WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden delivered his first official news conference on Thursday in the White House to answer questions from reporters about the pandemic, immigration, and Republicans’ “politics of division.”
Biden doubled his goal on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to 200 million doses on his first 100 days in office. He said his administration invested an additional $10 million in efforts to reach more people to receive the vaccine.
“Help is here and hope is on the way,” Biden said about the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that includes individual payments of $1,400.
Biden said the reason immigrants are now coming to the U.S.-Mexico border in greater numbers is that the winter months reduce their risk of dying in the desert. The circumstances in their countries are the main motivation, he said.
“It happens every single solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months. It happens every year,” Biden said, later adding that the current situation is “totally unacceptable.”
Biden said that to help address the challenge the U.S. Department of Defense is opening up military facilities to house the minors — including 5,000 new beds this week at the Fort Bliss Army base.
Biden said the reason why unaccompanied minors are having to spend more than 72 hours with U.S. Customs and Border Protection is that former President Donald Trump dismantled services.
“He in fact shut down the number of beds available. He did not fund HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to get people, to get the children out of those border patrol facilities,” Biden said.
Biden said his administration is working on building back up the capacity of the services needed to make sure unaccompanied minors only spend a few days at the border patrol facilities.
“We are sending back the vast majority of families that are coming,” Biden said, adding the U.S. is negotiating with Mexico on ways to return the undocumented families.
On his legislative agenda, which includes addressing immigration policy, gun control, and climate change, Biden said lawmakers are abusing the filibuster, a procedure Republicans are using in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate to prevent measures from being brought to a vote.
“If there is complete lockdown and chaos, as a consequence of the filibuster, then we have to go beyond,” Biden said.
Biden also said he is concerned about the Republican legislatures across the country that are working to pass bills to restrict voting. The Florida legislature is moving to restrict mail-in ballots. Biden said he is going to figure out how to pass legislation to prevent it.
“I am worried about how unAmerican this whole initiative is,” Biden said. “It’s sick ... this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
Biden, 78, also said he expects to run for reelection in 2024 with Vice President Kamala Harris.
Biden said it is going to be hard to meet the May 1st deadline to withdraw the U.S. military from Afghanistan. He said he doesn’t foresee that the troops will still be there next year.
“We are not staying a long time,” Biden said.
Biden also said North Korea’s recent test of two ballistic missiles was a violation of a United Nations’ resolution and will have consequences. Diplomacy, he said, “has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
On China, Biden said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. was not looking for a confrontation, but there will be “steep competition.” He also said the U.S. will insist that China play by international rules to promote fair practices and fair trade.
“He doesn’t have a democratic — with a small ‘d’ — bone in his body, but he is a smart, smart guy,” Biden said, adding “We have got to prove Democracy works.”
Biden said both Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin think autocracy is the way of the future.
Watch news conference