WASHINGTON — The mounting challenges at the border crashed President Joe Biden’s first formal news conference Thursday afternoon, derailing White House hopes of keeping the event focused on the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House had made an advance effort to spotlight Biden’s pandemic response, with a string of vaccination logistical funding announcements in the hours before it began. The president began the event by detailing a new vaccination target, after his initial goal of 100 million vaccines was reached last week.
“Today I’m setting a second goal, and that is: we will, by my 100th day in office, have administered 200 million shots in people’s arms,” Biden said. “I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has even come close.”
Biden said his policies were not the cause of an increase in children arriving at the border, blaming former President Donald Trump for neglecting Central America while in office and the seasonal uptick in migration that occurs each spring.
Most of those migrants should not be admitted to the U.S., he said: “The only people we are not going to let sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande with no help are children.”
Biden had gone longer without holding a formal news conference than any first-term president in decades, breaking with a longstanding tradition of taking questions from White House press corps at a dedicated event within the first month of office. His decision to delay the grilling drew criticism from some, who pointed to his campaign promise to lead the most transparent administration in history.
Thirty reporters attended the news conference, a smaller number than normal due to distancing measures in place for the coronavirus pandemic.