On Thursday, March 25th, President Biden held the first press conference of his term as president. The conference covered a wide range of topics, primarily focusing on immigration, North Korea, voting rights, and filibusters. The wait for the president’s first press conference was longer than any other president before him since Calvin Coolidge. Although this was his first press conference, President Biden has departed from the path of former President Trump by not making any major headlines with his answers.
On the topic of immigration, Biden received a question from a reporter regarding his stance on unaccompanied minors arriving at the border. The reporter presented an example of a nine-year-old child from Honduras who was sent away by his parents to America’s southern border because they believed that America would not turn away an unaccompanied minor.
Biden did not directly answer this question but claimed that he would not allow children to be left starving at the border. Furthermore, he claimed no president had ever allowed this with the exception of former President Trump. In an article by The Hill, the newspaper determined this statement was false as there are no documented cases of death by starvation at the border. Biden proceeded to state that most families were being returned. A fact-checking article by the New York Times also determined this was false as only 42% of the 19,000 families encountered in February were returned. He later correctly stated that the United States was deporting most of the illegal immigrants that border patrol encountered. This number is closer to 70% of the 100,000 encounters in February.
On the subject of North Korea, President Biden took a strong stance against the country’s recent ballistic missile test. When asked about the United States’ response, President Biden answered that “there will be responses — if they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly.” He further stated that there will be diplomatic overtures as well, implying the response he spoke of would entail more than diplomacy. This could include a military element like the carrier strike group sent to North Korea by former President Trump.
When asked about voting rights restrictions, President Biden used strong words to describe Republican-backed legislation currently proposed in 43 states. He called voting restrictions “sick” and “un-American.” The president was specifically opposed to measures to restrict handing out food and water to people in line, closing polling stations before people get out of work, and denying absentee ballots.
President Biden was also asked about his opinion on the Republican party’s use of the filibuster to block certain recent democrat-backed expansive voting right measures. A filibuster is a tool used to prolong a debate indefinitely, requiring continuous discussion on a topic. Breaking a filibuster in the Senate requires a three-fifths majority, thereby stopping a bill from being passed in the current Senate which is split between 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. The act of breaking a filibuster is referred to as invoking cloture. Some legislators have suggested that parliamentary rules should be amended to allow a simple majority to invoke cloture. This would allow any party that gains the majority of the senate to pass all the legislation their party supports without any input from the minority party. Others have suggested that filibusters should be bypassed only for legislation related to civil rights and voting laws.
President Biden did not lend support to these efforts to change the number of votes required to break a filibuster but did comment on how they are currently being abused. To support this claim, Biden spoke on the history of the filibuster. From 1917 to 1970, only 58 motioned to invoke cloture were presented and only eight passed. However, before 1975, a two-thirds majority was required to invoke cloture as opposed to the three-fifths majority required today. This 1975 change also removed the requirement for a legislator to continually speak. By contrast, from 2019 to 2020, 328 motions to invoke cloture were presented and 270 passed. Biden’s proposed solution was to return to pre-1975 rules where a filibuster required the objector to speak while standing at their desk without stopping. The longest filibuster to continue in this manner was 24 hours and 18 minutes. This would have a huge impact on the number of filibusters attempted and their effectiveness. However, President Biden did not dwell on this issue for very long and there have been no updates or clarification regarding his stance on this issue.
President Biden’s first press conference managed to avoid making any major headlines while still covering several important topics. If the wait for the first press conference is any indication, it may be quite a while before the president speaks to the general public in this manner again.
Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal