Biden doubles vaccine pledge, says plans to run again

 

Washington, United States: US President Joe Biden on Thursday promised 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine would be administered in his first 100 days in office, doubling his initial goal, as he said at his first news conference that he intended to seek another term.

Biden also said the United States would likely miss a May 1 deadline set by former President Donald Trump to pull all troops from Afghanistan, although he made clear he expected to end America's longest war within the year.

Delving into details and offering low-key answers, Biden cast a dramatically different character than his bombastic predecessor in his first formal encounter with reporters in the White House's imposing East Room since he entered office on January 20.

Biden waited longer than any modern president to hold a news conference, with his aides apparently worried that the free-wheeling 78-year-old politician -- who joked that he entered the Senate "120 years ago" -- would veer off a carefully crafted message.

But Biden appeared largely at ease and in command as he cast himself as a seasoned Washington operator who would tackle pressing problems starting with Covid-19, which has killed nearly 550,000 people in the United States.

"I've been hired to solve problems, not create division," Biden said, pointing to the passage of a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that sends money to most Americans.

"I'm a fairly practical guy. I want to get things done."

Biden began his news conference by announcing that he planned to administer 200 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in his first 100 days -- the end of April.

"I know it's ambitious, twice our original goal," Biden said. "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 faced no questions on Covid, a sign of the changing national narrative -- and a scenario unimaginable for European leaders under pressure over infections.

The United States under Biden has dramatically scaled up the distribution of vaccines -- developed during Trump's presidency -- as well as economic support, bringing dividends as hospitalizations dip and new unemployment claims fall to their lowest level since the start of the pandemic.

Hitting back on border

Amid the successes against Covid-19, Trump's Republican Party has united in denouncing Biden over a wave of Central American migrants heading to the southern border.

Biden pushed back on Republican charges of a crisis and voiced compassion for people from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua who are fleeing violence and poverty.

"There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year," Biden said.

But officials say that the number of unaccompanied children has risen, with the Biden administration racing to set up more shelters to house the youngsters.

Biden made no apologies for not sending back children-- a shift from Trump, who built his political career on strident denunciations of immigration and, in one of his most controversial moves, separated migrant children from parents.

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

Biden has put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the border situation, for the first time giving a specific portfolio to his number two who has constantly been at the side of America's oldest ever president.

But amid speculation that Biden is laying the groundwork for Harris in the 2024 election, the president said he was "a great respecter of fate" but plans to run.

"My plan is to run for reelection. That's my expectation," Biden said.

As a veteran politician, Biden likely was aware that any demurring on his political future would instantly dominate Washington's conversation.

Troops to stay longer in Afghanistan

On foreign policy, Biden added nuance to two of Trump's signature issues.

Biden, who like Barack Obama's vice president was an early advocate of leaving Afghanistan, also gave his clearest indication yet that he would not meet an agreement between Trump and Taliban insurgents to pull remaining US troops by May 1, saying it was difficult due to "tactical reasons."

"We will leave; the question is when we leave," he said. Asked whether he envisions US soldiers still in Afghanistan in 2022, Biden said: "I can't picture that being the case."

Biden also promised to "respond accordingly" if North Korea escalates missile testing, after Pyongyang fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea, but also offered diplomacy.

The launches appeared to end a freeze under Trump, who held three made-for-television encounters with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but did not reach a lasting agreement.

In an interview Thursday evening, Trump said Biden was asked easy questions at the news conference -- "it was like softballs."

He also blasted Biden for his criticism that Trump had left children abandoned on the Mexican side of the border.

"First of all, it's just the opposite," Trump said. "By the time we finished what we were doing [on the border], very few people were coming up because they knew they weren't going to get through. We stopped 'catch and release' -- which was a disaster."

Trump also said that a meeting last week between the senior US and Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska was an embarrassment to the US.

The Fox News interviewer said China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, lectured the US side about America's race problems.

"We should have walked out. Nobody ever talked to my group that way, has nobody ever talked to me that way, I can tell you that," Trump said."

Trump to Biden, a contrast in styles in debut press conferences

Sporting a red tie, Donald Trump -- combative, goading, sometimes angry and insulting.

Wearing a blue tie with stripes, Joe Biden -- calm, amiable, sometimes stumbling and hesitant.

From February 16, 2017, to March 25, 2021: two debut press conferences at the White House by two presidents of the same generation but with radically different styles.

After nearly four weeks in power, Donald Trump, a political novice, frustrated by characterizations of the start of his presidency as chaotic, let loose on the media in a torrent of words.

After nine weeks in the White House, Joe Biden, a veteran of Washington politics, struck a different note, providing reassurances but no real surprises in a genial tone aimed at seeking a kind of complicity with his interrogators.

The setting was the same: the East Room of the White House with its imposing picture of George Washington and elaborate drapes.

American flags were on display behind the lectern adorned with the presidential seal but the atmosphere was notably different amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of social distancing, only about 30 journalists were allowed in the room.

Four years ago the East Room was overflowing and it took some gymnastics to type on a keyboard delicately balanced on one's knees to avoid disturbing your neighbor.

Trump was both the center of attention and producer of his press conferences. He set the rules, the tone, the tempo.

He took up the entire room, gesticulating constantly with his hands, movements which gave rise to parody videos of him as if playing the accordion.

He shifted constantly from surprise to disappointment to amusement to mockery. He chose which journalists asked the questions and met them with compliments or insults.

"Here's the deal"

Biden provided a much more "presidential" spectacle, a description which Trump frequently derided.

Like Barack Obama, Biden chose the questioners from a list that had been prepared ahead of time by the White House press team.

He stayed behind the lectern and appeared only once to flash his temper when asked about Republican attempts to restrict the voting rights of minorities.

"The Republican voters I know find this despicable," he said.

At one point, Biden stopped himself when a journalist looked like they wanted to ask a follow-up question.

"Am I giving you too long an answer?" he said obligingly. "I don't know how much detail you want."

To a questioner who asked about China, he injected a personal note.

"I predict to you that your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy because that is what is at stake," he said.

As he often does, Biden occasionally started sentences that trailed off in entirely different directions.

He trotted out his familiar phrases: "God willing," "Here's the deal" and "Folks."

He poked fun at his own age -- 78 -- with a reference to first arriving in the US Senate "120 years" ago.

It was all markedly different from four years ago when Trump's main target was the press itself.

The then-president lashed out at a "dishonest" media which he said is "out of control" and not telling the truth about the "incredible progress" made since he'd taken office.

"Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, DC, along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system," Trump said.

"Sit down!" Trump told one reporter who tried to ask a follow-up question. "The public doesn't believe you people anymore."

While no longer at the podium, Trump did make an appearance of sorts at Biden's press conference with the Democratic president asked if he expected to face the Republican again in 2024.

"My predecessor. Oh God, I miss him," Biden said, laughing.

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