WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden has delayed his first press conference so he can use it to celebrate the passage of a landmark legislative achievement, his giant COVID-19 relief package. But he’s sure to be in a hurry during Thursday’s question-and-answer session on all sorts of other challenges that have arisen along the way.
A pair of mass shootings, the rise of international tensions, the first signs of intra-party division and the growing number of migrants crossing the southern border all face a West Wing known for its message discipline. Biden is the first CEO in four decades to reach this point in his tenure without holding a formal press conference. He will meet with reporters for the nationally televised afternoon event in the East Room of the White House.
The scene will be very different from what Americans are used to seeing at official presidential press conferences.
The president will always stand behind a podium against a background of flags. But due to the pandemic, only 30 socially distant chairs for reporters will be spread across the vast hall. The White House has restricted attendance due to the virus, and assistants will disinfect the microphones before they are routed to reporters called upon by Biden.
“This is an opportunity for him to speak to the American people, obviously directly through the coverage, directly through all of you,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on board Tuesday. Air Force One. “And so I think he’s thinking about what he wants to say, what he wants to convey, where he can provide updates and, you know, he’s looking forward to the opportunity to engage with it.” a free press. “
While Biden has kept pace with his predecessors in responding to questions from the press in other formats, he tends to only respond to one or two informal requests at a time, usually in a rushed setting at the end of the day. ‘an event or in front of a roar. helicopter.
Pressure had grown on Biden to hold a formal session, allowing reporters to have a long back-and-forth with the president on the issues of the day. Conservative critics of Biden pointed to the delay in suggesting Biden was being protected by his staff.
West Wing aides dismissed questions about a press conference as Washington’s obsession, pointing to Biden’s high approval ratings while suggesting that the general public is not concerned about the event. The president himself, when asked on Wednesday if he was ready for the press conference, joked: “What press conference?”
Behind the scenes, however, assistants took the event seriously enough to hold a mock session with the President earlier this week. And there is some concern that Biden, a self-proclaimed “goof machine”, could get the point across and generate a series of unflattering news cycles.
“The press conference serves an important purpose: it provides the press with an extended opportunity to hold a leader accountable for decisions,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, presidential researcher and professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “A question that I ask: what will the public learn in this place that they could not learn elsewhere? And why is this important? The answer: the president speaks for the nation. “
Biden will stand behind a lectern bearing the presidential seal and signal an increase in the distribution of vaccines, encouraging signs in the economy and the benefits that Americans will receive from the vast stimulus plan. But there are many challenges.
His appearance comes just a day after appointing Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the government’s response to the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border, where the administration faces a growing humanitarian and political challenge that threatens to eclipse the Biden’s legislative program.
In less than a week, two mass shootings rocked the country and pressure mounted on the White House to support tougher gun measures. The White House has struggled to blunt a nationwide effort by Republican legislatures to tighten election laws. Two Democratic senators briefly threatened to delay confirmation of Biden’s appointments due to a lack of representation of Asian Americans in Cabinet. And North Korea and Russia have launched provocative actions to test a new commander-in-chief.
Unlike the previous administration, Biden’s White House exercised extreme message discipline, allowing staff to speak out, but doing so with caution. The new White House team has carefully handled the president’s appearances, which serves Biden’s goals but refuses the media to press him directly on major political issues and engage in the kind of back-and-forth that can draw information and thoughts that go. beyond organized talking points.
Overcoming a childhood stutter and known for being long-winded, Biden has long enjoyed interacting with reporters and defied requests from assistants to ignore questions from the press. He was prone to blunders throughout his long political career and, as president, found it difficult at times to make spontaneous remarks.
These are the types of distractions his collaborators tried to avoid and, in a silver lining pandemic, were largely able to dodge during the campaign, as the virus kept Biden at home for months and limited the potential for mistakes. public.
Firmly committing to his belief in freedom of the press, Biden rebuked his predecessor’s inflammatory rhetoric towards the media, including Donald Trump’s references to journalists as “the enemy of the people.” Biden reinstated the daily press briefing, which had vanished under Trump, opening a window on how the White House works. And he sat down for a nationwide interview with ABC News last week.
Biden also gave a series of well-received speeches, including his inaugural address, and has shown he can communicate effectively beyond press conferences, according to Frank Sesno, former director of the University’s Media School. George Washington.
“His strongest communication is not improvised. He can walk around or stumble upon a famous Biden blunder, ”Sesno said in a recent interview. “But so far he and his team have been very disciplined with the message of the day and striking the words of the day.”