He is facing a wide-ranging set of questions about other pressing issues, including the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, the state of the economy and gun control. Foreign policy will also take center stage as the President faces a slew of diplomatic hurdles with North Korea, Russia, China, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
But it was the crisis at the southern border that dominated the early stages of the news conference. His administration has faced scrutiny over the growing number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border and the limited press access to border facilities.
Biden mostly cast blame on the Trump administration for the situation at the border and deflected claims that unaccompanied children are arriving in the US because he is seen as softer on the issue than former President Donald Trump.
He said the spike — which his own Homeland Security secretary said is putting the US on track to see the most individuals on the southern border in 20 years — is not unexpected and due more to weather than anything else.
“It happens every single solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year,” Biden said. “In addition to … and by the way, does anybody suggest that 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’re coming.”
“The reason they’re coming is that it’s the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying on the way because of the heat in the desert, number one. Number two, they’re coming because of the circumstances in country.”
The news conference comes more than two months after Inauguration Day — which is behind many of Biden’s presidential predecessors. For most of Biden’s formal events at the White House, he has spoken directly into a camera mounted with a teleprompter and read from a prepared speech. He regularly answers questions from reporters in an ad hoc fashion — following events at the White House or on the tarmac before boarding Air Force One, for example. But the Thursday afternoon question-and-answer session was Biden’s most extended period of questioning since becoming president.
Biden touts vaccination progress and sets a new goal
During the news conference, Biden highlighted surpassing his initial goal of getting 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses in arms in his first 100 days in office. He also announced a new vaccine goal: 200 million doses in arms in his first 100 days, something his administration is already on pace to do.
“On December 8, I indicated that I hoped to get 100 million shots in people’s arms in my first 100 days,” Biden said in his opening remarks. “We met that goal last week by day 58 — 42 days ahead of schedule. Now, today I’m setting the second goal, and that is, we will — by my 100th day in office — have administered 200 million shots in people’s arms. That’s right, 200 million shots in 100 days.”
He added, “I know it’s ambitious — twice our original goal — but no other country in the world has even come close, not even close to what we’re doing. I believe we can do it.”
On school reopening, Biden cited a report out this week from the Department of Education that shows nearly half of K-8 schools are open, a step toward his goal of getting a majority of K-8 schools fully open in the first 100 days.
“Not yet a majority, but we’re really close, and I believe in the 35 days left to go we’ll meet that goal as well,” he said.
He also noted that more than 100 million $1,400 economic impact payments have landed in Americans’ bank accounts as a result of the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.
“Real money, in people’s pockets — bringing relief instantly almost, and millions more will be getting their money very soon,” he said.
Approximately 127 million stimulus payments worth around $325 billion have been sent to Americans under the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration announced Wednesday.
Biden also said he saw hope for the economy, noting that “a majority of economic forecasters have significantly increased their projection on the economic growth that’s going to take place this year” to over 6% GDP growth. He also pointed to Thursday’s unemployment numbers. Claims fell by nearly 100,000, Biden said, “the first time in a year the number has fallen below the pre-pandemic high.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated.