Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Biden Gives 1st News Conference Since Taking Office; Biden: "Filibuster Being Abused in a Gigantic Way"; Biden: Border Crisis Best Solved By Addressing Issues in Origin Nations; Biden: Jobs Bill Will Be Next Priority; President Biden Expands Vaccine Goal to 200 Million Shots in Arms in 1st 100 Days; Biden: GOP Measures to Restrict Voting Are "Un-American, It's Sick". Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 25, 2021 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: 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. Said he expects to run for re-election in 2024 with Vice President Kamala Harris on the ticket.

And talked quite a bit about the filibuster and what he wants to get through the Senate and how he wants to do that.

Let's chat about what we heard.

David Chalian, our political director, let me start with you.

He made some news there, saying that he agreed with President Obama, that the filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era. And yet, he also suggested he does not want to get rid of it. He thinks it has been abused, but he left the door open. He left the door open.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. And he said if chaos gets so created or there's such a lockdown on progress of some big priorities, then he said we may have to go further to what I'm discussing now.

But he was leaning into, not getting ready of the filibuster, but trying to get some reform in place for it to make it a talking filibuster.

That if you're going to oppose something and filibuster it, you need to stand there and talk until you're out of breath to do so and seeing if that might be a way to build more consensus in the United States Senate.

But this was not somebody who was coming to say, let's go, we are going to break down the filibuster, I'm going to bash things up in the Senate because priority X, Y, and Z must get through.

In fact, this was Joe Biden, the same Joe Biden we saw on the campaign trail, the same Joe Biden we've seen governing for the last couple months, he calls himself, I'm a fairly practical guy, likes to get things done.

TAPPER: Yes.

CHALIAN: I was hired to solve problems, not create division.

And I thought what was most telling, not that he didn't give voice to voting rights and immigration reform and climate change, he did. He reaffirmed where his position was on those issues.

But he said -- and I thought this was so revealing -- that presidencies succeed by timing your priorities and how you order things and how you sequence things.

And he made clear, his next thing is this Build Back Better infrastructure plan, this $3 trillion proposal he's going to roll out next week.

That's where his focus is. Not on changing the rules and getting the voting rights bill done, and getting gun legislation passed, and that -- he made clear, his next priority is this infrastructure package.

And the reason --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: That's interesting.

One thing I want to make sure, because I think when people like us use the word filibuster, half the country doesn't understand the significance of what we're talking about, that it's just some wonky Washington, D.C., thing.

The filibuster requires 60 votes for a vote to come up on -- in the Senate, basically, to shorthand it.

When we talk about the filibuster, what we're saying is whether or not House Democrats can get their legislation through the Senate, which is also very narrowly controlled by Democrats.

So, it's -- using the word filibuster sounds wonky and nerdy and guilty as charged. But the issue is, does that mean climate change legislation gets through? Does that mean gun control legislation gets through? Or not?

And I just want to underline that because it actually means tangible things for people's lives.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And there are not 60 votes for most of those things, and Joe Biden knows it.

And to, you know, piggyback off of what David was just saying, the reason Joe Biden is focused on the Build Back Better, he basically said it. His philosophy is that if you are able to provide economic prosperity

to the American people, giving people good-paying jobs, focusing on their wellbeing and their families, it forces the political conversation in a certain direction.

He is betting that Republicans will have a very hard time saying, hell no, to everything if he gets this country to a prosperous place.

And that's why the focus is on the COVID relief bill and now the infrastructure bill, which the administration calls a jobs bill.

Joe Biden also wants to do voting rights. He spoke passionately about that. He also spoke passionately about immigration and also about guns.

But he knows -- the pragmatism there's that there will not be 60 votes for those things. There may not even be 52 or 51 votes for those things.

But forcing the politics in Washington to follow the people may be his best bet. He said repeatedly, I have the support of the American people. I have the support of many Republicans in the country, just not in Washington.

TAPPER: And let me bring in Jeff Zeleny.

Because, Jeff, one of the things that President Biden said that was kind of surprising in terms of whether or not he would allow news media into the facilities where this humanitarian crisis is going on, where all these unaccompanied migrant children and teenagers are.

Is basically, he said -- and I'm -- this is a generous paraphrase, but it's along the lines of, once we fixed it, we're going to let you in to see it but we're not going to let you in to see it, news media, and therefore the American people, until we've fixed the problem.

[14:35:10]

Not really in keeping with the transparency that he promised in terms of leveling with the American people.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well Jake, I mean, the reality is whether they let the news media in so the public can see, we should always point out that's what this is about, the American people being able to see their government at work here.

Whether he does that or not is largely irrelevant because members of Congress on both sides have made clear that the images that they have seen there are unacceptable.

In fact, President Biden said himself the images he has seen in briefings are unacceptable.

So, you know, the question is: Will the White House keep hiding behind the rules of COVID and other matters of not allowing some type of access? We'll see if they're able to sort of keep that up. But the reality is, there are enough eyeballs there that people are raising a stink about this, both Democrats and Republicans.

I was struck by, though, President Biden really, it's clear that former President Trump is still in his head on this immigration policy. He mentioned him again and again and again.

And up to a point, that is true, the Trump administration immigration policies certainly created some of this, but not all of this. And it's certainly the Biden administration's challenge now. But it's clear that that is the frame in which President Biden views

this.

But I think a strong point of this -- the news conference here, when Cecilia Vega, from ABC, I believe, asked a question about a young unaccompanied minor standing at the border. President Biden gave a humane answer and he said, no, he would not turn that unaccompanied minor away.

He said, no president would do that, except perhaps President Trump. So, it's clear that he is still playing off of that.

But I think it's clear also that immigration is one of the pressing challenges here. So he can talk about infrastructure -- and, yes, that is going forward. That is a big, you know, program that affects many, many more people.

But immigration is something that he knows he has to get a handle on. And it's been frustrating to him, as it was during the Obama administration.

It happens every cycle. It's not just because he's a nice guy, as he said. I think it was funny to watch him walk through that as well.

But clearly, whether they open these or not, people are going to see what's going on in there -- Jake?

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. I want to talk to Manu Raju.

Because, Manu, as you heard, President Biden making it very clear that infrastructure, what he called a jobs bill, was going to be his next priority.

He talked about how one in five American roads is in disrepair, 180,000 miles, how we rank something like -- the U.S. ranks something like 13th in the world when it comes to infrastructure. China's spending three times as much.

Is there the willingness among Republicans, specifically Republican Senators, to work with President Biden on this, given the fact that a lot of this jobs will be in their states?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an open question. I mean, there's an interest in doing infrastructure, but this has been a very difficult issue for a long time, in large part, because of how to finance it.

What the Biden administration is talking about is a roughly $3 trillion package, infrastructure, tax and spending proposals, increases in taxes.

Those are things that the Republicans will not go for.

And I can tell you, in talking to top Democrats, they are not anticipating the Republicans to ultimately support them when it comes to -- when push comes to shove and it's time to vote.

But what they're planning to do, Jake, is move forward over the course of the next several weeks, try to split up this massive proposal into several different proposals, get them through the House, perhaps one at a time, perhaps on a party line basis, if they do not get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, in order to overcome a potential filibuster in the Senate.

At that point, they may have to make a decision. Do they go a different route to try to move through a budget process that would -- that can avoid a filibuster since the rules don't allow it to -- if they were to go that route?

They did it to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. There's serious discussion about doing that for the infrastructure package.

But, Jake, that goes still back to the initial question. If they cut out Republicans and try to get us through on the Democratic votes alone, they still have to balance the needs of someone like a Bernie Sanders on the left of the Senate Democratic caucus and Joe Manchin on the right of the Democratic caucus and that is still going to be a very tricky proposition.

So there are months and months of negotiations ahead. Perhaps they can get some Republicans on board. They're banking on likelihood of doing this alone, but again, that is difficult.

And all the other things they mentioned over the course of this news conference, whether it was on immigration, other economic issues, didn't come up here but increasing the federal minimum wage, those type of things still have divisions within the Democratic caucus among themselves, let alone getting on Republicans.

So this next phase of the Biden agenda, ambitious as it is, will be very difficult to get through, even on the support of just Democrats -- Jake?

[14:40:06]

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

And let's bring in Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, you asked a number of questions of President Biden. He said basically that he did agree with President Obama, that the filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era, and yet he still does not want to get rid of it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was the question. You know, does he agree with that characterization? He said, pretty quickly, yes, he does.

And so, of course, this is important, Jake, because it relates to so much of what President Biden wants to get accomplished.

When you look at guns, when you look at immigration, when you look at climate change, a lot of this is going to factor into it, because they will not be able to use the same way they got the American rescue plan passed if that I do -- if he doesn't make a change on the filibuster, unless he's going to magically get Republicans on board.

And we know that has been something that they have struggled with ever since he took office because, of course, there has been such Republican opposition to his plans.

And so the question that, yes, he does agree with President Obama that the filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era. But yet he said, when I asked, why not eliminate it, if that is your thinking on this, he said, he wants to deal with the abuse of it first.

Because that is something he was talking about when he was asked by my other colleagues in the press corps about the filibuster and how it factors into his agenda.

He was saying that he believes compared to when he was in the Senate, it's abused now, given how many times it is used.

But this is going to be critical. Because you heard him talking about guns earlier this week. He was saying he wants to get the Senate to pass those House-passed bills. But we have seen Republican Senators basically have no interest in doing so.

There are even some Democrats, I believe, like John Tester, who have issues with those House bills on strengthening and expanding background checks.

So, that's going to be a big question, because what we have heard from them, where they've talked about the tools of the presidency, using executive action, you heard the vice president say that they prefer to have legislation.

So, that's going to be a big question, you know, whether or not he can get anything else done that's not the coronavirus relief package and that's not an infrastructure bill and a recovery package without getting rid of the filibuster.

And he seems to be inching closer to that idea if he is continuing to face Republican opposition for those big-ticket agenda items.

And so that's going to be a major question of what his presidency looks like when it comes beyond just the coronavirus relief goals, which we know are the ones that he is talking about. He touted the coronavirus relief bill at the opening of the press

conference. That's something that he has been doing for several days now.

And so the question of what the rest of his legislative agenda is going to look like is really a significant one -- Jake?

TAPPER: And the other question, of course, Kaitlan, is -- let's take, for example, guns. The House Democrats will -- they support a sweeping package of reforms that would restrict gun ownership and expand background checks and more.

That probably cannot -- or certainly cannot pass the Senate. They probably can't even get 50 votes because they can't get Senator Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia.

So the question for the White House would be, well, would you be willing to support piecemeal parts of that bill that can get through, for instance, closing the gun show loophole, which Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Manchin have proposed in the past.

And Toomey told me yesterday he thinks could pass the Senate, could get 60 votes. Would Biden support that, or is it all or nothing?

COLLINS: Well, that's going to be a big question facing them. You know, what he had called for was not just to get those House passed bills either. It was an assault weapons ban as well. And there's been a lot of opposition to that. So that's going to be another aspect.

And he was also asked what is the priority list for this? What does this look like for you? Because guns was something that was on his priority list when he got into office but it has not been at the top. It has only been raised in the last week because of these two mass

shootings.

Because, remember, on the campaign trail, he was saying he was going to send a bill on guns to Capitol Hill on day one in office. And he hasn't signed any executive orders or anything related to that yet.

And basically, the way he answered that question at today's press conference was, you know, I'm dealing with one crisis at a time, as they come to us.

And he said that the beginning of his presidency was focused on the pandemic response, what that is looking like. Of course, he gave an update at that on the beginning, what that progress is looking like.

But you know, getting gun control actually passed is something that has really eluded a lot of Democratic presidents. And President Biden knows that well.

Because when he was vice president in 2012, in Sandy Hook, it is something that President Obama said was a big regret of his, leaving office, that they didn't actually get tough gun legislation passed.

And so how that looks for the Biden administration still remains to be seen and what those specifics are going to be -- Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

Speaking of the pandemic, let's bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, so President Biden today expanded the goal of shots in arms, making it now 200 million shots in arms as his goal by his first 100 days. I forget what day we're at now, somewhere in the 60s.

[14:45:06]

Do you think that that is possible? And should he be aiming even higher?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, there's 35 days left, basically, until we get to that hundred days, and that would be 70 million vaccines during that time.

So, that's roughly two million shots a day. And as you know, Jake, we're already surpassing that, closer to that per day. So that's doubling of what the initial sort of goal was. And you know, the faster the better. We know that.

I mean, there's certainly some areas, some communities that are harder to reach and he talked briefly about that as well.

Billions of dollars going into these vaccination outreach programs to make sure communities that have not been really targeted yet, have not been able to access the vaccines as easily, do get access.

So, that's what he started off talking about, Jake.

It was sort of striking to me, there wasn't a single question about the pandemic after that. You know, throughout this entire news conference, it was really just what he talked about at the beginning there.

TAPPER: All right, Sanjay, thank you so much.

I want to also bring in Will Ripley.

Because President Biden said that he agreed with what President Obama told incoming President Trump about North Korea posing the starkest, most immediate threat to the stability of the world.

And, Will, what Joe Biden said today when he came to the recent missile launches by North Korea, is that they are consulting with allies and partners.

"If North Korea escalates, there will be responses. And we will respond accordingly."

But he also talked about diplomacy if there's denuclearization.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, my question is: What are the responses? Is it sanctions? Is it some sort of military drills? Is it diplomacy? Is it a combination of all of that? We're still waiting to learn what the Biden administration's North Korea policy is.

And it's certainly would not have been well received in Pyongyang after they launched the two cruise missiles on Sunday to see President Biden brushing it off with a chuckle on television when they are trying to get the attention of the new U.S. president to say, yes, we are a threat to you, and you need to respect us and sit down at the table with us.

So, then they launch these ballistic missiles that are still, you know, not -- they're provocative but they're not going to cause an international crisis like North Korea's ICBM launch in late 2017, but they did get in the press conference.

And I think the North Koreans have really felt, in some ways, neglected. You know, the U.S. has been reaching out diplomatically.

But they only want to hear about the possibility of sanctions being lifted and, you know, American troops pulling out of the Korean peninsula, and they don't -- they're not willing to talk to the United States until they offer that.

Now, I also thought, with President Xi Jinping, Biden talking about his close relationship and how well they got to know each other during their years as vice president.

That could be crucial when it comes to pressuring North Korea to stop these provocative actions because only China really can hold the key here, as we saw during the success and then now kind of decline of former President Trump's maximum pressure campaign.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much.

I want to get to our CNN fact checker, Daniel Dale, as well.

Daniel, let's take a listen to one of the claims President Biden made about the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming. We're trying to work out now with Mexico their willingness to take more of those families back. But that's what's happening. They're not getting across the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: They're not getting across the border. A vast majority of families are being sent back? Is that true, Daniel?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Jake, that was not true in February, which is, of course, the last month for which we have a full month's data.

According to official statistics, it was 41 percent of migrants and not a majority who came in February as part of family units who were swiftly sent back, expelled under the pandemic-related rule known as Title 42.

Now, a caution, Jake, we don't have full data for March. It's possible things have changed. And it was true in February that the vast majority of single adults were sent back. It was 79 percent. And that the majority of all migrants were sent back.

At a different point in the press conference, Jake, Biden made a more accurate claim about the overall group of migrants. But for families in particular, this particular claim, his claim is not true.

TAPPER: All right, Daniel Dale, thank you so much.

Let's continue chatting here in studio.

And, Abby, one of the things that is, I think, unanswered about Biden, Biden campaigned as some guy who could get things done, who could be bipartisan, who could bridge the divide in this country.

We still do not know what that means, tangibly, when it comes to dealing with Congress.

[14:50:01]

He's met with Republicans. But in terms of the one big piece of legislation, that was entirely Democratic votes. There's a push and pull between what he might want to do and what Democrats want to accomplish.

Because, by necessity, if you want Republicans onboard, you have to get rid of some of the things Democrats want to achieve?

PHILLIP: Yes, I think the Democratic Party, the one surprise maybe of these last 50 something days has been the degree to which Joe Biden has made a lot of progressive Democrats who are wary of him pretty happy with what he's accomplished. I think they are happy with the stated agenda he has.

Now, he has his own idea of what he wants to accomplish in his presidency and has a lot more to do with what we were discussing earlier, which is the view within the White House, the economy is literally the key to opening the door to everything else in his administration.

And that they should be willing to expend all of our political capitol on that issue to have the possibility of doing all the other things down the road.

That's why you saw them engage with moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. But at the end of the day, say we are not going so far as to water down what we need to do to the economy in order to placate you. That might happen again on this infrastructure bill.

But I don't think we have seen what Joe Biden will do when he feels like he has to get Republican support. I think they think the infrastructure bill is something they can do with just 51 votes maybe through a reconciliation process or some other kind of process.

But they have not gotten to the point where he said, I am absolutely committed to getting moderates onboard.

And that's because, on the issues and the economy, they want to do what they think is necessary, and then deal with all of the more tricky stuff like voting, like guns, and so on and so forth, immigration, at a later date.

TAPPER: Transportation used to be the kind of -- transportation and infrastructure used to be the kind of thing that would get support.

PHILLIP: Yes.

TAPPER: Because it meant a lot of money being spent to improve roads. And Republicans and Democrats, they all drive on roads.

PHILLIP: And in theory -- I mean, look, there are a lot of Republicans that are interested in transportation-related legislation.

But the political reality at the moment is the position of the vast majority of Republicans is to hold the party line, do not work with the Biden administration. It's basically the position the had to Barack Obama and it's carrying over to the Joe Biden administration.

CHALIAN: And I think you heard that from President Biden in the press conference, when he said that -- he was quoting a comment of Mitch McConnell saying he had gone so far.

He said, I know Mitch really well and that's exactly what I would expect Mitch McConnell to say. But that was the subtle swipe and that was it. Because he's leaving the door open to further conversation.

One thing I would say that Republicans don't agree on is how to pay for that infrastructure.

TAPPER: Right.

CHALIAN: Because if it's going to be paid for with the big tax increases on the corporate tax rate and an individual tax rate on the wealthy, that's where the support for it can start falling apart, even if they're onboard with the notion of spending money on roads and bridges.

TAPPER: David, Joe Biden said today that the moves among Republican legislators to roll back various efforts the Democrats had made to expand voting rights, and more vote by mail and more early voting, et cetera, that these efforts by Republicans were, quote, "un-America, this whole initiative is sick," he said.

Now, Democrats have pushed a bill in the House that is the exact opposite, reaction to that, that would basically weaken Republican efforts to require photo I.D. for voters and more, making it more difficult to call the voter rolls of inactive voters. CHALIAN: Early voting access.

TAPPER: Yes. They're making it tougher to do what Republicans want to do.

Again, this is the kind of thing -- I remember there was Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford had a commission years ago to improve voting in America. And this is the kind of thing theoretically should be bipartisan but is not remotely.

CHALIAN: It should be, but obviously we lived through an entire election where the then-sitting president of the United States engaged in a big lie, and completely politicized voting in the country to a much more charged way than has been for many decades.

Here's my take. You also noted. He said Republican voters find this despicable. Again, he made this distinction between Republican voters in the country and Republican members of Congress, who vote on legislation.

[14:55:58]

And he thinks he has the country on his side, as he will continue to educate, he said, the American people on the need to make sure that access to the vote is broad and available to everybody and easy to accomplish. Because that's how you get a fully participatory democracy.

I mean, Joe Biden's party, the base of the party that cares deeply about this issue, they're believe is, when you talk to activists in this space, all other issues, all other rights flow from these rights, from voting rights.

So this is where he will see the most pressure from his party to dig really in. And if there's total opposition, to really start disrupting the way things are done in the Senate to actually get something passed.

TAPPER: Let's just underline it. Whatever you think of individual voting restrictions or voting expansions, a lot of this is based on the lie that Donald Trump and his supporters told, about widespread fraud that did not exist.

Thank you so much for watching us. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

Brooke Baldwin is live in the CNN NEWSROOM next.

I'll see you at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)