At his first solo press conference after over two months in office, President Joe Biden on Thursday attempted to distance himself from the immigration policies of his predecessor Donald Trump, pledging what he said would be a compassionate immigration program while signaling his intent to deport significant numbers of illegal immigrants that come into the U.S.
The Biden administration in recent weeks has been struggling to address a massive surge of illegal immigration along the southern U.S. border, working to house thousands of migrants including a large number of illegal immigrant children in federal facilities.
The president partially blamed the Trump administration for allegedly dismantling immigration infrastructure and underfunding border authorities. "What we're doing now is attempting to rebuild the system that can accommodate what is happening today," Biden argued.
Still, even as he argued that his administration is working to deal with the crush of migrants on this side of the border, Biden said authorities under his direction are deporting the vast majority of them.
"If you take a look at the number of people are coming," he said, "the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border [and] crossing are being sent back."
Addressing allegations of numerous families allowed to stay on this side of the border, Biden blamed the problem on Mexico refusing to allow them back across the border but said, "We're in negotiations with Mexico, [and] I think we're going to see that change."
"They should all be going back," he added. "The only people we're not going to let sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande by themselves with no help are children."
In other comments, Biden responded to a question regarding what one reporter claimed were Republican efforts to "restrict voting" throughout the country by signaling his intent to push forward with major progressive voting policies that would put significant control of election management in the hands of federal officials.
"What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is," Biden said of Republican-led efforts to pass voting integrity policies at the state level
"It's sick," Biden continued. "It's sick, deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote. Deciding that you're going to end voting at five o'clock when working people are just getting off work. Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances."
Biden pledged to work to "pass legislation passed by the House," presumably a reference to H.R. 1, a Democratic bill that would effectively nationalize election management.
The president also issued a new COVID-19 vaccination goal, noting that the U.S. had met his original aim — 100 million shots within the first 100 days of his administration — "by day 58," 42 days ahead of his original schedule.
"Now today, I'm setting the second goal," he said. "And that is, we will by my 100th day in office have administered 200 million shots in people's arms."
Long pauses, prepared remarks, press list
Thursday's press conference had been long awaited by both the press and the public. The Biden campaign had pledged a "transparent, open" relationship with the press, yet the president himself had failed to appear solo before journalists over two months into his administration.
Some administration critics have speculated that Biden — who at 78 years old has at times appeared to struggle with the public duties of the presidency — may have been deliberately avoiding engagements with the press for fear of potentially struggling in front of them.
Biden during his Thursday presser appeared largely relaxed and prepared, though at times after fielding a question he paused for significant lengths of time as he apparently pondered his response. In other cases, he appeared to be reading directly from notes in a stack of papers.
The president also appeared to be calling on assembled journalists from a list on his lectern. A little over a dozen reporters were present in the East Room, all of them physically distanced from each other and wearing masks as well.
"Now today, I'm setting a second goal," he said. "And that is, we will by my 100th day in office have administered 200 million shots in people's arms."