(Reuters) – President Joe Biden is expected to lay out a new goal for U.S. vaccinations against COVID-19 Thursday at his first formal White House news conference, where topics will likely include immigration, infrastructure, gun control and foreign relations.
Biden, who has taken questions from reporters in other settings since taking office on Jan. 20, may face sharp queries on a recent rise in asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, plans to share coronavirus vaccines with other countries, and efforts to keep Americans safe from mass shootings.
Aides have been drafting potential questions and answers for the Democratic president in recent days to prepare for the Thursday event, slated to begin at 1:15 p.m. (1715 GMT).
Just a few dozen journalists from news outlets selected by the White House Correspondents’ Association will be on hand in the East Room, because of restrictions related to the pandemic.
Biden’s news conference is likely to offer a sharp contrast to the marathon sparring sessions his predecessor, Donald Trump, held with reporters, where the Republican president’s insults and off-the-cuff remarks regularly made news. Ratings for the major cable television networks have dipped since Trump left the White House.
At 78, Biden is the oldest person to take office as U.S. president, and his political opponents will be looking for signs he has become less sharp with age.
Biden’s popularity has remained high in his first two months in office, after a $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed Congress and millions were inoculated against the coronavirus with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
A March 17-18 Reuters/Ipsos poll showed 59% of adults in the United States approving of Biden’s overall job performance and 35% disapproving.
Biden said last week that his goal of having 100 million vaccine shots administered was being met early and promised to announce a new goal this week, which he is likely to do on Thursday.
The president will also face questions about his plans to advance gun control after two deadly mass shootings in less than a week. On Tuesday, Biden called for a ban on assault weapons and urged lawmakers to pass tighter gun control measures, but Republican support for such action is low.
Biden’s next big legislative package could also come up. He is expected to unveil a roughly $3 trillion bill to boost U.S. infrastructure during a trip to Pittsburgh next week.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney)