President Biden said on Thursday that “some minds may be changed” by Democratic House prosecutors at the impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump. But the comment, made off the cuff in a meeting with reporters, seemed to go against his administration’s strategy of willfully ignoring the proceedings.
Just hours later, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said she believed Mr. Biden had actually said “minds may be changed, or they may not.” She described his remarks as a “human” reaction to watching “harrowing” trial footage that should not be confused for political analysis. But she dodged questions on whether the president had an obligation to opine on the possibility of a conviction of his predecessor.
“He’s not in the jury; he’s not in the Senate,” Ms. Psaki said. “His role is to be the president of the United States, and that is the role he currently plays.”
Mr. Biden and his advisers have insisted for days that he is not paying close attention to the Senate trial of Mr. Trump. The president on Thursday hosted lawmakers for a discussion about infrastructure — and addressed the impeachment footage — and toured a laboratory at the National Institutes of Health.
At the beginning of the infrastructure meeting, he said that he had not watched any of the trial live on Wednesday, but that he had seen news reports.
“I’m focused on my job,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he had watched news reports of the trial Wednesday night because he was “going straight through last night until a little after 9.”
The new president and his team are determined to deliver the message that he is focused on the economic plight of the country, the pandemic that is still killing about 3,000 people each day and efforts to reverse Mr. Trump’s legacy.
The White House confirmed on Thursday that the president had canceled the national emergency at the southwestern border that Mr. Trump had declared in order to divert money for the construction of his border wall.
In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi dated Wednesday, Mr. Biden dismissed the emergency as an attempt by his predecessor to get around congressional refusal to provide funds for the construction.
“I have determined that the declaration of a national emergency at our southern border was unwarranted,” he wrote. “I have also announced that it shall be the policy of my administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall, and that I am directing a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to that end.”
Mr. Biden began his day convening a meeting in the Oval Office with senators from both parties in what the White House described as a discussion about “the critical need to invest in modern and sustainable American infrastructure.” Pete Buttigieg, who was confirmed as Mr. Biden’s transportation secretary last week, joined the meeting via video conference.
Mr. Biden said throughout his campaign that he supported a vast effort to rebuild the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, tunnels and other critical infrastructure, partly as a way to help put Americans back to work. Many Republicans have said for years that they also support new investments in infrastructure, though an agreement on the size and scope of legislation has been elusive.
While the White House has prioritized the passage of the president’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, Mr. Biden has signaled that he plans to push for more spending after that is approved. The strategy is part of his effort to “build back better,” a slogan he used during his presidential campaign.