Biden’s first press conference: Four burning questions the president must address

Biden has answered dozens of questions from media over first 64 days of presidency, but Thursday will be his first dedicated press conference

Biden calls for gun control action following Boulder mass shooting

Joe Biden will face a sustained grilling from reporters at the first official press conference of his presidency on Thursday.

While the Democratic president has routinely answered one or two shouted questions from the media after giving prepared remarks throughout his first 64 days in office, and while his press secretary, Jen Psaki, has held daily briefings, reporters have been clamoring for the chance to pepper him with pressing questions in a formalised setting.

Mr Biden’s chief focus has been on doing everything he can to draw the coronavirus pandemic to a close, and the administration has largely met the benchmarks he set out for his first 100 days in office.

But several other issues have been thrust to the forefront, including immigration, gun violence, and a minimum wage hike.

Here are the four most pressing questions Mr Biden will have to answer at his 1:15pm news conference on Thursday:

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1. The southern border

The president has tapped his Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the administration’s response to the surge of unaccompanied migrant children at the southern border whom Mr Biden has decided to allow into the US as authorities process their asylum claims.

Thousands of such children are in the custody of officials at the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

In a switch from the Trump administration, Mr Biden has adopted a policy of taking in those unaccompanied, asylum-seeking minors on the grounds that it is the only “humane” response to the situation.

But hundreds of those children have been in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody for more than 10 days — seven days beyond the 72-hour legal window before CBP is supposed to transfer them into the care of HHS. Of the thousands of children in CBP custody, most have been there more than 72 hours as HHS struggles to find housing for the influx.

What specifically is Mr Biden commanding his departments to do to expand housing options? Is he considering options other than allowing these children into the US? And does he see an immigration compromise with Republicans on the horizon? One in which Democrats agree to appropriate more money for border security and tighten entrypoints in exchange for providing a pathway to citizenship for the millions of so-called Dreamers, the young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children?

2. Gun control

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has made clear that the administration will not wait to take steps on gun violence as Senate Republicans block House-passed legislation providing for universal background checks.

The president is considering a raft of executive actions targeting “community violence and a range of issues that are root causes and lead to … deaths,” Ms Psaki said.

In the wake of two mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, in recent days that claimed the lives of 18 people, reporters will be keen to learn exactly what unilateral measures Mr Biden plans to take.

The president is reportedly considering requiring background checks for “ghost guns”, weapons that are handmade and therefore lack serial tracking numbers.

The administration is additionally looking at requiring gun dealers to notify law enforcement officials if someone fails a background check while trying to purchase a firearm.

Mr Biden’s first 56 days went roughly according to plan. But the Atlanta and Boulder shootings have thrust an issue — gun violence — back into the political spotlight in a way no one was prepared for.

3. Joe Manchin

The West Virginia Democratic senator has already been a foil for some of Mr Biden’s top priorities.

During negotiations over the president’s $1.9trn Covid relief package, Mr Manchin torpedoed the $15 minimum wage proposal, narrowed the scope of the $1,400 stimulus check programme, and reduced the weekly federal unemployment supplement going to laid-off workers during the pandemic.

Mr Manchin ran Mr Biden’s pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, out of town over some mean tweets.

He has not budged on his support for the filibuster and other Senate rules protecting the rights of the minority party. That stridency has frustrated other Senate Democrats who know that the legislative success of Mr Biden’s presidency may hinge on passing transformative legislation before the 2022 midterm elections, when their slim majority is in jeopardy.

What is Mr Biden’s relationship with Mr Manchin like these days? How does he see the West Virginia senator — as an obstacle or an ally?

4. Infrastructure

Mr Biden and his Democratic majorities in Congress have already passed an historic piece of legislation aimed at ending the Covid crisis and its resultant economic crisis.

They have now set their sights on a massive infrastructure overhaul focusing on liberal priorities such as green energy, an expansion of broadband internet access into rural America, and renovating mass transit systems.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has directed the Democratic chairs of her relevant House committees to reach out to their GOP colleagues to begin negotiating the components of a prospective bipartisan deal.

How confident is Mr Biden that Democrats and Republicans can come up with a massive bipartisan package? Or is he once again paying lip service to bipartisanship much the same as he did during Covid negotiations?

And how does he plan to pay for the infrastructure deal? Mr Manchin has indicated he wants the deal to be completely paid-for — are Democrats going to pair an infrastructure deal with a rollback of some aspects of the 2017 Trump tax cuts?

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