The president referenced infrastructure, immigration, quantum computing and much more in his first formal press conference.
President Joe Biden confirmed on Thursday that his administration is planning heavy investments “in American workers and in American science” to help ensure U.S. technological leadership on the world stage—and particularly, against China.
“Back in the '60s, we used to invest a little over 2% of our entire [gross domestic product] in pure research and investments in science. Today, it's 0.7%. I am going to change that. We are going to change that,” Biden said. “The future lies in who can, in fact, own the future as it relates to technology—in quantum computing, a whole range of things, including the medical fields. And so, what I'm going to do is make sure we invest closer to 2%."
His answer was in response to a question regarding tensions with China, which came up during Biden’s first formal press conference as president.
“Allegedly, by the time I left office as vice president, I'd spent more time with [Chinese President] Xi Jinping than any world leader,” he said. Subsequently, Biden spoke for two hours on the phone with Jinping after being elected president, he noted, adding that the Chinese world leader called to congratulate him. In that conversation, he said he told his counterpart that America isn’t looking for confrontation with China—but a steep and fair competition. Biden then pointed to his aims to boost federal science funding.
“I said that all through the campaign, and I say it again,” he added.
While former President Donald Trump did at some points urge agencies to prioritize investments in “industries of the future”—such as artificial intelligence, 5G, quantum computing and advanced manufacturing—his administration’s 2019 and 2020 budget requests included noticeable cuts to federal research and development spending. Still, Republicans in both this and last Congressional session have called for weighty increases in government science-aligned investments.
Early into his tenure, Biden also made several moves to prioritize science within his agenda. His White House launched a memo in late January doubling down on scientific integrity. The president also unveiled that month aims to elevate the role of top science adviser, or Office of Science and Technology Policy director to a Cabinet rank.
“One of the reasons why I set up the President's board of science advisors, again, is we're going to invest in medical research, cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, industries of the future, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotech,” Biden said. “We're going to make real investments. China is out investing us by a longshot.”
The president also addressed issues spanning the immigration crisis, future of the filibuster, U.S. infrastructure—and more.
“Look around the world,” he said. “We're in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution of enormous consequence.”