US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, the US, March 25 2021. Picture: OLIVER CONTRERAS/SIPA/BLOOMBERG
US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, the US, March 25 2021. Picture: OLIVER CONTRERAS/SIPA/BLOOMBERG

Washington  —   US President Joe Biden said on Thursday he was setting a new goal of administering 200-million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in the US in his first 100 days in office.

“I believe we can do it,” Biden said at his first White House news conference that covered a wide range of policy challenges. “I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has even come close.”

His administration initially set a goal of 100-million shots administered in 100 days from taking office on January 20, which was met ahead of schedule. The White House said 130-million shots had been administered by Wednesday. About 85-million people have received one shot, while nearly 45-million people have been fully vaccinated.

The new target is achievable if the pace of vaccinations continues at its current rate.

He also vowed to push China to play by international rules. 

Amid the worst US-Chinese relations in decades, Biden compared Chinese President Xi Jinping to Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling them both supporters of autocracy. But he said the US was not looking for confrontation with China over differences on trade, Beijing's rollback of democracy in Hong Kong, treatment of minority Uighurs and its military build-up.

“He’s one of the guys, like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, who thinks that autocracy is the wave of the future, (and) democracy can’t function in an ever-complex world,” Biden said of Xi. “He doesn't have a democratic — with a small ‘d’ — bone in his body, but he's a smart, smart guy,” Biden said of Xi.

He said he believes the Democratic-controlled US Senate should make it harder for Republicans to use a parliamentary blocking manoeuvre called the filibuster that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber, saying it is being abused by Republicans.

He called for a return to what is called the “talking filibuster” — a tradition from decades ago that required senators to occupy the floor and make their case against legislation if they opposed it.

Biden faces opposition from congressional Republicans to his ambitious plans for what could end up being a $3-trillion plan for infrastructure and other priorities and tax increases to pay for it.

Biden's own political future came up at the news conference. At 78-years old, many political analysts believe Biden could decide to serve only one term. But asked whether he planned to run for re-election, he said he planned to do so, keeping Vice-President Kamala Harris as his running mate. "My answer is yes, I plan to run for re-election. That’s my expectation,” he said.

On January 20, Biden became the oldest US president to be inaugurated.

Biden backed away from a May 1 deadline to withdraw US troops in Afghanistan after Trump tried but failed to pull them out before leaving office. “It's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” said Biden. But he added, “We are not staying a long time” in Afghanistan, site of America's longest war. He said he did not think the troops would still be there next year.

On North Korea, Biden read carefully from talking points in responding to a question about North Korea's missile launches, which have alarmed US allies Japan and South Korea.

“If they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly,” he said. He said he was prepared for “some form of diplomacy” with North Korea “but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearisation”.

Biden was repeatedly pressed to defend his migration policy along the US border with Mexico. He said the increase in migration was cyclical. “It happens every single solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months,” he said.

He said many migrants were fleeing problems in their home countries and blamed former president Donald Trump for dismantling parts of the US immigration system.

Biden suggested his Republican critics who say his policies are at fault were inhumane. No previous administration had refused care and shelter to children coming over from Mexico, except that of Trump, Biden said. Rather than leaving these children to “starve to death” at the border, Biden said his administration would care for them.

“I’m not going to do it,” Biden said, noting he had selected  Harris to lead diplomatic efforts with Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador aimed at stemming the migration flow.

Reuters

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