President Joe Biden held his first formal news conference Thursday -- much later than his last 15 predecessors and one that looked sharply different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While previous news conferences saw rooms packed with the White House press corps, Biden's had only 30 reporters socially distanced in the White House East Room.
He began by announcing he's now set a new goal of 200 million vaccine doses by the end of his first 100 days in office, after passing his original goal of 100 million doses last week on Day 58.
After Biden touted the benefits of his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan and advances in helping the economy recover, he faced immediate questions about the growing challenges that have taken focus away from his effort to sell his legislative victory, including the migrant surge at the southern border, and the broad Republican opposition to his political agenda on immigration reform, gun control and voting rights.
"I got elected to solve problems," Biden responded when asked whether he would be blocked from keeping his campaign promises. "There are a lot of problems," he said, but he argued those other issues were "long-term problems" while he needed to put all his initial focus on dealing with the pandemic and the economic fallout.
"I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together or decide that the way in which they want to proceed is to -- is to just decide to divide the country, continue the politics of division, but I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to move forward and take these things as they come," Biden said.
Biden calls migrant child facilities 'totally unacceptable'
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has struggled to handle the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, which is only expected to increase in coming months, and news media access to the facilities housing children has been extremely limited and tightly controlled.
When asked whether his and his administration's messaging was leading to the migrant surge, Biden pushed back, saying the influx happens every year. He also contended many of the current problems were prompted by the failures of former President Donald Trump.
"So what we're doing now is attempting to rebuild, rebuild the system that can accommodate what is happening today," Biden said. "And I'd like to think it's because I'm a nice guy, but it's not, it's because of what's happened every year.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega pressed Biden on the conditions for migrant children being held in U.S. border facilities, particularly at a one in Donna, Texas. Images from that facility released earlier this week showed the overcrowding.
"There are kids that are sleeping on floors. They are packed into these pods. I've spoken to lawyers who say that they, some of these children have not seen the sun in days. What is your reaction to these images that have come out from that particular facility? Is what's happening inside acceptable to you? And when is this going to be fixed?" Vega asked.
Biden called the conditions "totally unacceptable."
"That's why we're going to be moving a thousand of those kids out quickly. That's why I got Fort Bliss opened up. That's why I've been working from the moment this started to happen to try to find additional access for children to be able to safely, not just children, but particularly children, to be able to safely be housed while we follow through on the rest of what's happening," Biden said.
Biden also committed to transparency and access to the facilities, though he said he did not say when and where he would allow in reporters and cameras.
He sidesteps on when he'll tackle gun control
Also asked about was the politically fraught issue of gun control, after a mass shooting in Atlanta left eight people dead last week and 10 were killed during a shooting in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday.
Biden has called on Congress to take action, but has yet to put forward his own legislation on gun control -- despite a campaign pledge to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office to repeal liability protections for gun manufacturers and close background check loopholes.
When asked when he would propose his promised reforms, he sidestepped, saying, "stay tuned," adding that answer applied to other key items on his agenda as well, saying infrastructure was his next priority.
"It's a matter of timing," he said. "As you've all observed, successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they're doing. Order it. Decide in priorities what needs to be done."
Going 'beyond' his 'talking filibuster' proposal?
Biden suggested for the first time he might be open to going beyond just reinstating the "talking filibuster" if he is unable to get any of his agenda through a deadlocked Senate, which is a reversal of his prior comments where he touted his Senate experience with dealmaking abilities.
"If we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we'll have to go beyond what I'm talking about," Biden said.
Biden said the current filibuster is "being abused in a gigantic way."
"It used to be you had to stand there and talk and talk and talk and talk until you collapsed. And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing. Filibusters broke down and we were able to break the filibuster, get a quorum, and vote," Biden said.
The GOP has already hit back at Biden's comments. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., released a statement within minutes of Biden's news conference.
"Senator Biden was a relentless defender of the filibuster -- but now that President Biden looks in the mirror and sees FDR, he’s keeping the door open for a complete 180 to blow up the institution he spent four decades defending," Sasse said in a statement. "He was right when he summed it up this way numerous times: 'the Senate ought not act rashly by changing its rules to satisfy a strong-willed majority."
America and the world: North Korea, Afghanistan
Another topic that came up was foreign policy. In his first two months in office, Biden has seen escalated tensions with Russia and China, renewed missile tests from North Korea and a looming May 1 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Biden said that he views North Korea as his top foreign policy issue, reacting to Kim Jong Un's provocative missile launch this week by saying he was working with allies on a response. He said he is open to diplomacy with Pyongyang, so long as it results in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
On whether and when U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan, he said it will be difficult to withdraw them by the May 1 deadline agreed to by President Trump, but noted it was "not [his] intention to stay there for a long time."
"The answer is that it's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline, just in terms of tactical reasons, it’s hard to get those troops out," Biden said, but adding he doesn't expect them to still be there net year.
Says GOP efforts to restrict voting rights 'despicable'
Biden was asked by reporters about efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to enact new voting rules that may make it harder for some groups, including minority and young voters, to cast their ballot ahead of the 2022 midterms.
"What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick, 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 5:00 when working people are just getting off work? Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances?" Biden said. "It's all designed."
Biden said that even Republican voters disagree with the efforts, and compared them to Jim Crow laws emphasizing he'll do "everything" in his power to prevent the proposals from becoming law.
"The Republican voters I know find this despicable, Republican voters. The folks outside this White House. I'm not talking about the elected officials, I'm talking about voters. And so, I'm convinced that we'll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle," Biden said. "I mean, this is gigantic what they're trying to do and it cannot be sustained."
Will he run for another term?
Biden was also asked whether he'll run for reelection in 2024.
"My plan is to run for reelection," Biden said. "That's my expectation."
He brushed off the questions about whether he thought he might be running against Trump once again saying he "doesn't even think about that." But he did respond to a question about whether Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate in 2024.
"I would fully expect that to be the case," Biden said. "She's doing a great job. She's a great partner."