President Joe Biden spoke for just over an hour during his first White House press conferences Thursday. The president’s exchange with reporters in the White House’s East Room was at times meandering and covered a vast array of topics from the coronavirus pandemic to the decadeslong war in Afghanistan.
What did President Biden say at his press conference?
In his opening remarks, Biden said the country was on track for a majority of K-8 schools to be open for in-class education and set a goal of “200 million (COVID-19 vaccine) shots in people’s arms” by the end of his first 100 days in office. He said that the administration had deposited 100 million stimulus payments into American bank accounts.
Reporters, getting their first formal chance to ask questions of the new president, focused on the southern border’s immigration crisis, foreign policy and the administration’s legislative goals.
Here are five key takeaways from President Biden’s first press conference:
What Biden said about the border crisis
Multiple White House reporters asked Biden about the surge of immigration happening along America’s southern border and his plan to address the overcrowding of federal facilities used to hold unaccompanied minors.
Biden said the immigration surge at the southern border is an annual problem that is exacerbated by circumstances in the countries people are fleeing, not because immigrants think he is a “nice guy.”
- The Trump administration “dismantled all the elements that exist to deal with what had been a problem, and has continued to be a problem, for a long time,” Biden said.
- “What we’re doing now is attempting to rebuild, rebuild the system that can accommodate what is happening today,” he said.
- “If you take a look at the number of people who are coming ... to the border and crossing, are being sent back,” the president said. He said this included single adults and families, but that Mexico was not taking families.
The president announced that the U.S. Army’s Fort Bliss — a large military base along the border in El Paso, Texas — would be opening a 5,000-bed facility to host immigrants.
- The administration would be moving “a thousand people out of the Border Patrol” and “into safe, secure beds and facilities” in the next week,” Biden added.
When asked about transparency, and when journalists would be allowed to see federal facilities where immigrants are being held, Biden said reporters would have “full access to everything” once the administration begins to roll out its new border response plans.
What Biden said about infrastructure
Biden told reporters that his administration would be announcing its infrastructure initiative on Friday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- The plan is 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,” he said.
The president said the United States “ranks 13th globally” and that “China invest three times more” than America in infrastructure. Biden went on to list some statistics that point out America’s infrastructure disrepair — like that more than a third of the country’s bridges and “186,000 miles of highway” needed repair.
- Infrastructure is “the place where we will be able to significantly increase American productivity, while at the same time providing really good jobs for people,” Biden said.
- “But we can’t build back to what it used to be,” the president said, citing the “significant damage” already done by global warming.
Did Biden talk about China?
Biden said he already has a working relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, dating back to when both the now heads of state were each deputies. Biden said Xi is a “smart, smart guy” and the two presidents spoke for two hours when Biden first moved into the Oval Office.
President Biden added that America is in a “stiff competition” with China, but that China would not become the sole world power under his watch. He said he has a three-step policy plan for China:
- “Invest in American workers and American science.”
- “Reestablish our alliance” to create multinational collations that can hold “China accountable to follow the rules.”
- Continue to call out China for blatant human rights violations, that will create global pressure.
CNN White House reporter Kaitlin Collins asked Biden if he believed, as former President Barack Obama had said in the past, that the “filibuster was a relic of Jim Crowe-era” and if he would “abolish it.”
Biden said “yes,” he did think the filibuster was a Jim Crowe relic — or a law that enforced racial segregation — but wouldn’t clearly say if he would abolish the congressional rule, saying it came down to “successful electoral politics.”
- “Our preoccupation with the filibuster is totally legitimate, but in the meantime, we’ve got a lot we can do,” Biden had said earlier in the press conferences.
Biden, a former senator, did say he supported reforming the current filibuster rules, alluding to something similar to the standing filibuster.
- He also acknowledged that “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.”
What did Biden say about Afghanistan?
Former President Donald Trump had set a May 1 deadline for American troops in Afghanistan.
President Biden told reporters “it’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” citing “tactical reasons.”
- The president said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were meeting with the coalition partners on how to pull out of the country in a “safe and orderly way.”
Biden was then asked if American troops would be in Afghanistan next year. “I can’t picture that being the case,” he responded.