President Biden Addresses Migration, Filibuster At First Press Conference : The NPR Politics Podcast In an hour-long briefing, Biden downplayed the role his election victory and messaging are playing in encouraging an influx of migrants to the border. He also said that he was working quickly to improve the conditions for children detained by the United States.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, and national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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President Biden Addresses Migration, Filibuster At First Press Conference

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President Biden Addresses Migration, Filibuster At First Press Conference

President Biden Addresses Migration, Filibuster At First Press Conference

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TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I also cover the White House.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And the time now is 3:14 p.m. on Thursday, the 25 of March, just a short time after President Biden finished his first formal solo press conference at the White House today. And he started with some news.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: On December 8, I indicated that I hoped to get 100 million shots, people's arms in my first hundred days. We met that goal last week by day 58, 42 days ahead of schedule. Now, today, I am setting a second goal, and that is we will by my 100th day in office have administered 200 million shots into people's arms.

KEITH: Now, that new goal, 200 million doses, is a very achievable goal at the current pace of 2.5 million doses administered a day approximately. And then, as press conferences do, this one moved away from what the president wanted to talk about and into territory that was less comfortable as reporters in the room asked him questions. The theme that people kept coming back to the issue, that people kept coming back to was the influx of unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S. border.

RASCOE: President Biden really did lay out the administration's case for - and their defense of what is happening. And he was pressed on whether his language was - and him being seen as a moral, decent human being and his language about not sending children back, whether that is leading to more children making this dangerous trip. He seemed to say that he did not believe that was the case. But some reporters had some specific examples, including Cecilia Vega of ABC News, had some specific examples where they talked to people who said that they were coming because of Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CECILIA VEGA: His mother says that she sent her son to this country because she believes that you are not deporting unaccompanied minors like her son. That's why she sent him alone from Honduras. So, sir, you blamed the last administration, but is your messaging and saying that these children are - and will be allowed to stay in this country and work their way through this process encouraging families like Josele's (ph) to come?

BIDEN: Well, look. The idea that I'm going to say - which I would never do - if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we're just gonna let them starve to death and stay on the other side - no previous administrations did either except Trump. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to do it.

LIASSON: Yeah. I thought what was interesting is he said, look, I don't think that the decision to send your child, a 9 or 10-year-old child into the the desert is made because you think I'm a nice guy. Now, it's possible that these parents think their children have a better chance of getting into the United States because Biden is president. But he went in great detail to talk about the kind of things that would allow a parent to send a young child on that incredibly dangerous journey - gang violence, the lack of food, all sorts of problems in their home countries. You know, he was defending his policy, which is to be, one, more welcoming, but also to try to do something about - I guess you would call them the push factors.

KEITH: He also said that the current conditions that some of these young children are experiencing in U.S. custody, those conditions are, quote, "totally unacceptable." And he certainly came into this press conference knowing he was going to be asked about it and prepared, saying that he had put the vice president in charge of working with Mexico and Central American countries. And as we've talked about many times on this podcast, this is a complicated, challenging problem.

When these children arrive, even if they have, as he talked about, you know, a phone number on their wrist or on a piece of paper in their pocket of a parent or a loved one in the United States, actually connecting with that family member, making sure that they are a safe person for that child to connect with and go stay with, that's not easy. And when you have a lot of children, they can't move them through that process as quickly as they would like to. But he said they're working on it.

RASCOE: He's saying - he's pledging right now and pledged at this press conference that it's going to move much faster and that they're going to be able to get these kids with their, you know, whoever the person is, if it's a trusted adult, not some shady coyote or whoever, that they will be able to, you know, get them - move them there faster. So that is something that he laid down a marker that he's going to have to live up to. He also tried to make the case that most of the kids are 16 and 17 and that they're not necessarily young babies, trying to make that distinction between him and the Trump administration, that this isn't like nursing babies, you know, being taking away from their mothers. That's the case that he was trying to make.

KEITH: Yeah. I have to say that this got a lot of focus in this press conference. And, you know, one of the challenges of waiting this far into his administration to have his first press conference is that issues have arisen. You know, like, if this had been in the first 30 days, this issue would not have dominated the press conference, and likely, coronavirus would have dominated the press conference. I was shocked that no one asked about the pandemic.

RASCOE: Well, they didn't call on me.

RASCOE: Right. They didn't call on Ayesha.

LIASSON: Was that going to be your question?

RASCOE: Well, I - it could have been anything, but they don't - they'll never know now.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: We are going to take a quick break. And when we come back, another big topic from the press conference, our favorite topic here on this podcast, the filibuster.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: And we are back. And another major topic of this press conference that Biden was pressed on repeatedly was his position on the filibuster. If we keep talking about this, we may have to call it the NPR filibuster podcast.

LIASSON: (Laughter).

KEITH: But he talked about wanting to potentially bring back the talking filibuster.

RASCOE: Where you talk till you drop.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: 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.

LIASSON: So, Mara, first, just a quick clarification. Was it the case that you used to have to talk until you dropped and that is what Biden wants to go back to?

LIASSON: Yes. And he said this before. And he did opine that maybe he was willing to go further. He said if we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos - in other words, if Republicans obstruct everything - we'll have to go beyond what I'm talking about in terms of in - meaning go beyond just the talking filibuster. So he showed an openness to getting rid of the filibuster.

KEITH: And, Ayesha, he was also asked a question about the filibuster by Kaitlan Collins of CNN, asked a question that many people who have a keen interest in the filibuster have wanted asked.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

KAITLAN COLLINS: Regarding the filibuster - at John Lewis's funeral, President Barack Obama said he believed the filibuster was a relic of the Jim Crow era. Do you agree?

BIDEN: Yes.

COLLINS: If not, why not abolish it if it's a relic of the Jim Crow era?

LIASSON: He had a very long pause.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible. Let's figure out how we can get this done and move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of even the filibuster rule first.

KEITH: So he's basically saying, let's try the talking filibuster first.

RASCOE: Well, he knows also that he doesn't have the votes for getting rid of the filibuster. Like, they are not there when you have Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema who have said Democrats who have said that they don't want to get rid of the filibuster. So when he's talking about the art of the possible, it is not possible without their support to just get rid of it.

LIASSON: But then he spoke extremely passionately about what a lot of Democrats want to break the filibuster for. They want to break it to pass HR1, which is this response to all of these Republican state legislatures around the country who are passing ballot access laws that would make it harder for minorities and young people to vote. And a lot of Democrats say this is a return to Jim Crow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: When 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.

LIASSON: He said these laws make Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. And he said, this is gigantic, and I'm going to keep on working to stop these votes - as if he was going to try to go around the country - he said, I have to figure out how to pass HR1 in Washington but also educate the American people. And he got away from talking about the filibuster, but he did talk about the thing that Democrats want to abolish the filibuster for.

KEITH: There are a lot of things that Democrats and certainly advocates would like to abolish the filibuster to be able to get done. One of those is gun safety legislation, especially following the two mass shootings in less than a week that have happened. And President Biden was asked about that sort of. But instead of talking about what he wanted to do about guns, he started talking about sequencing and his other priorities.

RASCOE: Infrastructure. He talked about infrastructure. I mean, it was a very abrupt turn. He was - and at a point where he really had an opening because he really hadn't been asked too much about what he was going to do as far as guns. And he basically said he was considering a number of things. He was open to it. Something has to be done. But then he started talking about timing. And then he gave a very long, almost filibustering monologue about infrastructure, making it clear that infrastructure is the next thing on the agenda. It's what's on his mind. And it doesn't - that doesn't seem to be gun control. I don't know how sustainable that necessarily is, especially as you continue to have this violence, whether events will push something else to get in the way of that. But that's seemed to be his message.

KEITH: Yeah.

LIASSON: The White House clearly thinks that they cannot get major gun reform legislation through the Senate. And they're not going to be deterred. This is a very organized White House that prioritizes, that has a game plan. They're not going to be deterred from their next big project.

KEITH: Yeah. But on a lighter note, President Biden was asked a question that I think a lot of people sort of have at least - maybe it's just a lot of people in the political world because 2024 is a long way away. But he was asked whether he intends to run for reelection, and he did not hesitate.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: The answer is yes. My plan is to run for reelection. That's my expectation.

KEITH: It's official. He's running.

RASCOE: Well, he said, yes, he expects to run. And then he was like - has to clarify that. Then he was kind of like, I don't know what happens over the next - anything can happen. But he said he was - his expectation is that he was going to run. And I don't think there was any other answer he could have given to that.

KEITH: But this is important for him. This is unique to this president, the oldest president ever. And he said during the campaign he would be a transitional president. There is a lot of talk about whether he'll run again, whether he'll be too old to run again. And it's really important that he not be seen as a lame duck. But I think it was important that he put those questions to rest.

KEITH: All right. Well, we are going to leave it there for now. We will be back in your feeds tomorrow with our weekly roundup.

I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I also cover the White House.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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