Biden says he regrets using ‘illegal’ to describe Laken Riley murder suspect during State of

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President Biden sat down with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart for a wide-ranging interview that aired Saturday, covering the Israel-Hamas war and the crisis at the southern border. Biden also walked back his “illegal” description of Laken Riley’s murder suspect. 

This marks Capehart’s second interview with Biden during his presidency, a rare feat for anyone to be granted multiple sit-downs, let alone one. His first interview with Biden was in October 2022. 

The president was asked by Capehart about his use of the word “illegal” to describe Laken Riley’s alleged killer during his State of the Union speech Thursday and said that he should’ve used the word “undocumented” instead. 

“And I shouldn’t have used illegal, I should’ve… It’s undocumented. And look, when I spoke about the difference between Trump and me, one of the things I talked about on the border was his – the way he talks about vermin, the way he talks about these people polluting the blood. I talked about what I’m not going to do, what I won’t do. I’m not going to treat any, any, any of these people with disrespect. Look, they built the country. The reason our economy is growing, we have to control the border and more orderly flow. But I don’t share his view at all.”

When asked if he regrets his word choice, Biden replied “yes.” 

During an off-the-prompter moment at his State of the Union address, Biden mistakenly referred to Riley as “Lincoln Riley,” in which he used the term “illegal” to describe the suspect. 

Joe Biden SOTU

President Joe Biden speaks during a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Some members within Biden’s own party have criticized him for his use of the term “illegal,” prompting him to initially defend his choice before eventually retracting it during a conversation with Capehart.

Riley, a 22-year-old student at Augusta University, was allegedly killed by Jose Antonio, who illegally entered the United States in 2022.

Following the president’s State of the Union address, Biden clarified his “come-to-Jesus” warning on the House floor that was caught on a hot mic aimed at Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

“[Netanyahu] has the right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas, but he must… he must… he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as the consequences of the actions taken,” Biden told Capehart.   

He continued, “he’s [Netanyahu] hurting in my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel by making the rest of the world… its contrary to what Israel stands for… and I think it’s a big mistake so I wanna see a ceasefire.”

Biden rarely grants interviews, specifically challenging, hard-hitting sit-downs with journalists. So far this year, he has spoken with Rev. Al Sharpton on his radio show, “Late Night” host Seth Meyers, his friendly biographer Evan Osnos in The New Yorker, and North Carolina morning radio host DeDe McGuire in addition to Capehart.

The president famously skipped the traditional pre-Super Bowl interview last month with CBS after opting out of it the year prior with Fox News. He has set an unprecedented record in holding fewer interviews and press conferences than any predecessor in the modern era, though the White House insists he regularly takes questions from reporters in informal settings. 

The last time Biden sat down for a formal news interview with a journalist was with CBS back in October. 

During the Oct. 15 installment of “60 Minutes,” CBS correspondent Scott Pelley focused his questions on Biden’s reaction to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks against Israel by Hamas. 

While “60 Minutes” is widely regarded as a serious news program, the interview itself wasn’t exactly hard-hitting. Some of the questions Pelley posed to the president included, “Why do you feel so strongly about speaking to these families [of American hostages in Gaza] personally on Zoom?,” “Is getting the American hostages back safely among your highest priorities now?,” “Does the dysfunction that we’ve seen in Congress increase the danger in the world?” and “Why do you feel so strongly? What does Israel mean to you?” 

The interview was panned by Biden’s likely 2024 opponent, former President Trump, who wrote on Truth Social that CBS News “led him along like a lost child.” 

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Perhaps the last time Biden faced hard-hitting questions in an interview setting was back in February 2023 when he was grilled by PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff and ABC’s David Muir about his classified documents scandal in a pair of sit-downs. What followed was a string of friendly interviews that included “The Daily Show” guest host (and former Obama aide) Kal Penn, Al Roker on “Today,” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Stephanie Ruhle and Nicolle Wallace, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, British wellness podcast host Jay Shatt, The Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams and ProPublica’s John Harwood.

Notably, none of the president’s interviewers have asked him about the growing legal troubles facing his embattled son Hunter Biden since the June indictment by the DOJ. In other words, Biden was able to avoid that subject across more than a dozen interviews in a 10-month span. 

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