President Joe Biden and the White House press corps are facing criticism after his first press conference in office did not include questions about key topics such as the pandemic, reopening schools, potential tax increases, or Russia.
At the one-hour press conference on Thursday, Biden called on just 10 reporters to ask questions, and many of them focused on the migrant crisis at the southern border, leaving little time for other subjects.
Though Biden addressed relations with China at length, he faced no questions about the ongoing investigation of the origins of COVID-19 — or any other question about his pandemic response and vaccine rollout.
There were no questions about potential tax hikes to fund Biden’s reported $3 trillion green infrastructure plan, and relations with Russia were left unmentioned despite recent tensions after Biden labeled Vladimir Putin a ‘killer’.
Biden’s first press conference as president did not include questions about key topics such as the pandemic, reopening schools, potential tax increases, or Russia
At the one-hour press conference on Thursday, Biden called on just 10 reporters to ask questions, and many of them focused on the migrant crisis
Biden was also not asked to weigh in on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, his fellow Democrat who faces twin scandals over his handling of nursing homes in the pandemic, and allegations of sexual harassment and bullying. This week, reports emerged he had also prioritized COVID-19 testing for family, including his CNN anchor brother Chris, and friends at the height of the pandemic when ordinary New Yorkers struggled to get access.
Parents desperate to get their children back in the classroom also did not get the chance to hear Biden’s plan to reopen schools in the coronavirus pandemic.
Also unmentioned at the presser was a recent report from Politico detailing a 2018 incident in which the Secret Service intervened after president’s daughter-in-law Hallie discarded a gun belonging to Hunter Biden in a trash can.
Fox News reporter Peter Doocy called out Biden for not taking any questions from him at the press conference, saying he had ‘a binder full of questions’ to put to the president.
‘We had a lot and most of the stuff we did not get to,’ Doocy remarked on-air after the press conference.
‘Nobody asked him about this big plan that he has got, this big idea to completely transform the economy to make it all green,’ Doocy continued.
‘That is something we were hoping to get on the board with and there were not a lot of questions about Covid, particularly the investigation into the origins of it,’ he added.
Fox News reporter Peter Doocy called out Biden for not taking any questions from him at the press conference, saying he had ‘a binder full of questions’ to put to the president
Several reporters at the press conference focused on issues at the southern border, where a surge of illegal crossings is on track to break a 20-year record.
Biden said he would be ‘flattered’ if migrants were coming to the United States because of him and 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.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, slammed Biden’s remarks, saying it was ridiculous to assert that his policies were not to blame for the surge in illegal migration.
‘With all due respect, this press conference is hard to watch. The misinformation being given by President Biden on immigration is stunning,’ Graham wrote in a tweet.
‘It’s clear he does not have the situational awareness he needs to understand what is going on at the border or how to fix it,’ he continued.
‘The Trump policies created dramatic decreases in illegal immigration. The changes made by President Biden have created a virtual human tsunami,’ added Graham.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, slammed Biden’s remarks, saying it was ridiculous to assert that his policies were not to blame for the surge in illegal migration
In addition to the border crisis, multiple reporters focused their questions on the potential elimination of the Senate filibuster, a procedural rule that requires 60 votes to move on many issues.
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 was grilled on a number of topics, including the situation at the border, the Senate filibuster, working with Republicans, his 2024 re-election plans and Afghanistan – but received no questions on the coronavirus pandemic.
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 he had on the podium. Sometimes he paused and sounded tentative as he spoke. Other times he flipped through a binder he had with him on the podium.
‘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.
Several reporters at the press conference focused on issues at the southern border, where a surge of illegal crossings is on track to break a 20-year record
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.
More than 16,500 unaccompanied migrant children were in federal custody as of early Wednesday, according to CBS News. More than 11,500 of those children were being housed in shelters and emergency housing sites, while another 5,000 were stranded in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities.
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 ‘PLANS’ TO RUN FOR SECOND TERM, JOKES HE MISSES TRUMP
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?’
DENOUNCES GOP EFFORT TO ROLL BACK BALLOT ACCESS
Biden saved some of his most emphatic language to denounce Republican efforts to roll back voting access.
FACT CHECKING BIDEN’S FIRST PRESS CONFERENCE
ON MIGRANTS AT THE BORDER
BIDEN’S CLAIM: ‘Nothing has changed’ in the numbers of children coming to the United States since his predecessor, Donald Trump, was in office.
‘As many people came – 28 per cent increase in children to the border in my administration; 31 per cent in the last year in 2019, before the pandemic – in the Trump administration,’ Biden told reporters Thursday.
‘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.’
THE FACTS: The president erred. Unaccompanied immigrant children have come to the border at a higher percentage than what he said.
According to statistics published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, authorities encountered 9,457 children without a parent in February, a 61 per cent increase from January, not 28 per cent. The numbers of unaccompanied children did rise 31 per cent between January 2019 and February 2019.
In response, the Homeland Security Department pointed to figures for all border crossings, including adults and families traveling together. There was a 28 per cent rise in all encounters with migrants between January and last month, compared with 31 per cent between the same months in 2019. But Biden specifically noted a rise ‘in children.’
Biden correctly noted seasonal trends in migration and a tendency in many years for more border crossings before hot summer months. But while he tried to play down his inauguration as a reason many children and teenagers have decided to migrate to the U.S., people interviewed by The AP have expressed hope that the country would be more permissive to migrants under Biden than under Trump.
BIDEN’S CLAIM: His administration has been sending back the ‘majority’ of migrant families trying to cross into the US.
‘We’re sending back the vast majority of families that are coming. We’re trying to work out now with Mexico their willingness to take those families back. That’s what’s happening. They’re not getting across the border,’ he said.
THE FACTS: Not true, at least not according to last month’s figures, CNN’s Daniel Dale reported.
The data shows only 41 per cent of immigrant families were turned away under Title 42, which allows the US Border Patrol to immediately expel any migrant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in February.
It is true, however, that the majority of single adults, or 79 per cent, were sent back last month.
ON TRUMP’S TAX CUTS BENEFITS
BIDEN’S CLAIM: Republicans who contend his pandemic relief package is too expensive passed a tax cut favoring the top 1 per cent.
‘Do you hear them complain when they passed (a) close to $2trillion Trump tax cut, with 83 per cent going to the top 1 per cent? Do you hear them talk about that at all?’ Biden said.
THE FACTS: Biden’s comments are misleading. The tax cuts disproportionately favor the top 1 per cent, but not nearly as much as Biden and many Democrats claim.
Biden can cite his figure because many of the Trump tax cuts for families and individuals will expire, unless Congress extends them. If they expire as scheduled, 83 per cent of the tax cuts that remain in place will go to the top 1 per cent of earners in 2027, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center.
But’s it’s not the case that the highest 1 per cent of income earners are getting 83 per cent of the benefits now or over the next several years. Biden is expected to propose a corporate tax increase that would undo a lot of what Trump achieved in his 2017 overhaul.
The Associated Press contributed to this fact check.
‘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.’
WORKING WITH REPUBLICANS
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.
President Biden had a cheat sheet with reporters names and pictures during his press conference
The room was spaced out due to COVID concerns
‘HARD TO MEET’ MAY 1 DEADLINE ON U.S. TROOP WITH DRAW FROM AFGHANISTAN
He also said it would be ‘hard to meet’ a May 1 deadline to withdrawal U.S. troops from Afghanistan, site of the nation’s longest war.
‘It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,’ he said when asked about the impending deadline, negotiated by Trump.
‘Just in terms of tactical reasons, hard to get those troops out,’ Biden said, when asked about his plans Thursday.
‘How and under what circumstances do we meet that agreement that was made by President Trump to leave under a deal that looks like it’s not been able to be worked out to begin with – how is that done?’ he said.
The Trump administration negotiated the deadline in talks with the Taliban in February 2020. It tied the withdrawal to the Taliban cutting ties with Al Qaeda and ending attacks on U.S. forces.
There are currently about 2,500 U.S. troops there.
Some advisors fear a total withdrawal will lead to more chaos in the country.
MIXED MESSAGES ON FILIBUSTER
Biden gave his biggest rebuke of the filibuster yet when he said the legislative procedure is a ‘relic of the Jim Crow era’ that has been fundamentally abused.
During the same event the president also said it would benefit Congress to continue working under current rules to get things done.
‘Regarding the filibuster, at John Lewis’ funeral, President Barack Obama said he believed the filibuster was a relic of the Jim Crow era. Do you agree?’ CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins asked Biden during his briefing in the East Room Thursday afternoon.
‘Yes,’ he quickly replied.
‘If not, why not abolish it – if it’s a relic of the Jim Crow era?’ Collins pushed.
The president took a long pause where he looked at his notes on the podium.
‘Successful electoral politics in the art of the possible,’ the president started. ‘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,’ he continued.
Here is where Biden presented some mixed messaging on his thoughts on the filibuster, appearing to almost defend its existence and advocate for making changes rather than throwing it out completely.
‘You’re going to have to – the existing rules – it’s going to be hard to get a parliamentary ruling that allows 50 votes to end the filibuster – the existence of a filibuster,’ the president fumbled in an appearance riddled with stumbles and gaffes.
‘But, it’s not my expertise in what the parliamentary rules and how to get there are,’ Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate representing Delaware, said.
He added: ‘Our preoccupation with the filibuster is totally legitimate, but in the meantime we’ve got a lot we can do while we’re talking about what we’re going to do about the filibuster.’
NEW COVID VACCINE GOAL: 200 MILLION SHOTS IN FIRST 100 DAYS
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 East Room of the White House set up for Biden’s first presidential press conference
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 Senate Democrats about three possible executive actions, The New York Times reported: one would classify as firearms so-called ghost guns — kits that allow a gun to be assembled from pieces; another would fund community violence intervention programs; and the third would strengthen the background checks system.
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.
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.
A CNN analysis of the past 100 years found Biden is behind his 15 most recent predecessors, who all held a solo press conference within 33 days of taking office.