Biden Addresses Immigration, Voting Rights and More in His First Formal News

President Biden held his first news conference in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden said on Thursday that Republican efforts to limit voting rights were “sick” and “un-American,” vowing to prevent states from taking what he called “despicable” actions that undermine democracy by making it harder for people to cast ballots.

Speaking to reporters in the East Room of the White House for his first formal news conference, Mr. Biden said he would do “everything in my power” to pass voting rights legislation now under consideration in the Senate. But when asked about ending the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to approve most legislation — one of the biggest obstacles to the voting rights bill and much of the rest of his agenda — the president was more cautious, suggesting he was open to change but not committing himself to it.

The 60-vote threshold imposed by the filibuster was being “abused in a gigantic way,” Mr. Biden said, reiterating his support for a proposal that would require senators to keep talking in order to block legislation — a shift in practice that could deter routine use of the rule.

“I strongly support moving in that direction,” he said.

But he also signaled more directly than he has previously that he might eventually back more far-reaching proposals to limit or abolish the filibuster if doing so turned out to be essential for passage of a voting rights measure and other key elements of his agenda in a Senate that is currently divided 50 to 50.

“If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster,” the president said, “then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”

During a question-and-answer session that lasted more than an hour, Mr. Biden said it was his “expectation” that he would run for re-election in 2024, with Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.

He said for the first time that he “can’t picture” American troops still in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year, though he repeated that it would be hard to have them out by the current deadline of May 1. And he promoted his administration’s progress in fighting the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic, vowing to deliver 200 million vaccinations by the end of April — twice his previous pledge — even as the government also delivers a big new infusion of financial aid.

“As of yesterday, more than 100 million payments of $1,400 have gone into people’s bank accounts,” the president said, referring to the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that he pushed through Congress with no Republican support. “That’s real money in people’s pockets bringing relief instantly, almost. And millions more will be getting their money very soon.”


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President Biden said that a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by a May 1 deadline was unlikely. He also warned that the United States would respond if North Korea escalated violations of U.N. resolutions.CreditCredit…John Moore/Getty Images

President Biden said on Thursday that he was unlikely to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, the deadline agreed to by his predecessor, but added that he could not imagine troops still there a year from now.

His statement, at his first formal news conference since his inauguration just over two months ago, marked the first time that he had put a time frame on the American withdrawal. He had previously said that he was unlikely to meet the May 1 deadline for withdrawal that was part of an agreement made a year ago between the Trump administration and the Taliban.

“We’ve been meeting with our allies,’’ Mr. Biden said, particularly those who still have troops in Afghanistan, “and if we leave we are going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”

But moment later, when pressed, he moved away from the “if,’’ saying “It is not my intention to stay there for a long time.”

Mr. Biden’s statement appeared to make clear that he plans to pull out the 2,500 American troops remaining in the country, nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of the country to eliminate Al Qaeda’s base there, from which the September 11, 2001 terror attacks were launched.

But Pentagon officials have long warned that the troops are necessary to maintain a minimum force to collect intelligence and conduct counterterrorism operations. And Mr. Biden has not yet explained how, once the troops are gone, those functions will be carried out from afar.

In the same news conference, Mr. Biden said that North Korea’s decision to launch two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday violated United Nations resolutions. “There will be responses if they choose to escalate,’’ he said. “We will respond accordingly.”

But he also opened the door to negotiations, “conditioned on the end result of…

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