He prepared with a set of talking points and a goal to stay on message, though he sometimes strayed from the path and sometimes got defensive.
The president broke new ground with his views on the Senate filibuster, saying he plans to run for re-election in 2024, worrying about voting restrictions and downplaying the prospect of U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan in time.
But on a broader level, it gave the American people for the first time a glimpse of their president’s performance, his understanding of his own power, and his vision for the future.
It took three questions, but Biden confirmed Thursday that he is willing to consider a principled approach to Senate reform – including not just a return to the so-called permanent filibuster.
We will have to go beyond what I am talking about, he concluded after a long answer about his promises to the American people.
It’s a step Biden has been reluctant to take in the past, a reflection of the growing realization that most items on the president’s priority list – gun control, immigration, climate change – are unlikely to pass a proportionally divided Senate.
Biden said he is willing to make more substantial changes to the way the Senate operates when it comes to issues he calls fundamental to democracy, such as voting rights, a subject he seems most passionate about.
I’m confident we can stop it, because it’s very damaging, Biden said of Republican lawmakers’ attempts to impose new voting restrictions. It makes Jim Crow look like Jim Needle. I mean, it’s huge what they’re trying to do. And it can’t be supported.
Later, pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, he said he, like former President Barack Obama, believed the wiry bandit was a relic of Jim Crow.
In the past, Bidens has tried to strike a delicate balance when dealing with issues like the filibuster for fear of alienating Republicans or straying from tradition.
But on Thursday, he seemed less concerned about these issues, saying he was working for the American people and not some vague idea of bipartisanship. Asked Wednesday if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took him by the arm and said he has only spoken to Biden once since taking office, he shrugged: I expected him to say exactly what he said.
Later, under pressure from his re-election plans, he openly questioned whether the Republican Party would still exist in three and a half years.
He relies on polls showing that many Republicans support his Covid 19 aid law, which no Republican in Congress has supported. Biden acknowledged this and said that it is more important to him that Republicans across the country support his agenda than Republicans on Capitol Hill.
I couldn’t unite Congress, but based on the polls, I could unite the country, he said.
People who have worked with Biden often note that he has a temper that sometimes flares up when challenged, and that he tends to speak condescendingly. Both were posted on Thursday.
He asked a reporter a serious question… when asked about border conditions and asked about his political future.
Look, I don’t know where you’re coming from, man.
Biden eventually said he is considering running for re-election in 2024 – something he had never said before – but acknowledged that events can intervene.
I have great respect for destiny. I could never plan four and a half, three and a half years in advance, he said.
The question about his policy plans brought Biden’s age to the forefront in a way that has not been the case so far in his presidency, and at certain points in the press conference it became clear that Biden, 78, was relying on pre-arranged talking points.
At other times he continued, ending answers abruptly if he seemed to be wandering.
Am I giving you too long an answer? He asked for a few minutes to respond to the immigration issue. Maybe I should stop here.
Nonetheless, Biden has shown that he has a good grasp of the broad range of issues that affect his presidency, and he seems passionate about topics ranging from voting rights to infrastructure. He was also self-critical at some points and seemed to really respect the assembled press, a marked difference from his predecessor.
He has been more defensive at times, especially when his government was under pressure to stem the flow of migrants at the southern border. His advisers don’t think Biden needs to throw a tantrum.
But his press conference was not marked by open hostility like President Donald Trump’s. Biden complained sarcastically about Trump’s absence.
My predecessor, he said. Oh, God, I miss him.
Pandemic of Covida-19
Since taking office, Biden has focused relentlessly on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. One of the reasons for the postponement of the press conference, according to the White House, was that Biden needed time to answer questions.
However, the press conference took place at a time when there were other problems. Biden came to the event hoping to draw attention to his response to Covid-19 by mentioning a new vaccination goal of 200 million people in the first 100 days. He then attempted to describe all aspects of the response to the pandemic at the beginning of his presidency.
When I took it over, I thought it was a pretty simple and basic thing. He said I was elected to solve problems.
It seems that his desire to bring his response to the pandemic back into the conversation was justified; it did not come up in any of the journalists’ questions.
It then became clear that Mr. Biden’s next priority, the infrastructure package, would dominate his future legislative agenda. He was asked about gun control after the two mass shootings that killed 18 people last week.
But he quickly admitted that’s not where he wants to go in Congress.
Successful presidents, better than I, have succeeded in large part because they know how to carve out time for what they do, he said, starting with a long answer that ranged from improving drinking water quality to eliminating asbestos to improving building efficiency.
For a president whose first love is foreign policy, this issue was not central at the beginning of his presidency, his aides said.
That is likely to change in the coming weeks, when he must make a decision on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, punish Russia for its role in a large-scale cyber attack, respond to North Korean provocations and develop a strategy to confront a stronger China.
On Thursday, Biden spoke about how he sees his role on the world stage. He suggested a renewed focus on improving relations with US allies after the tumultuous four years of Trump’s tenure.
But he also acknowledged that he faces the same problems as his predecessor in some areas, without a new approach.
He acknowledged that it would be difficult to meet the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but said he could not imagine troops remaining in Afghanistan next year.
He said North Korea’s missile test on Wednesday violated UN Security Council resolutions and promised a response if the situation escalated, but said – like Trump – he was willing to give diplomacy a chance if it depended on the ultimate outcome of denuclearization.
And while he declined to answer specific questions about the Trump tariffs on China, saying they only affect a small part of the actual relationship with China, his administration has let them stand for now because he believes they are leverage for future negotiations.
Asked if North Korea is still the most important foreign policy issue – something Obama warned Trump about when he took office in 2016 – Biden said it is.
Yes, he said, without elaborating.
The most persistent questions during Thursday’s press conference concerned immigration at the southern border, which the government refused to call a crisis.
Biden also tried to downplay the number of migrants entering the United States, saying it was a seasonal increase that had also been seen in previous years. He vigorously rejected suggestions that more migrants are coming to the United States because of a series of rule changes he pushed through that allow some unaccompanied minors to stay in the country.
He said he would never tell a child coming into the country that we would just let him or her starve and arrive on the other side.
No previous administration has done that except Trump, he said. I’m not going to do that.
Biden’s main argument is that the current immigration situation is exacerbated by the policies of his predecessor, which he says made it harder to house and treat immigrant children.
He said with more time to adopt the new policy and rebuild the recycling system, the current situation would be alleviated. He added that he had asked senior officials to ask the parents of migrant children to remove them from government shelters as soon as possible.
It will get better soon, or we will hear someone leave, he said. We can do it. We’ll do it.
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