The Latest: Biden aims to check China’s growing ambitions

AP Political

President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccinations, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Joe Biden’s first news conference since taking office Jan. 20 (all times local):

2:35 p.m.

President Joe Biden says China’s ambition of becoming the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world is “not going to happen under my watch.”

Biden says at his first formal news conference as president that he’d look to help counter China’s rise by increasing American investment in science and research. It’s an area where he says China is thriving while the U.S. hasn’t kept pace.

The president also says he’s made clear to Chinese leader Xi Jinping that the United States will continue to call out Beijing in an “unrelenting way” on human rights violations.

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2:30 p.m.

President Joe Biden says Republican-led efforts in state legislatures aimed at voting restrictions are “un-American” and “sick.”

Biden is mentioning prohibitions on bringing water to people waiting to vote and efforts to close polls at 5 p.m.. He says that’s a time when many voters are just getting off work and heading to vote.

The issue of voting law changes came up Thursday at Biden’s first formal news conference as president.

The president compared the push to limit voting to Jim Crow laws that were once common in the South. He said he’d keep pushing for voting rights legislation that’s already passed the House but faces an uncertain future in a Senate split 50-50.

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2:25 p.m.

President Joe Biden says addressing a nuclearized North Korea is his top foreign policy issue.

Biden says at his first news conference as president that North Korea has violated U.N. resolutions by launching ballistic missiles and that the United States and its allies will respond if the North escalates the situation.

Biden says: “I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

He says he agrees with former President Barack Obama’s warning that North Korea was the most pressing foreign policy priority to watch.

Four missiles fired this week were all short-range and don’t pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland. According to South Korea’s assessment, the first two weapons launched Sunday were believed to be cruise missiles. But Japan says the two fired Thursday were ballistic missiles. They’re more provocative weapons that North Korea is banned from testing by U.N. resolutions.

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2:20 p.m.

President Joe Biden says he makes “no apology” for undoing some of the hard-line Trump-era immigration policies.

The Biden administration announced on Feb. 2 that it would no longer uphold the Trump administration policy of automatically deporting unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Two weeks later, the White House announced plans to admit 25,000 asylum-seekers to the United States who’d been forced to remain in Mexico.

Since then, the number of young migrants crossing into the U.S. without adults has risen. Both Customs and Border Protection, and Health and Human Services officials have struggled to house the influx of children. Immigration officials say the number of adult migrants and families trying to enter the U.S. illegally also has surged.

Biden says his administration is working on solutions to manage the number of children coming to the border. Biden officials have largely blamed the problems on what they say were shoddy Trump policies.

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2:15 p.m.

President Joe Biden is committing to pulling U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But he’s expressing doubts about meeting a May 1 deadline for withdrawal that was set by an agreement signed by Donald Trump.

Biden was asked about America’s longest war at his first news conference since taking office. The president said, “We will leave. The question is when we will leave.”

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and has been there ever since.

Last year, the Trump administration signed a peace deal with the Taliban that would remove the last of several thousand American troops by May 1.

At the news conference, Biden repeated recent comments that it would be difficult to meet the deadline.

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2:10 p.m.

President Joe Biden says it’s his “expectation” that he’ll run for reelection in 2024.

Biden is 78 and already the oldest president to hold office. He would be 82 at the start of a second term.

Biden was asked at the first news conference of his presidency whether he thought he could face a rematch against Donald Trump.

Biden scoffed at the question. “Oh, I don’t even think about it,” Biden said. “I have no idea.”

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2:05 p.m.

President Joe Biden says his administration is working on getting beds and other facilities up and running so children held in Border Patrol custody can be transferred.

Biden says in his first news conference that most of the migrants who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are being sent back, except for children. He says his administration is working to ease delays so children can be released from government custody to sponsors.

Biden says when parents send their children alone across the border, it’s a “desperate act.” The president says he wants to help change the conditions in Central American countries when the migrants are coming from, but he says there’s no easy answer.

Biden is pushing back against the idea there’s a crush of migrants coming to the border.

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1:55 p.m.

President Joe Biden says he’s committed to making progress on overhauling the U.S. immigration system, bolstering gun laws and strengthening voting rights. And he’s not ruling out supporting changes to Senate procedures that would help him achieve those goals.

Biden says at the first formal news conference of his term that he believes senators should have to engage in old-fashioned filibusters if they want to try to hold up legislation. That would force senators to have to stand on their feet and talk for hours, as was the case during the civil rights era and is portrayed in Hollywood movies, if they want to object to Biden’s agenda.

But Biden says the rule is being abused in a “gigantic way.”

He adds: “If there’s complete lockdown and chaos, as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’re going to have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”

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1:25 p.m.

President Joe Biden is pledging to have 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered by the end of his first 100 days in office. That’s double the goal he set in December and reached earlier this month before his 60th day in office.

Biden announced the new goal Thursday at the start of his first formal news conference since his term began on Jan. 20.

Biden’s goal seems ambitious, but it actually amounts to a continuation of the country’s existing pace of vaccinations through the end of month. The U.S. is now averaging about 2.5 million doses per day.

A rate even greater than that is possible. Over the next month, two of the bottlenecks to getting Americans vaccinated are set to be lifted. The U.S. supply of vaccines is on track to increase and states are lifting eligibility requirements for people to get the shots.

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11:15 a.m.

The scene is set for President Joe Biden’s first formal news conference in the East Room of the White House on Thursday afternoon.

It’ll look quite different from past presidential news conferences, given the coronavirus pandemic.

The presidential lectern is on a rug before American and presidential flags in the expansive room. Just 30 socially distanced chairs are set out, and the White House is limiting attendance at the news conference due to the virus.

Microphones will be shuttled to reporters by White House aides and will be sanitized before being passed to the next journalist. Biden has gone longer than any recent president in waiting to hold an initial formal news conference. He took office Jan. 20.

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10:30 a.m.

President Joe Biden has been in the White House since Jan. 20., but only on Thursday, more than two months after taking office, is he holding his first formal news conference.

Biden is the first chief executive in four decades to reach this point in his term without having conducted such a question-and-answer session. The president is set to meet with reporters for the nationally televised afternoon event in the East Room.

Biden has been on pace with his predecessors in taking questions from the press in other formats. But he tends to field just one or two informal inquiries at a time, usually in a hurried setting at the end of an event or in front of a whirring helicopter.

Pressure had mounted on Biden to hold a formal session, which allows reporters to have an extended back-and-forth with the president. Biden’s conservative critics have pointed to the delay to suggest that Biden was being shielded by his staff.

West Wing aides have dismissed the questions about a news conference as a Washington obsession.

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