By MOLLY NAGLE, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden will hold the first official press conference of his presidency Thursday afternoon — a time-honored tradition that will come later than in previous presidencies and look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden has held out on a press conference for longer than his 15 predecessors over the past 100 years — waiting until the 64th day of his presidency to take questions from reporters dedicated to covering his every action.
In her briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was “thinking about what he wants to say, what he wants to convey, where he can provide updates and looking forward to the opportunity to engage with a free press.”
The event has been highly anticipated, with Psaki facing multiple questions about the time and date in recent weeks. In an op-ed for CNN, Joe Lockhart, the White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, said the timing couldn’t be better for Biden.
“Biden has picked the perfect time to meet the press. He has comfortably exceeded his campaign goal on vaccines and that deserves the pomp and circumstance of a full White House press conference,” Lockhart wrote, after the Biden administration delivered on its pledge to administer 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccinations within his first 100 days.
That announcement came on the heels of Biden directing every state to open vaccination eligibility for all U.S. adults by May 1, with the country expected to have the vaccines needed to do so by the end of the same month.
But while Biden is expected to tout passing his $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and advances on vaccinations for the country, he’ll also have to contend with questions about the growing challenges that have pulled focus from his attempts to sell his legislative victory.
Likely to be center stage is the issue of immigration, as a growing surge at the southern border has been a focus of Pskai’s briefings for weeks, and could pose a significant political challenge for the administration.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has struggled to handle the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, which is only expected to increase in the coming months, and media access to the facilities housing children has been extremely limited and tightly controlled.
Also likely to be on the docket is the politically fraught issue of gun control, after a mass shooting in Atlanta left eight people dead last week and 10 were killed during a shooting in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday.
Biden called on Congress to take action on the issue, but has yet to put forth his own legislation on guns — despite a campaign pledge to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office to repeal liability protections for gun manufacturers and close background check loopholes.
Another topic expected to come up is foreign policy. In his first two months in office, Biden has seen escalated tensions with Russia and China, renewed missile tests from North Korea and a looming May 1 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The late date for the event is not the only change from previous administrations. As the country continues to contend with the coronavirus pandemic, the event will look different.
While previous press conferences saw rooms packed with the White House press corps, Biden’s Thursday will have only 30 reporters in the East Room of the White House.
While this will be the first official press conference for Biden as president, it’s not the first time he has faced the press.
Since taking office, Biden participated in interviews with ABC News and CBS News, and participated in an extended question-and-answer exchange with the press on his fourth full day in the job. He’s also taken shouted questions from the press during various events.
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