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President Biden Holds Press Conference. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 25, 2021 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:01]

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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?

It's all designed -- and I'm going to spend my time doing three things. One, trying to figure out how to pass the legislation passed by the House, number one. Number two, educating the American public. The Republican voters I know find this despicable, Republican voters, folks out in the -- outside this White House. I'm not talking about the -- the elected officials, I'm talking about voters -- voters.

And so I am convinced that we'll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic, what they're trying to do, and it cannot be sustained. I'm going to do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from -- from becoming the law.

QUESTION: Is there anything else you can do about it, besides passing legislation?

BIDEN: The answer is yes but I'm not going to lay out a strategy in front of the whole world and you now.

QUESTION: And then, on a related note, have you decided whether you are going to run for re-election in 2024? You haven't set up a re- election campaign yet, as your predecessor had by this time.

BIDEN: My predecessor need -- do -- needed to. My predecessor -- oh, God, I miss him.

(LAUGHTER)

No, the answer is yes, my plan is to run for re-election, that's my expectation.

QUESTION: And then on -- on -- on one other note, on bipartisanship. Your old friend, Mitch McConnell, says you have only spoken to each other once since you took office and that you have moved far left since taking office. Do you see it the same way he does? Have you rejected bipartisanship?

BIDEN: No, I haven't at all. I've been meeting -- when's the last time a president invited the opposite party down at least a half a dozen times to talk about issues, everything from how we work, I'm -- we're working with a group of 20 members of the Senate right now and House on how we re-establish our ability to make computer chips and how we get ahead of the game, how we can work together, and we're working together on a bunch of things.

But look, I know Mitch well, Mitch knows me well. I would expect Mitch to say exactly what he said but this is a matter of making sure that -- I would like Republican -- elected Republican support but what I know I have now is I have electoral support from Republican voters -- Republican voters agree with what I'm doing.

And so unless Mitch says the last thing I did is -- last piece of legislation is so far left, well then he ought to take a look at his party. Over 50 percent of them must be over that edge, as well, cause they support what I did.

OK, where am I here? Let me see. Kaitlyn (ph)?

[14:05:01]

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

I have a question for you but first, I'd like to follow up on a question from Yamiche and that's on the filibuster.

BIDEN: That counts as a question but go ahead.

QUESTION: OK, I'll make it quick.

BIDEN: No, no you can...

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

BIDEN: Yes.

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

BIDEN: Successful electorate politics is the art of 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. It's been abused from the time it came into being by an extreme way in the last 20 years. Let's deal with the abuse first.

QUESTION: It sounds like you're moving closer to eliminating the filibuster, is that correct?

BIDEN: I answered your question.

QUESTION: You also just made some news by saying that you are going to run for reelection...

BIDEN: I said that is my expectation.

QUESTION: So is that a yes that you are running for reelection?

BIDEN: Look, I don't know where you guys come from, man. I've never been able to travel. I'm a great respecter of fate. I've never been able to plan four in a half to three in a half years ahead for certain.

QUESTION: And if you do -- if you do run, will Vice President Harris be on your ticket?

BIDEN: I would fully expect that to be the case. She's doing a great job. She's a great partner. She's a great partner.

QUESTION: And do you believe you'll be running against former President Trump?

BIDEN: Come on. I don't even think about it. I don't -- I have no idea. I have no idea if there will be the Republican Party, do you? I know you don't have to answer my question. But I mean do you? I mean look this is -- they way I view things I become a great respecter of fate in my life. I set a goal that's in front of me to get things done for the people I care most about which are hardworking, decent American people (inaudible) really having it stuck to them.

I want to change the paradigm. I want to change the paradigm. We start to reward work not just wealth. I want to change the paradigm. If you notice didn't you find it kind of interesting that my Republican friends were worried about that the cost and the taxes that had to be had if there is any tax to be had as they talk about it. And dealing with the act that we just passed which puts money in people's pockets, ordinary people.

To hear them complain when they passed close to $2 trillion Trump tax cut, 83 percent going to the top 1 percent. Did you hear them talk about that at all? I love the fact that they found this whole idea of concern about the federal budget is kind of amazing. When the federal budget is saving people's lives they don't think it's such a good idea. When the federal budget is feathering the nest of the wealthiest Americans; 90 of the Fortune 500 companies making billions of dollars not paying a cent in taxes.

Reducing taxes to a point that people who are making -- if you're a husband and wife, school teacher and a cop you're paying at a higher rate than the average person making a billion dollars a year is. Something's wrong. There new found concern. I'm concerned -- look I meant what I said when I ran and a lot of you still think I'm wrong and I respect that.

[14:10:00]

BIDEN: I said I'm running for three reasons. To restore the sole of dignity, honor, honesty, transparency to the American political system. Two, to rebuild the backbone of this country; the middle- class, hardworking people, people struggling in the middle class. They built America. And unions built them.

The third reason I said I was running was to unite the country. And generically speaking, all of you said, no, you can't do that. Well, I've not been able to unite the Congress but I've united the country, based on the polling data. We have to come together. We have to.

So, from my perspective, you know, it's -- to me, it's about just, you know, getting out there, putting one foot in front of the other and just trying to make things better for people. Just hard-working people, people who get up every morning and just want to figure out how to put food on the table for their kids, be able to have a little bit of breathing room, being able to have -- make sure that they go to bed not staring at the ceiling like my dad did, wondering since he didn't have health insurance what happens if mom gets sick or he got sick. These are basic things. Basic things.

And I'm of the view that the vast majority of people, including registered Republicans, by and large, share that same view, that same sense of what is, you know, what's appropriate.

Justin -- Justin Sink, Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. President.

I wanted to ask about your relationship with China now that you have been in office for a couple months, because obviously the meeting in Alaska that was a little theatrical, and there's the continued human rights abuses. So today, I'm wondering, are you more likely than you were when you came into office to maintain tariffs on China? Are you considering banning imports of forced labor products? And would you consider cutting off U.S. investment or Chinese access to international payment systems?

BIDEN: Well, look, they're each specifically legitimate questions but they only touch a smidgen of what the relationship with China really is about. I've known Xi Jinping for a long time. Allegedly, by the time I left office as vice president, I had spent more time with Xi Jinping than any world leader had because President Obama and the Chinese president, Hu, decided we should get to know one another since it was inappropriate for the president of the United States to spend time with the vice president of another country.

But it was obvious he was going to become the new leader of China. So, I spent hours upon hours with him, alone with an interpreter. My interpreter and his. Going into great detail. He was very, very straightforward. Doesn't have a democratic with a small "d" bone in his body, but he's a smart, smart guy. He's one of the guys, like Putin, who thinks that autocracy is the wave of the future. Democracy can't function in an ever-complex world.

So, when I was elected and he called to congratulate me, I think to the surprise of the China experts who were -- his people were on the call as well as mine, listening, we had a two-hour conversation, for two hours. And we made several things clear to one another. I made clear to him again what I have told him in-person on several occasions, that we're not looking for confrontation, although we know there will be steep, steep competition.

[14:15:00]

Two, that we'll have strong competition but we'll insist that China play by the international rules: fair competition, fair practices, fair trade.

Thirdly, in order to compete effectively, I indicated that we're going to deal with China effectively. And we're going to need three things to do that -- I told (ph) him -- our people.

First, we're going to invest in American workers and American science. I said that all through the campaign, I say it again. And we're -- and I'm setting up my administration to be able to do that, which is that -- you know, back in the '60s, we used to invest a little over 2 percent of our entire GDP in pure research and investment in science; today, it's 0.7 percent. We're going to change that. We're going to change that.

The future lies in who can, in fact, own the future as it relates to technology, quantum computing -- a whole range of things, including the medical fields. And so, what I'm going to do is make sure we invest closer to 2 percent.

One of the reasons why I've set up the PAB, the president's board, with scientists and the like, again, is we're going to invest in medical research, cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, the things -- industries of the future, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotech, and we're going to make real investments. China is out- investing us by a long shot because their plan is to own that future.

The third -- the second thing we're going to do is we're going to re- establish our alliances. And I've been very clear with him, it's not anti-Chinese. And we've talked about it. I want to make sure that, for example, later today after this -- as a matter of fact, shortly after this -- which is fine, we've been going close to an hour. I'm -- I'm happy to -- I -- go -- go longer -- but one of the things that I'm going to be doing, I'm going to be speaking with 27 heads of state in Europe in -- very shortly, I think within the next hour or so. I don't know the exact time.

And earlier this month -- and apparently it got the Chinese attention, that's not why I did it -- I met with our allies on how we're going to hold China accountable in the region -- Australia, India, Japan and the United States, the so-called Quad -- because we have to have democracies working together.

Before too long, I'm going to have -- I'm going to invite an alliance of democracies to come here to discuss the future. And so, I'm going to make it clear that in order to deal with these things, we are going to hold China accountable to follow the rules. To follow the rules, whether it relates to the South China Sea, or the North China Sea, or the agreement made on Taiwan or a whole range of other things. And the third thing, and the thing that I -- I admire about dealing with Xi is he understands -- he makes no pretense about understanding about understanding what I'm saying, any more than I do him. I pointed out to him, no leader can be sustained his position or her position unless they represent the values of the country.

And I said as -- and Mr. President, as I've told you before, Americans value the notion of freedom. America values human rights. We don't always live up to our expectations, but it's a value system. We are founded on that principle.

[14:20:00]

And as long as you and your country continues to so blatantly violate human rights, we are going to continue in an unrelenting way to call it to the attention of the world and make it clear -- make it clear what's happening.

And he understood that. I made it clear that no American president -- at least one did -- but no American president ever backed down from speaking out of what's happening the Uyghurs, what's happening in Hong Kong, what's happening in -- in country. That's who we are.

The moment a president walks away from that, as the last one did, is the moment we begin to lose our legitimacy around the world. It's who we are. So I see stiff competition with China. China has an overall goal and I don't criticize them for the goal but they have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world.

That's not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand.

QUESTION: All right. Just to follow-up on the meaning of democracy, is that where you expect in a multilateral way to make these decisions about sanctions or...

BIDEN: No, that's not where I make the decision, that's where I make sure we're all on the same page -- all on the same page.

Look, I predict to you 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. Not just with China, look around the world.

We're in the midst of a fourth Industrial Revolution of enormous consequence. Will there be middle class? How will people adjust to these significant changes in science and technology and the environment? How will they do that?

And our democracy is equipped because all the people get to speak to compete. It is clear -- absolutely clear, and most of the scholars I've dealt with at Penn agree with me around the country that this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. If you notice, you don't have Russia talking about Communism anymore, it's about an autocracy. Demand decisions made by a leaders of a country. That's what's at stake here. We got to prove democracy works.

QUESTION: Mr. President, I'm sorry, I know you haven't had a chance to address the tragedies in Georgia and Colorado. You had said to stay tuned for actions that you might take upon gun control. Wondering if you've made a decision either about sending the manufacturer liability bill that you had promised on day one to Capitol Hill or executive actions like going after ghost guns or giving money to cities and states to battle gun control.

BIDEN: All the above. It's a matter of timing.

As you've all observed, successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they're doing. Order, deciding priorities, what needs to be done.

The next major initiative is -- and I'll be announcing it Friday in Pittsburgh in detail -- is to rebuild the infrastructure both physical and technological infrastructure of this country so that we can compete and create significant numbers of really good-paying jobs, really good-paying jobs. And some of you have been around long enough to know -- that used to be a great Republican goal and initiative. I still think the majority of the American people don't like the fact that we are now ranked, what, 85th in the world in infrastructure.

I mean, look, the future rests on whether or not we have the best airports, and that can accommodate air travel, ports that you can get in and out quickly so businesses decide. Some of you, when you're -- if you were ever local reporters and you found your governor or mayor trying to attract business to your community, what's the first thing the businesses ask? What's the closest access -- access to an interstate highway? How far am I from a -- a freight rail? Is the water -- is the water available? Is enough water available for me to conduct my business? All the things that are related to infrastructure.

We have somewhere -- I -- I -- I asked the staff to write it down for me and they did -- not for this, but for a -- a longer discussion. We have somewhere, in terms of infrastructure, we have -- we rank 13th globally in infrastructure. China's investing three times more in infrastructure than the United States is. Bridges -- more than one third of our bridges, 231,000 of them need repairs. Some are physical safety risks or preservation work. One in five miles of our highways and major roads are in poor condition. That's 186,000 miles of highway. Aviation -- 20 percent of all flights -- 20 percent of all flights weren't on time, resulting in 1.5 million hours lost in production. Six- to 10 million homes in America still have lead pipes servicing their water lines. We have over 100,000 wellheads that are not capped, leaking methane. What are we doing?

And by the way, we can put as many pipefitters and miners (inaudible) to work capping those wells at the same price that they would charged to dig those wells. So I -- I -- I just find it frustrating -- frustrating, talking about... Last point I'll make on the infrastructure, and I apologize for spending more time on it, but -- is that if you think about it, it's the place where we will be able to significantly increase American productivity, at the same time providing really good jobs for people. But we can't build back to what they used to be. We have to build -- the environments are -- global warming's already done significant damage. The roads that used to be above the water level -- didn't have to worry about where the drainage ditch was. Now, you've got to rebuild them three feet higher, because it's not going to go back to what it was before -- only get worse unless we stop it.

[14:25:00]

There's so much we can do. Look at all the schools in America. Most of you live in the Washington area now, but in your hometowns -- I don't know where you're all from -- how many schools where the kids can't drink the water out of the fountain? How many schools are still in the position where there's asbestos? How many schools in America we're sending our kids to don't have adequate ventilation? How many schools, buildings, office complexes are wasting billions of barrels of oil over time because they can't hold in the heat or the air conditioning, cause that's -- leaks through the windows that are so porous in the connections (ph)? It's amazing.

So there's so much we can do that's good stuff, makes people healthier and creates good jobs. And I think that I've got one more question here, and Janet (ph) from Univision?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. We, too, have been reporting at the border and just like Cecilia (ph), we've run into a care (ph) of siblings who came in on Monday, where the same (inaudible) had the phone number for their mother who lives in the U.S. We have contacted the mother, as the only way they know her kids are here, because CBP today, Thursday, has not contacted that mother.

So when can we expect your promise of things getting better with contacting and...

BIDEN: Well, they are getting better but they're going to get real -- they'll get a whole hell of a lot better real quicker, we're going to hear (ph) some people leaving, OK? We can get this done, we're going to get it done.

I had a long meeting with the entire team and certain Cabinet level officers the other night. We're going to be moving, within the next -- within the next week, over 100,000 -- I mean 1,000 people out of the Border Patrol into safe, secure beds and -- and facilities. We're going to significantly ramp up -- we're already out there contacting everyone, from getting some of the employees in HHS, and there's a lot of them, doing other things and moving them in to making those calls. We're in the -- we're in the process of rearranging and providing for the personnel needed to get that done.

But I admire the fact that you were down there, you're making the calls yourself. It's real. The next thing that has to happen though, as you well know, has to happen -- there has to be some certitude that this is the -- actually mom, dad or whomever. And there's ways to do that -- there's ways to do that, a little bit like determining whether or not you've got the right code for your credit card, you know, what -- what -- what was your dog's name kind of thing -- I'm being a bit facetious but not really -- and also seeking harder data, from DNA to -- to birth certificates, which takes longer.

So I want to do this -- this as quickly as humanly possible and as safely as possible.

QUESTION: As you well know, treating the root cause -- causes in Latin America doesn't change things overnight. How do you realistically and physically keep these families from coming to the U.S. when things will not get better in their countries right away?

BIDEN: Well, I -- I -- I can't guarantee that but I know, you know, that old thing, the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step. You know as well as I do, you cover it, you have serious -- it's not like somebody's sitting on a hand-hewn table in Guatemala -- I mean in -- in -- in -- somewhere in Mexico or in -- in Guadalupe saying "I've got a great idea, let's sell everything we have, give it to a coyote, have them take our kids across the border, into the desert where they don't speak the language. Won't that be fun? Let's go." That's not how it happens. People don't want to leave.

When my great-grandfather got in a coffin ship in the Irish Sea, expectation was, was he going to live long enough on that ship to get to the United States of America? But they left because of what the Brits had been doing. They were in real, real trouble. They didn't want to leave. But they had no choice.

So, you've got -- we can't -- I can't guarantee we're going to solve everything. But I can guarantee we can make everything better. We can make it better. We can change the lives of so many people. And the other thing I want to point out to you, and I hope you point out, I realize it's much more heart-wrenching, and it is, to deal with a 5- and 6- and 7-year-old, but you went down there and you saw the vast majority of these children, 70 percent, are 16 years old, 17 years old, and mostly males.

Doesn't make it good, bad, or different, but the idea that we have tens of thousands of kids in these godawful facilities that are really little babies, crying all night -- there's some, that's true. That's why we got to act, and yesterday I asked my team, both the director of the two agencies as well as others, I asked them would they, in fact -- and I asked their opinion because they're the experts, but I said, focus on the most vulnerable immediately.

But there's no reason why in the next month as people cross the border that phone call can't be made in the first 48 hours.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: If I may ask one last question, have you had any talks with Senate Republicans who are threatening this administration with not considering the immigration legislation that was passed in the House until the situation at the border has been resolved? BIDEN: No, because I know they have to posture for a while. They sort of have got to get it out of their system. This is a -- but I'm ready to work with any Republican who wants to help solve the problem or make the situation better.

But, folks, I'm going.

Thank you very, very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, President Joseph Biden giving his very first solo press conference of his presidency.

It lasted about one hour, two minutes. He addressed any number of issues, ranging from vaccine rollout, in which he set a new ambitious goal of 200 million shots in arms within his first 100 days.

He also talked about the crisis at the border.

[16:30:00]