Biden holds first presidential news conference

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Melissa Mahtani and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:10 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021
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2:18 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden warns North Korea of "responses" if they continue to test ballistic missiles

From CNN's Allie Malloy

President Biden warned that there would be "responses" if North Korea continues to fire ballistic missiles, following their second launch in less than a week. 

Asked about the launches at his news conference, Biden told reporters, “We’re consulting with our allies and partners and there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly.”

The President also said that he agreed with then-President Barack Obama who warned in 2016 while leaving office that North Korea is the biggest foreign policy threat and issue, answering simply: "Yes."

Biden added that he’s also “prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

“So that’s what we’re doing right now, consulting with our allies.” 

On Thursday, North Korea launched two ballistic missiles — the second such launch in less than a week.

South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said in a statement that two short-range missiles had been fired from the Hamju area of South Hamgyong province toward the sea, off North Korea's east coast, at 7:06 a.m. and 7:25 a.m. local time. 

The projectiles flew about 450 kilometers (280 miles), reaching an altitude of 60 kilometers (37 miles), and are believed to have been ballistic missiles launched from the ground, the statement said.

The exact type of the missiles was unclear, a senior US official told CNN earlier, citing an intelligence briefing.


3:15 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden compares GOP voting restriction efforts to Jim Crow, calling them "sick" and "un-American"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden today called Republican efforts to restrict voting in many states, "un-American" and "sick" and compared the efforts to Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South.

"What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is," said Biden of Republican efforts on a statewide level to implement rules that would make voting more cumbersome for many voters and especially minority voters.

"It's sick. It's sick," he added, 

"This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle," he continued. "...This is gigantic, what they are trying to do and it cannot be sustained. I am going to do everything in my power ... to keep that from becoming the law."

Biden did express hope that he would be able to slow or stop the effort, saying he believed there was bipartisan support to keep voting as open as possible. 

"The Republican voters I know, find this despicable," he said. "...I am talking about voters. Voters. And so I'm convinced that we will be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins pressed Biden about his stance on the filibuster. Watch the exchange:

3:08 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden was asked about GOP-led bills that would restrict voting access. Here's what you need to know.

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Republicans at the state level have moved swiftly to either roll back some easy access to voting or put new obstacles in the way of voters following losses in the 2020 presidential and US Senate elections.

More than 250 bills to curb or complicate access to polls had been introduced in 43 state legislatures as of February 19, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which is tracking the bills — and bills have since been introduced in at least two more states, North Carolina and Wisconsin, according to CNN reporting.

Key states to watch: Florida, Arizona and Georgia were all battleground states in 2020 and host US Senate races in 2022. Republican legislative majorities and GOP governors are moving to make it more difficult to vote in these states.

The Republican-led Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday passed its version of a sweeping election overhaul bill, moving it one step closer to enacting election law changes and restricting voter access in the state.

Texas does not have a 2022 Senate race, but it will feature a race for governor in 2022. Republicans currently control all levers of the state government there.

There are proposals to make it more difficult to vote in other key states — Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — featuring 2022 Senate races, but divided government in those places will make restrictions more difficult to enact.

There is no Senate race in Michigan and there is also divided government there. (See a breakdown of state government control here.)

What's happening in Congress: House Democrats have passed a sweeping bill that includes a number of voting reforms, including automatic national voter registration. Currently, 18 states and Washington, DC, have automatic registration. Expanding that requirement nationwide could enfranchise 50 million Americans, according to the Brennan Center.

The bill would do a lot more, including putting an end to partisan gerrymandering, by which parties draw congressional lines to protect their incumbents, mandating a two-week early voting period and more.

But it would require a supermajority — 60 votes — to overcome a promised GOP filibuster in the Senate. Democrats have suggested changing Senate rules specifically for this bill, but it's not clear all Democrats would support the rule change.

CNN's Kelly Mena, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed reporting to this post. 

3:13 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden calls conditions in packed Texas border facility that houses migrant children "totally unacceptable"

President Biden was pressed by ABC's Cecilia Vega about his reaction to the conditions at a border protection facility in Donna, Texas.

"There are kids that are sleeping on floors. They are packed into these pods. I've spoken to lawyers who say that some of these children have not seen the sun in days. What's your reaction – what is your reaction to these images that have come out from that particular facility?" Alvear asked

Biden said that he thought the conditions were "totally unacceptable" and said his administration is looking to find other locations for the children.

"That's a serious question, right? Is it acceptable to me? Come on. That's why we're going to be moving a thousand of those kids out quickly. That's why I got Fort Bliss opened up. That's why I've been working from the moment this started happening to try to find additional access for children to be able to safely, not just children, but particularly children to be able to safely be housed while we follow through on the rest of what's happening. That is totally unacceptable," Biden said.

Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar provided CNN with photos revealing the conditions for dozens of children and adults in an overflow facility in Donna, Texas.

3:13 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden promises journalists will be allowed into migrant facilities: "I will commit to transparency"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden pledged to allow journalists into overcrowded migrant facilities at the US-Mexico border.

"I will commit when my plan, very shortly, is underway to let you have access to not just them but to other facilities as well," said in response to NBC News' Kristen Welker.

"I will commit to transparency, and as soon as I'm in a position to be able to implement what we're doing right now. One of the reasons I haven't gone down — my chief folks have gone down — is I don't want to become the issue," he added.

Biden did not give a timeframe on when that would happen.

Biden also said he makes "no apology" for rolling back some of Trump's immigration policies.

"All the policies underway were not helping at all, did not slow up the amount of immigration, and as many people coming. And rolling back the policies of separating children from their mothers, I make no apology for that," he said.

3:13 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden says he would never allow unaccompanied children at the US border to starve to death

President Biden said he would never let an unaccompanied child who arrives to the US border starve to death under his leadership.

"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 previous administration did that either, except Trump. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to do it," Biden told ABC's Cecilia Vega.

His remarks came after Vega described the plight of Central American migrants to the US, particularly the story of a 9-year-old boy who walked by himself to the border with another boy from Honduras.

"His mother said she sent her son to this country because she believes that you are not deporting unaccompanied minors like her son. That's why she sent him alone from Honduras," she said.

When asked if these unaccompanied minors would be allowed to stay in the US, or would they be deported eventually, Biden said, "Well, the judgment has to be made whether or not — and this young man's case, he has a mom at home. There's an overwhelming reason why he'd be put on a plane and flown back to his mom."

Some context: More than 400,000 migrant children have crossed the US border without their parents since 2003.

And each time a new wave arrives, political controversy follows.

The numbers are on the rise again, with some children arriving who are as young as 6 or 7. This increase is sparking fierce debate in Washington, concern from children's advocates and an emergency response from the Biden administration.

5:34 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden: Vast majority of migrant families at the border are being "sent back" home

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden addressed the spike of migrants at the US-Mexico border and noted how an "overwhelming" majority of those who are crossing the border are being "sent back" home.

"Tens of thousands of people who are over 18 years of age and single people, one at a time coming, have been sent back, sent home. We're sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming. We're trying to work out now, with Mexico, their willingness to take more of those families back. But that's what's happening. They're not coming across the border. And those coming across the border who are unaccompanied children, we're moving rapidly to try to put in place what was dismantled, as I said," he said.

Biden added that his administration is "building back up the capacity that should have been maintained and built upon that Trump dismantled. It's going to take time."

When PBS' Yamiche Alcindor pressed Biden on why some families are not being sent back home, he said it is "because Mexico is refusing to take them back. They're saying they won't take them back, not all of them. We're in negotiations with the president of Mexico."

"I think we're going to see that change. They should all be going back. All be going back. The only people we're not going to let sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande by themselves, with no help, are children," Biden explained.


2:03 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

Biden: The filibuster is being abused in a "gigantic way"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden expressed support for filibuster reform, suggesting he was willing to bend or even abolish the arcane Senate rule on certain issues, in order to accomplish his agenda.

Responding to a reporter's question, Biden first said he believed senators ought to have to hold the floor in order to delay action in the Senate.

"It used to be you had to stand there and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk until you collapsed. And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing," he said. "...I strongly support moving in that direction."

The filibuster is being "abused in a gigantic way," he added.

But Biden also suggested that he was willing to consider doing away with the rule, at least on some issues, if Republicans' recalcitrance continued. 

"We're going to get a lot done," he said. "If we have to, 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."

Why is he talking about the filibuster? Some Democrats in Congress want to change Senate rules so they can use their slim majority to pass things unlikely to garner Republican support, such as a voting rights bill or the massive infrastructure package that Biden is expected to introduce.

Right now they need to garner 60 votes to overcome Republican objection — or, filibuster — a tally that requires several Republicans to join Democrats.

You can read more on the filibuster here.

5:35 p.m. ET, March 25, 2021

The spike of migrants at the border has been a central topic today. Here's a look at the latest figures.

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

The situation at the US-Mexico border has been a central topic in today's news conference.

The Biden administration is scrambling to find adequate housing for the rising number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US-Mexico border.

Republicans have slammed Biden's handling of the situation, blaming his early actions to overturn some of the Trump administration's border enforcement policies for inducing what is shaping up to be a historic surge of migrants to the border.

During his first week in office, Biden signed a slew of executive actions aimed at undoing Trump's immigration policies and released comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Most notable among the changes has been the decision to no longer expel unaccompanied minors who show up at the border, resulting in more children coming into US custody.

Biden has said that he will travel to the border at some point, and senior administration officials and lawmakers have already made the trip down to see facilities housing the migrants.

A group of White House officials and members of Congress toured a Texas facility on Wednesday holding unaccompanied migrant children and for the first time under the Biden administration a news camera was allowed inside.

These are some of the latest figures:

  • There are more than 16,000 unaccompanied children in US custody, including around 4,800 in US Customs and Border Protection custody
  • At least 11,300 unaccompanied children are in Department of Health and Human Services custody.
  • As of Sunday, more than 800 unaccompanied migrant children had been in Border Patrol custody for more than 10 days, according to documents reviewed by CNN.

Federal law requires unaccompanied children to be turned over within 72 hours to HHS, which oversees a shelter network designed to house minors, but amid constraints related to the pandemic, children are staying in custody for longer than the 72-hour limit.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez, Jeremy Herb and Jeremy Diamond contributed reporting to this post