What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What we learned from Biden’s first presidential news conference

President Joe Biden on Thursday held his first White House news conference since taking office in January. He was faced with many questions on the subject of immigration at the southern border, voting rights, his plans for Afghanistan and his agenda's prospects in the U.S. Senate. White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor was at the conference and has our report.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president speaks.

    Today's White House news conference was heavy on the subject of immigration at the Southern border, but it also touched on voting rights and the Biden agenda's prospects in the U.S. Senate.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor was there, and she has our report.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    After 64 days in office, President Biden held his first official news conference.

    He began by naming a new target for COVID vaccinations.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    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. I know it's ambitious, twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has even come close.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But the challenges at the U.S. Southern border took center stage.

    And is there a timeline for when we won't be seeing these overcrowded facilities with — run by CBP when it comes to unaccompanied minors?

  • Joe Biden:

    And so what we're doing now is attempting to rebuild — rebuild the system that can accommodate the — what is happening today.

    If you take a look at the number of people who are coming, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing are being sent back.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Biden was questioned about possibly doing away with the filibuster, a potential roadblock to immigration reform and his larger agenda.

  • Joe Biden:

    Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible. Let's figure out how we can get this done and move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of even the filibuster rule first. It's been abused from the time it came into being by an extreme way in the last 20 years. Let's deal with the abuse first.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president also criticized efforts by Republican state legislatures to restrict voting access.

  • Joe Biden:

    What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick.

    I am convinced that we'll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic what they're trying to do, and it cannot be sustained.

    I'm going to do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from — from becoming the law.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Biden also made news. He announced that he expects to run for reelection with Vice President Harris on the ticket.

    Have you decided whether you are going to run for reelection in 2024? You haven't set up a reelection campaign yet, as your predecessor had by this time.

  • Joe Biden:

    My predecessor needed to.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Joe Biden:

    My predecessor. Oh God, I miss him.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Joe Biden:

    No, the answer is yes. My plan is to run for reelection. That's my expectation.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In the wake of two recent mass shootings, the president was questioned about gun control. But he quickly pivoted to infrastructure.

  • Joe Biden:

    It's a matter of timing. As you've all observed, successful presidents — better than me — have been successful, in large part because they know how to time what they're doing, order it, decide and priorities what needs to be done.

    The next major initiative is — and I will be announcing it Friday in Pittsburgh in detail — is to rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure in this country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    After nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Mr. Biden did not commit to withdrawing American troops by a May 1 deadline agreed to by the Trump administration.

  • Joe Biden:

    It's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline. Just in terms of tactical reasons. It's hard to get those troops out.

    We've been meeting with our allies, those other nations that have NATO Allies who have troops in Afghanistan as well. And if we leave, we're going to do so in a safe and orderly way.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He also said he would challenge China's President Xi on human rights abuses, and said former President Trump skirted that responsibility.

  • Joe Biden:

    We're going to continue, in an unrelenting way, to call to the attention of the world and make it clear, make it clear what's happening.

    That's who we are. The moment a president walks away from that, as the last one did, is the moment we begin to lose our legitimacy around the world.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president then departed the East Room to meet virtually with European Union leaders at the European Council summit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now from the White House.

    Hello, Yamiche.

    So, the president, as you reported, was asked a lot about immigration today. What is his explanation for why so many migrants are now trying to enter the U.S.?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    A lot of the president's first press conference was spent on this issue, a big challenge for the Biden administration, immigration. He laid a lot of the blame for what is happening at the Southern border at the feet of his predecessor, former President Trump.

    He says he inherited a mess and that former President Trump dismantled largely the legal — the legal immigration system. And he said that he was now trying to rebuild it. He said that he didn't back down on the idea that he was going to follow U.S. law, something that President Trump didn't want to do, which was allowing unaccompanied minors into the United States.

    He also, though, said that migrant families, all of them, most of them, and not — are being sent back right now, but all of them, he wants them to be sent back. They're being sent back right now under Title 42. That deals with public health and the idea that we're in the middle of a pandemic and can't at this time take in families.

    That being said, President Biden said that he really needs time to get his hands around this. He also said that he would give journalists access to those overcrowded border facilities where we see a lot of children sleeping on floors and saying that they're terrified and not getting sunlight.

    But he says he has to first be given a chance to implement his plan before we can start to see those facilities as reporters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, the president was also asked about gun violence in America after these terrible shootings in Atlanta and in Boulder, Colorado.

    He didn't offer many details today. But what is known about what the White House is thinking with regard to guns and gun violence?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Biden did not spend a lot of time talking about gun reform. And that is telling, because it is an issue that he talked about on the campaign trail when he was a candidate.

    He pivoted very quickly to infrastructure, talking about roads and bridges. White House officials tell me that the president and his aides are really — they're looking at a number of executive actions, including possibly requiring background checks for so-called ghost guns.

    These are hand-assembled firearms that right now are not registered as firearms. They're not — you're not required to have a background check to purchase these. So, that's something they're looking at.

    But part the reason why the president didn't talk about — a lot about guns today is because the filibuster and the issue in the Congress is really something that would hold up a lot of gun reform and immigration reform and voting legislation.

    We heard the president today call GOP efforts to restrict voting rights sick. But just hours after that, Georgia passed a really telling voting bill that restricts access to voting by mail to a number of people, as well as gives more power to the state legislature there. So, that tells you in some ways why the conversation about filibuster is so needed among Democrats and why they're still talking about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Yamiche, all this comes as the country, of course, still in the grips of this pandemic.

    What is the president saying about plans to get more people vaccinated?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president outlined a plan, a new goal, 200 million shots in arms by the end of his first 100 days.

    I have been talking to White House officials about this goal. I talked to Cameron Webb. He is a senior White House policy adviser on COVID equity. And he told me that there's a detailed plan that they're announcing today to invest $10 billion focused specifically on COVID equity, along with this new goal.

    It's going to be targeting community health centers. It's also going to be targeting patients who are on dialysis who are having kidney failure and kidney problems. And, also, it's going to be trying to get vaccine confidence up in places like rural communities, as well as communities of color.

    But I have to tell you, Judy, this is really important, because there's some analysis, including at The New York Times, that said African Americans, their vaccination rate is half of that of white Americans. And that gap is even bigger among Latino Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Yamiche Alcindor reporting from the White House on the day of this first news conference for President Biden.

    Thank you, Yamiche.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

Listen to this Segment