WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, fielding questions at his first White House press conference, set a new COVID-19 vaccination goal, promising to administer more than 200 million shots by the end of his first 100 days in office.
The pledge came on Biden’s 65th day in office, and a week after he announced he met his administration’s initial goal of providing 100 million shots by the end of his first 100 days.
With just over a month left, the U.S. is on track to exceeding the 200 million bench mark — more than 130 million doses have been given as of Thursday morning, and the U.S. for the past week has averaged 2.5 million shots a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Twice our original goal but no other country in the world has even come close,” Biden said at the top of his more than hourlong news conference.
The president, who previously vowed the majority of all K-8 schools will reopen for in-person learning in his first 100 days, said recent U.S. Department of Education data shows that “nearly half” of schools have met that standard. He said he believed the majority of schools will reopen “in the 35 days left to go.”
Biden, 78, responding to a range of questions, also said he expects to run for reelection in 2024 and declared his next legislative push will focus on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
“The next major initiative … is to rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure, in this country, so that we can compete and create significant numbers of really good paying jobs,” Biden said.
The president also promised to “significantly ramp up” efforts to address the surge of unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S. border, indicated a Trump administration May 1 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan will be “hard to meet,” and asserted that passing gun control legislation remained a priority but the “timing” had to be right.
“Successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they’ve been able to time what they’re doing,” Biden said when asked about the push for new gun control laws in response to the recent mass shootings at a Boulder, Colorado supermarket and at a string of Atlanta, Georgia area massage parlors.
Calling on 10 out of the 30 journalists at the briefing, media industry reporters noted on social media that Biden did not get asked about the pandemic and did not call-on reporters from the conservative outlets in the room, including Fox News and Newsmax.
Asked about the growing number of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico, Biden pushed back against the notion that the increase was driven by his victory over former President Donald Trump, who instituted hard-line immigration policies.
“Did anybody suggest there was a 31 percent increase under Trump because he was a nice guy?” Biden said.
Biden said migration data has historically pointed to an increase in border apprehensions during the months of January, February and March.
“The reason they’re coming is that it’s the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying on the way because of the heat in the desert,” Biden said.
The president, who on Wednesday appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the response at the U.S. southern border, said: “I can’t guarantee we’re going to solve everything, but I can guarantee we’re going to make it better.”
Biden assailed efforts by Republican led state legislatures in more than two-dozen states that look to limit absentee and in-person voting and narrow voting hours and polling sites. The president called the proposals “un-American” and vowed “to “do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from becoming the law.”
“This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” Biden said, before promising to work to pass voting rights legislation named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
The legislation has passed the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, but faces an uphill climb in the 50-50 U.S. Senate, where legislation needs 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.
Biden said the filibuster was being “abused in a gigantic way,” and indicated his support for restoring the chamber’s old filibuster requirement of lawmakers standing and speaking on the Senate floor to keep the filibuster alive.
“Guess what?” Biden said. “People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing. I strongly support going in that direction.”
Biden, who served more than three-decades in the U.S. Senate, has previously resisted calls to outright eliminate the filibuster, even as it stands in the way of his getting his legislative priorities passed through Congress. But on Thursday, Biden warned “If there’s complete lockdown and chaos, as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’re going to have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”