“I got elected to solve problems,” Joe Biden said today in response to the first question at his first solo press conference as President. “All I know is I’ve been hired to solve problems, not create division,” he staunchly added, laying down again that there is a new kind of POTUS in the White House after Donald Trump.
“I want to change the paradigm,” the well calibrated and well prepped president proclaimed of his ambitions for the nation.
The AP had the first question in the just over 62-minute long affair that ranged from timely topics of the Covid-19 health crisis, the just passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the surge at the southern border, and filibuster reform in the Senate. Following a week that saw mass shootings in Atlanta and Bolder, gun control was on the press conference agenda too, as was a large infrastructure package, withdraw from the forever war in Afghanistan, media access to immigration facilities, the 2024 race, what a great VP Kamala Harris is, North Korea’s recent missile test, relations with China, “despicable” GOP attempts to limit voting rights and Donald Trump.
In response after response to queries from PBS, The Washington Post, ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, NBC News, CBS News, CNN, Bloomberg, and Univision, a fairly comfortable and measured Biden sprinkled significant shade on his predecessor, even joking at one point “oh God I miss him.” Seriously noting the “incredibly negative impact” of Trump’s polices, Biden threw out blue and red meat in mentioning the former Celebrity Apprentice host more today than he has since taking office on January 20 at a locked down Capital.
Kicking off with a short self-described “update” on his time in office with emphasis on fighting the coronavirus and setting new goal of 200 million vaccinations in his first 100 days, Biden’s presser was covered live on all the broadcast networks, all the cabler newsers, as well as the likes of Univision, Telemundo, Bloomberg and conservative inclined One America News and Newsmax (which had a lower third that read: Biden Touts His Administration’s Covid Response at the top of the presser)
Coming 64 days into his administration, POTUS 46’s first formal press conference was announced over a week ago after weeks of pressure from the media. While many Americans have become used to seeing President Biden over the past two months on national and local TV and online daily, that exposure has been strongly limited by the White House. Taking at most a couple of questions after a socially distanced speech or before getting on Marine One, Biden has once again been drawing from Ronald Reagan’s playbook of leave ‘em wanting more — and at a bit of a safe distance.
In that vein, by lowering expectations, the oldest president America has ever had guaranteed a win by not taking a tumble or getting tripped up on his own words or policy. In fact, pulling from the briefing book in front of him, the naturally garrulous Biden at one point played his policy wonk card with dense answer that he concluded with “I don’t know how much detail you want about immigration …I’ll stop there.” That in itself was a difference from Biden’s previous days as senator and vice president, when he was known for particularly long-winded answers.
Setting the bar limbo low before the East Room event began, FNC’s Chris Wallace said Thursday that the gaffe prone Biden would suffer if he “stumbled or had some difficulty.” However, the veteran anchor who last year moderated that shambolic first debate between a rambling Trump and a more disciplined Biden added, “I don’t expect that to happen.”
And, it didn’t – even though Fox News blew their top over Peter Doocy not being called upon, as all the other major network correspondents were. Some pundits keyed in on Biden’s use of a briefing book, as Beltway reactions began to fall along partisan lines.
That aside, Biden was particular animated when Nancy Cordes of CBS News asked him about Republican efforts to pass voting restrictions across a number of states, and whether he worries that Democrats will lose seats if they don’t pass voting rights legislation soon.
“What I am worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is,” Biden said of the GOP efforts. “It is sick. Just sick.”
Biden had moments where he seemed to bristle at follow-ups, as when he said to NBC News’ Kristen Welker, “You only got another hour now?” Later, CNN’s Kaitlin Collins pressed him on whether he is running for reelection, as he would only say that is his “expectation.”
“I’m a great respecter of fate,” Biden quipped after dropping that he anticipated to run for re-election in 2024 with VP Harris, but refused to be totally nailed down on it. “I’ve never been able to plan four and a half, three and a half years ahead for certain,” he went on to say, warming up to the back and forth with reporters after a slightly stilted start.
However, Biden also seemed to mock ABC News’ Cecilia Vega when she pressed him on overcapacity at border detention facilities. “There are kids that are sleeping on floors. They are packed into these pods….What is your reaction to these images?”
“That’s a serious question, right?” Biden said, as if it should go without question that the administration knows it is a problem. “Is it acceptable to me? Come on!” he stated.
Additionally, a number of reporters tried to nail Biden down on timing. Biden did not say that he favors abolishing the filibuster, even though he agreed that it was a relic of the Jim Crow era. And while he said that the media would get access to immigration facilities on the border, he set no exact timeline.
“As you’ve observed, I’m a fairly practical guy,” Biden said during today’s press conference in what is obviously the philosophy fueling this president and this White House. “I’m ready to work with any Republican who wants to help solve the problem or make the situation better,” he noted of immigration reform at a later juncture in Thursday’s event in words that could be applied to any Biden imitative it seems, at least for now.
BTW – Ronald Reagan only gave five press official press conferences during his first year in office. That’s a far cry from Biden’s fellow Catholic and Democrat, JFK who took to the podium in front of the press over 20 times in his first tumultuous year back in 1961.
As a skeptical Fox News pointed out this morning, microphone fiend Trump’s first presser in 2017 was a sprawling 77-minutes long with the ex-real estate developer taking 30 questions. Swamping you with more math, in 2009 Barack Obama’s first formal appearance in front of the White House press corps was 58-minutes long, with 13-questions answered by the policy oriented POTUS. Back in 2001, George W. Bush’s went for short and sweet with a less than half-hour opening pressing conference that breezed through 20 questions.
Biden’s event had a relative dearth of news, and that may be the point after the chaos of Trump’s performances, which usually featured a major media confrontation. But it’d be a surprise if these events became part of any kind of White House routine, as they were long ago. After two months in office and the public largely fixated on ending the Covid-19 crisis, Biden’s poll numbers are still above water.
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