President Biden finally held his first press conference on Thursday — during which he denied the migrant crisis at the southern border, pinned the burden of national unity on the GOP and said he expects to run for re-election.
Biden fielded journalists’ questions in a formal setting for the first time in more than two months into his presidency.
The president opened his briefing, which began more than 10 minutes late, with a “progress report” and setting 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 his first formal Q-and-A session, Biden fielded questions about his administration’s handling of the influx of Central American migrants at the US-Mexico border.
Biden targeted his predecessor, former President Donald 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.”
With Thursday marking the 65th day of his presidency, 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.
Biden aides capped the number of journalists allowed in the cavernous East Room in the White House at 25. Most of the 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.
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.
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.