U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday is holding his first formal news conference since taking office in January. Biden faced reporters’ questions about the surge in migrants at the country’s southwestern border, the Senate filibuster rule, voting rights and testy foreign relations with North Korea and China.
While Biden has restored daily briefings by his press secretary and answered questions in other formats, he is the first president in four decades to make it this far into his first term without holding a formal question-and-answer session with the news media.
“It’s an opportunity for him to speak to the American people, obviously directly through the coverage, directly through all of you,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier this week. “And so, I think he's thinking about what he wants to say, what he wants to convey, where he can provide updates, and, you know, looking forward to the opportunity to engage with a free press.”
Biden faced questions on several pressing domestic topics, including the surge in the number of migrants from Central America and Mexico trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, and the progress of the government’s vaccination program to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In his opening remarks, Biden touted congressional passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes $1,400 stimulus checks now being sent to millions of Americans. He could also lay out plans for a $3 trillion infrastructure proposal to fix the country’s aging roads and bridges while providing funding for what he says are environmentally friendly changes in the American economy.
Biden has urged migrants in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico to stay home. But when he announced after taking office that he was ending construction of the border wall on the U.S.-Mexican line that was championed by former president Donald Trump and embracing what he said were more humane immigration policies, many migrants say they viewed it as an invitation to try to reach the United States.
The result has been that thousands of migrants have made the treacherous walk north through Mexico to reach the U.S., overwhelming U.S. border security agents. Biden on Wednesday named Vice President Kamala Harris to oversee negotiations and policy making with the four foreign governments most affected by the migration and how living conditions might be improved in their countries to curb the migrants’ intentions to move to the United States.
In recent days, photos have been published showing unaccompanied migrant children crammed into holding centers, not unlike those seen during Trump’s White House tenure, even as the U.S. processes the children and attempts to place them with relatives already living in the U.S. or vetted caregivers.
After single gunmen killed eight people in Georgia and 10 in Colorado respectively in the last week, Biden called for tighter background checks on gun buyers and renewal of an expired ban on the sale of assault weapons. But with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of gun ownership rights, Biden’s stance is already encountering stiff opposition in Congress from Republicans opposed to further gun restrictions.
On the international front, Biden could expect questions about the prospects of rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement, recent North Korean missile tests, the military takeover in Myanmar and U.S. relations with China and Russia.
Biden recently said in an interview that he deems Russian President Vladimir Putin to be a “killer,” while the U.S. views China, the world’s second biggest economy after the U.S., as an economic adversary and a military threat, especially in the Pacific region.