Biden doubles vaccine pledge, says he plans to run again in 2024

In his first news conference, US president promises 200 million vaccinations by end of April, defends border policy

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Joe Biden on Thursday promised 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine would be administered in his first 100 days in office, doubling his initial goal, as he said at his first news conference that he intended to seek another term.

Biden also said the United States would likely miss a May 1 deadline set by former president Donald Trump to pull all troops from Afghanistan, although he made clear he expected to end America’s longest war within the year.

Delving into details and offering low-key answers, Biden cast a dramatically different character than his bombastic predecessor in his first formal encounter with reporters in the White House’s imposing East Room since he entered office on January 20.

Biden waited longer than any modern president to hold a news conference, with his aides apparently worried that the free-wheeling 78-year-old politician — who joked that he entered the Senate “120 years ago” — would veer off a carefully crafted message.

But Biden appeared largely at ease and in command as he cast himself as a seasoned Washington operator who would tackle pressing problems starting with COVID-19, which has killed nearly 550,000 people in the United States.

“I’ve been hired to solve problems, not create division,” Biden said, pointing to the passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that sends money to most Americans.

“I’m a fairly practical guy. I want to get things done,” he said.

Biden began his news conference by announcing that he planned to deliver 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in his first 100 days — the end of April.

“I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal,” Biden said. “But no other country in the world has even come close — not even close — to what we are doing, and I believe we can do it.”

Biden faced no questions on the pandemic, a sign of the changing national narrative — and a scenario unimaginable for European leaders under pressure over infections.

The United States under Biden has dramatically scaled up the distribution of vaccines — developed during Trump’s presidency — as well as economic support, bringing dividends as hospitalizations dip and new unemployment claims fall to their lowest level since the start of the pandemic.

Amid the successes against COVID-19, Trump’s Republican Party has united in denouncing Biden over a wave of Central American migrants heading to the southern border.

Guatemalan soldiers and police block Honduran migrants from advancing toward the US border, on the highway in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, Jan. 18, 2021 (AP Photo/Sandra Sebastian)

Biden pushed back on Republican charges of a crisis and voiced compassion for people from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua who are fleeing violence and poverty.

“There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year,” Biden said.

But officials say that the number of unaccompanied children has risen, with the Biden administration racing to set up more shelters to house the youngsters.

An unaccompanied minor who crossed the US border near Roma, Texas, March 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Biden made no apologies for not sending back children– a shift from Trump, who built his political career on strident denunciations of immigration and, in one of his most controversial moves, separated migrant children from parents.

Biden has put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the border situation, for the first time giving a specific portfolio to his number two who has constantly been at the side of America’s oldest ever president.

But amid speculation that Biden is laying the groundwork for Harris in the 2024 election, the president said he was “a great respecter of fate” but plans to run.

“My plan is to run for reelection. That’s my expectation,” Biden said.

As a veteran politician, Biden likely was aware that any demurring on his political future would instantly dominate Washington conversation.

On foreign policy, Biden added nuance to two of Trump’s signature issues.

Biden, who as Barack Obama’s vice president was an early advocate of leaving Afghanistan, also gave his clearest indication yet that he would not meet an agreement between Trump and Taliban insurgents to pull remaining US troops by May 1, saying it was difficult due to “tactical reasons.”

TV screens showing a news program reporting about North Korea’s missiles with file footage at an electronic shop in Seoul, South Korea, March 25, 2021 (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Biden also promised to “respond accordingly” if North Korea escalates missile testing, after Pyongyang fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea, but also offered diplomacy.

The launches appeared to end a freeze under Trump, who held three made-for-television encounters with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but did not reach a lasting agreement.

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