President Biden finally held his first press conference on Thursday more than two months into his presidency — denying the growing migrant crisis at the border, taking swipes at the GOP on national unity and waffling when asked about running in 2024.
At times during the exactly hour-long briefing in the White House East Room, the 78-year-old commander in chief got lost in his rambling answers while referring to talking points at the podium.
The press pool was capped to 25 reporters, but Biden only took questions from a list of journalists whose names and outlets he read from a cue card.
Asked whether he’s seeking reelection in 2024, the Democrat offered conflicted answers.
“The answer is yes, my plan is to run for re-election,” he said initially. “That’s my expectation.”
But asked by the very next reporter if that response constituted a commitment, Biden backed off.
“I don’t know where you guys come from,” he said. “I’ve never been able to plan four-and-a-half, three-and-a-half years ahead for certain.”
Biden clarified that he had said it was his “expectation.”
Asked, should he seek a second term, if Vice President Kamala Harris would be on the ticket, Biden said she would.
Joe Biden giving his first press conference since his term began.REUTERS
“I would fully expect that to be the case,” he said. “She’s doing a great job.”
The commander in chief also weighed in squaring off against former President Donald Trump in four years.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I have no idea whether there will be a Republican Party.”
But he chuckled as he then cracked, “My predecessor,” he said. “Oh God, I miss him.”
Biden was also grilled several times on the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border, many of them unaccompanied minors.
But he denied there was an increase because of the perception that he’s “a nice guy.”
“This happens every single, solitary year,” he said.
At one point, Biden cut himself off while taking another question about the migrant surge, asking the reporter, “Am I giving you too long of an answer? Because if you don’t want the detail …”
Biden also gave a vague answer when asked about gun control legislation in wake of the pair of mass shootings in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado.
One question Biden may face will likely concern the crisis at the border.AP
“Wondering if you’ve made a decision, either about sending the manufacturer liability bill that you promised on Day One to Capitol Hill, or executive actions, like going after ghost guns or giving money to cities and states [for gun control]?” the reporter asked.
Biden answered, “All of the above. It’s a matter of timing,” before inexplicably pivoting to infrastructure.
He abruptly wrapped up the press conference, telling reporters, “But folks. I’m going.”
The briefing, the first of its kind in Biden’s 65 days in office, began 10 minutes late with a “progress report” on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden announced a new goal to get 200 million COVID-19 shots into arms by his 100th day in office.
“I know it’s ambitious, it’s twice our original goal but no other country in the world has come close, not even close, to what we’re doing,” he said.
He also announced a $100 million investment into the communities “hardest hit” by the pandemic and said “nearly half” of all K-8 schools in the US are open five days a week for in-person learning.
Biden also touted a new forecast that the country’s GDP will exceed 6 percent — and said those filing for unemployment have fallen by 100,000 people — below the pre-pandemic high.
During the formal Q-and-A session, Biden targeted his predecessor Trump for “dismantling” immigration policy — then falsely claimed that “tens of thousands” of migrants have actually been “sent home” by his administration.
“We’re sending back the vast majority of families that are coming,” Biden told reporters. “That’s what’s happening. They’re not getting across the border.”
New statistics showed that an average of 13 percent of nearly 13,000 members of families who tried to cross the border illegally were turned back to Mexico.
Biden also took aim at his GOP critics, laying the issue of unifying the country at their feet.
“My Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together, or decide the way in which they want to proceed is to just divide the country, continue the politics of division,” he said. “But I’m not going to do that, I’m just gonna move forward.”
Biden has waited longer than any other president since TV was invented to host a formal press briefing.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki blamed the lack of press conferences thus far on the “historic crises” Biden has been dealing with — as well as on COVID-19 concerns, despite the fact that the president has been vaccinated and all journalists are tested for the virus before accessing White House grounds.
Most of the 25 press seats went to the 14 reporters who usually attend Psaki’s daily briefing. The selection of the other attendees was outsourced to the White House Correspondents’ Association.
President Barack Obama waited just 20 days to hold his first presidential press conference.Getty Images
Psaki indicated at a Feb. 22 press briefing that Biden may be calling on journalists from a list approved by his communications team.
“Typically, any president has a list of people that they’re going to call upon. But usually it’s a large number of people who are in the press room, and we certainly hope we’re able to do that in a COVID-safe way,” Psaki said.
The White House for weeks faced skeptical reporter inquiries about why Biden smashed a record stretching back more than 100 years for the length of time before a new president hosted a press conference.
Former President Donald Trump waited seven days to hold a press conference. Barack Obama waited 20 days, George W. Bush took 30 days and Bill Clinton waited nine days.
Biden has answered occasional reporter questions since taking office while hosting events at the White House or traveling, but his answers in informal settings generally are brief and not subject to back-and-forth exchanges with journalists.
At 78 years old, the president is the oldest person to take office and Republican critics including Trump accuse him of being in mental decline.
Biden this month addressed his Vice President Kamala Harris as “President Harris” — repeating a gaffe he’s made once before.