Biden admits ‘unacceptable’ border conditions, weighs filibuster erasure and teases 2024 run in first press conference

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Chris Sommerfeldt, New York Daily News
·4 min read
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President Joe Biden waded into politically fraught territory as he admitted during a highly-anticipated press conference Thursday that his administration’s handling of a recent migration surge on the U.S. southern border has been “unacceptable” and may require staffing shakeups.

In the same press conference — his first formal one as president — Biden voiced support for abolishing a long-standing Senate rule to more easily advance his legislative agenda on immigration and other hot-button issues.

The candid assessments during the more than hour-long press conference — in which Biden also teased a 2024 run for reelection despite his old age — are likely to ruffle feathers with a lot of Republicans.

On the complex topic of migration, the 78-year-old Biden pointed fingers at former President Donald Trump while also accepting some responsibility.

Photos that have emerged this week of hundreds of underage migrant children crammed into overcrowded Border Patrol detention centers in Texas are beyond the pale, Biden said.

“That is totally unacceptable,” Biden said, adding that’s why his administration is scrambling to find additional bed space at more child-friendly facilities so that they can get the kids out of Border Patrol custody.

Agencies in charge of border security and migration services, most of which fall under the purview of the Homeland Security Department, may need restructuring if the issues aren’t resolved soon, Biden said. “Or we’re gonna hear of some people leaving,” he added.

At the same time, Biden said the recent spike in arrivals of mostly Central American migrants on the border with Mexico is nothing new, but a continuation of a trend worsened by Trump’s hard-line policies.

He scorched Trump for eliminating a $700 million aid program for Central American countries and defended his decision to let migrant children stay in the U.S. while continuing to expel all other categories of asylum seekers out of coronavirus concerns.

“The idea that I’m going to say — which I would never do — ‘if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we’re going to let them starve to death and stay on the other side,’ no other previous administration did that either, except Trump,” he said. “I’m not going to do it.”

Moving on from migration, Biden said he agrees with former President Barack Obama’s statement that the Senate filibuster is a “relic of Jim Crow” that requires reform, especially as he seeks to push sweeping legislation through Congress on immigration, infrastructure, health care and gun control, among other items.

The filibuster requires most legislation to earn 60 votes before Senate passage, and Republicans and Democrats alike have used it for years to block bills they don’t like.

Democrats currently control the Senate by the thinnest possible margin, giving the chamber’s 50 Republicans the ability to derail just about any legislation thanks to the filibuster.

Biden said he’d like to change that dynamic by re-implementing a rule that requires a senator to be speaking on the floor for the filibuster to be in effect. “It’s been abused from the time it came into being,” Biden said.

But if modifications don’t do the trick, Biden suggested abolishing the filibuster altogether may be necessary.

“If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” he said.

Biden’s openness to filibuster reform drew the ire of even moderate Republican senators.

“We should maintain the institutions in our country,” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters when asked of Biden’s filibuster comments. “The Senate is one of those institutions that we don’t want to take down.”

Biden’s press conference gained outsized importance as he’s the first president in decades to wait this long to hold an extensive back-and-forth with reporters.

Critics seized on the delay as supposed evidence that the White House tried to shield the gaffe-prone president from media scrutiny, but Biden went through the press conference without any noticeable verbal flubs.

Still, he likely raised some eyebrows from conservative critics as he said he expects to run for reelection in 2024, even though he’s already the oldest president in U.S. history.

“My plan is to run for re-election,” he said. “That’s my expectation.”