April 30th, his 100th day in office.
He also expressed confidence that schools will be fully re-opened soon.
‘I also set a goal before I took office of getting the majority of schools in k-8 fully open in the first 100 days. Now, thanks to the enormous work done by our administration, educators, parents, local, state education officials and leaders, the recent department of education survey shows that nearly half of the k-8 schools are open now full-time, five days a week for in person learning. Not yet a majority, but we are really close and I believe in the 35 days left to go we will meet that goal as well,’ he said.
The White House limited the number of reporters in the room because of the COVID pandemic
A White House staffer holds up a microphone for Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller to ask a question to President Biden as White House press secretary Jen Psaki looks on
Biden also talked about school reopenings, the COVID pandemic, and working with Republicans
He also pointed out that he had 100 million checks sent out under his America Rescue Plan.
White House press officials limited the number of reporters in the room for the press conference to 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden will pick the reporters he’ll call on but he has no control over what questions are asked.
The pressure was on Biden to look presidential and commanding while being grilled by members of the media.
The president himself put in much prep work for the event, including holding a practice session earlier this week, CNN reported.
Biden has been known to be prone to gaffes and verbal slips – he’s referred to Vice President Kamala Harris as ‘President Harris.’ And, at 78, he’ll be watched for any signs of ill health, particularly after he tripped trying to board Air Force One last week.
Ahead of the long-anticipated event, the administration has taken a series of steps on potential hot button issues.
Biden announced Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris will led his policy efforts on the border, where a surge in migration has resulted in thousands of children being held in shelters, some without beds or enough to eat.
The administration has sought to blame Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, for the problems while Republicans blame Biden’s decision to roll back some of Trump’s stricter immigration policies for the situation.
The White House has notably refused to call it a ‘crisis.’
The Education Department held a summit this week on reopening schools. And first lady Jill Biden, a teacher, has visited schools around the nation that have safely opened during the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House is also weighing executive action on gun control amid doubts about Congress’ ability to act.
Administration officials have spoken to some
Thursday marks Biden’s 65th day in office, a record for a modern president in waiting to hold a press conference.
The White House has been criticized for not holding a formal press conference and faced accusations about their accountability to the public.
Biden has taken questions from reporters informally at events and on the South Lawn of the White House.
The East Room of the White House set up for Biden’s first presidential press conference
But the previous record for a formal press conference was set by President George W. Bush, who waited 33 days before hosting one.
Most presidents – including Donald Trump and Barack Obama – hold a press conference in the first month of their administration. Trump held one on day 27 while Obama held one on day 20.