President Joe Biden faced reporters in a formal press conference setting for the first time during his White House tenure, fielding questions about the surge of illegal immigrants at the border and whether the Senate filibuster should be abolished – and mostly laying blame for any problems he has encountered at the feet of his predecessor.
"All I know, I've been hired to solve problems, to solve problems, not create division," Biden told reporters on Day 65 of his presidency in the pandemic-distanced East Room of the White House on Thursday afternoon. About 30 reporters sat spaced out using the length of the room instead of the width, as former President Donald Trump had news conferences set up.
Biden faced tough questioning at times, but mostly the press played nice, such as with one early lob about illegal immigrants trying to cross the border now because they knew he was president.
"I guess I should be flattered people are coming because I'm the nice guy," Biden replied. "That's the reason why it's happening? That I'm a decent man, or however it's phrased? That's why they're coming, because they know Biden's a good guy? Truth of the matter is, nothing has changed."
What has changed is how Biden was managed, reading from a prepared list of which reporters to call on, something Trump had criticized his opponent for during the presidential campaign, and appearing to glance at copious notes to aid his answers.
An early hot-button topic was the Senate filibuster that requires 60 votes to end debate on legislation and move to a vote.
"It used to be you had to stand there and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk until you collapsed," said Biden, who served in the Senate for decades before presiding over the Senate as Vice President for eight years. "And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing. Filibusters broke down and we're able to break the filibuster and get a quorum and vote. So, I strongly support moving in that direction."
Biden was the first chief executive in four decades to have reached this far into his term without having conducted a formal question-and-answer session.
Here is a breakdown of the past presidents' first question-and-answer press conferences, according to Fox News:
- 2017 President Donald Trump: 77 minutes, taking 30 questions.
- 2009 President Barack Obama: 58 minutes, taking 13 questions.
- 2001 President George W. Bush: 29 minutes, taking 20 questions.
In the end, Biden's event lasted 1 hour, 2 minutes, featuring 28 questions – 18 of which were follow-ups – from 10 reporters.
Biden has not entirely shied away from the press during his time in the White House. But he tends to field just one or two informal inquiries at a time, usually in a hurried setting at the end of an event or in front of a whirring helicopter.
But pressure had mounted on Biden to hold a formal session, which allows reporters to have an extended back-and-forth with the president. Biden’s conservative critics have pointed to the delay to suggest Biden was being shielded by his staff.
Biden opened Thursday with an upgraded goal on his vaccination efforts, which including $10 billion in spending to get vaccines to disstressed minority communities.
"I hoped to get 100 million shots in people's arms in my first 100 days," Biden told reporters. "We met that goal last week by day 58, 42 days ahead of schedule.
"Now, today I'm setting a 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. 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 are doing. I believe we can do it."
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