President Joe Biden signaled in his first formal press conference that he is in no mood to let the trappings of bipartisanship get in the way of his agenda, and offered clear warning that he values his political ambitions over a post-Trump détente with Republicans. from Washington.
“I want to change the paradigm,” Biden told reporters Thursday at the White House.
The president first suggested that he would eventually support the removal of Senate obstructionism altogether, after Republicans threatened to use the procedure to halt many of their priorities, from expanding voting rights to immigration reform, control of weapons and measures to combat climate change.
Obstructionism, he said, had been “gargantuan abused” by Republicans. He portrayed the efforts of the Republican Party to restrict voting rights in racist states, saying that “this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
“I’m going to do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and Senate, to prevent that from becoming law,” he said.
The press conference was Biden’s longest exchange with reporters to date. Long known for his mistakes, the president didn’t make any big mistakes, but he was also cautious. At one point he seemed to lose track of his thoughts as he explained his position on the filibuster, causing an awkward pause, and he read much of his answer to a question about China in prepared notes.
The biggest news of the event was that he hopes to run for re-election in 2024, when he will turn 82.
However, his comments on filibuster and Republicans highlighted a shift Biden has made from running for president. He showed that he believes that his electoral victory offers him a political mandate to fundamentally expand and refocus the mission of the federal government.
Biden brushed aside questions about why he wasn’t doing more to woo Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, implicitly pointing to his public approval rating. Has the support of about 54% of Americans, according to a Gallup poll conducted March 1-15.
“I would like the support of the Republican-elect, but what I know I have now is that I have the electoral support of the Republican voters,” Biden said. “Republican voters agree with what I am doing.”
Biden’s newfound willingness to forego courting Republicans offered one of the few themes to emerge from a press conference that otherwise closely matched expectations.
In questions on foreign policy topics such as China, North Korea and the Middle East, he often referred to prepared notes and reiterated familiar talking points. A follow-up question yielded a prediction that US troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
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Much of the post-press conference social media chatter focused not on the president himself, but on the assembled press corps, who asked Biden multiple questions about his reelection prospects and his handling of a surge in migrants at the southern border of the United States. but none about the ongoing pandemic, probably the main concern of ordinary Americans.
Biden’s display of cold political calculation was remarkable, given that his long Senate career and bipartisan appeal were central to his presidential campaign.
Biden said he “strongly” supported reverting to a “talking filibuster” that would require senators to stand up and continue to speak to keep the word and block the legislation. He said he agreed that the procedure had a history rooted in discrimination and said that if Republicans used the technique to block “certain things that are simply elementary to the functioning of democracy,” such as voting rights, it could endorse even more extreme changes.
“If there is a total lockdown and chaos as a result of obstructionism, then we will have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” Biden said.
At the same time, the president showed little interest in finding common ground on voting issues, and Republican state legislatures across the country sought to restrict access to the polls following his election victory in November and false accusations of widespread fraud from the ballot box. Former President Donald Trump.
“What worries me is how un-American this whole initiative is,” Biden said. “It’s sick.”
Hours after his press conference concluded, Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature sent Gov. Brian Kemp legislation that would restrict voting by mail, which was particularly popular with Democrats last year. Biden narrowly won the state in November and two Democrats won their two Senate seats in the January runoff elections.
Despite showing excitement on some issues, Biden also made it clear that his willingness to set aside long-standing traditions and cross-party collaboration was largely based on calculated pragmatism. When asked what specific gun control actions he would take in the wake of the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, the president said his agenda was ambitious but “all a matter of time.”
“Successful presidents, better than me, have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they are doing,” Biden said. “Order, decide priorities, what to do.”
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As if to illustrate his point, the president quickly moved from gun control to an exposition about his next, multi-Trillion-dollar proposal for a new infrastructure and employment program, covering everything from wellheads leaking methane to asbestos in school buildings. The tortuous response seemed to illustrate, along the way, the president’s reorientation toward achieving the greatest possible policy change.
“There is so much we can do,” Biden said.