The president also announced at his first press conference that he plans to run for reelection in 2024.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Holding the first press conference of his presidency Thursday, Joe Biden said that 200 million vaccines will be administered by his 100th day in office — doubling an initial goal set by his administration in January.
“I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has even come close – not even close – to what we are doing, and I believe we can do it,” Biden told reporters in the East Room of the White House.
Last week, the president announced the U.S. hit his goal of 100 million shots in arms by only his 58th day in the White House. As part of a continued effort to make vaccinations more accessible, the administration also announced Thursday it was investing $10 billion to expand access in communities of color, rural and low-income areas, as well as aiding other underserved communities.
Taking questions from press for the first time in a formal setting, the president spoke to reporters for a little over an hour on a range of issues, including voting rights, infrastructure priorities and immigration reform.
Biden also said he expected to seek reelection in 2024 alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, but would not predict who his opponent in that contest might be.
“My plan is to run for reelection, that’s my expectation,” he said.
A main focus for reporters was the federal response to migrants crossing the southern border, the increase of which many Republican lawmakers have decried as a crisis due to a perceived welcoming of immigration under Biden. But the president has reiterated on multiple occasions that a global pandemic is not the time to travel to the U.S.
Biden said Thursday the increase in migrants coming into the country was higher under Donald Trump’s administration than his own: in 2019, there was a 31% increase in immigrants seeking refuge in the U.S., while that total has dropped to a 28% increase during Biden’s first months in office. He said there were a plethora of reasons as to why migrants were seeking refuge during the winter months.
“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, number one. Number two, they’re coming because of the circumstances in country,” Biden said.
Biden also said Trump had eliminated funding to address the root causes of why people left their home countries to come to America. The former president also dismantled many of the programs created to address systematic issues within the immigration system, Biden noted, including shutting down the number of beds available to migrant families in federal facilities or slashing Health and Human Services funding directed at moving children from those border facilities.
“So, what we’re doing now is attempting to rebuild, rebuild the system that can accommodate what is happening today,” Biden said.
He also touched on initiatives in some states to limit access to voting, calling proposals like preventing people from bringing voters standing in line water or food “un-American.” He said those provisions in places like Georgia made Jim Crow laws “look like Jim Eagle,” adding he’d spend time figuring out how to pass the House’s voting rights bill and educating the American public about the issue.
“The Republican voters I know find this despicable. Republican voters,” Biden said. “Folks outside this White House. I’m not talking about the elected officials, I’m talking about voters.”
The president also noted next on the legislative agenda for his administration would be tackling America’s failing infrastructure, saying he’d go into further detail on his plans during a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next Friday.
Key issues to address include some 186,000 miles of U.S. highways that are rated in poor condition and the fact that one in three bridges in the country are in need of repairs. While reporters pointed out Biden’s opposition in an equally divided Senate, the president said Republicans would need to make a decision.
“Here’s the deal: I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together, or they’ll decide that the way in which they want to proceed is to just divide the country, continue the politics of division,” Biden said. “But I’m not going to do that, I’m just going to move forward and take these things as they come.”