From Joe Biden to George H.W. Bush: How first presidential press conferences compare

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden delivered his first presidential press conference on Thursday afternoon, the initial opportunity for a wide swath of White House reporters to question the president about his administration’s work thus far.

Biden made news on several issues, including insights into his legislative priorities, foreign policy and the administration’s handling of unaccompanied migrant children who are arriving and being detained at the border. The president spoke for a little over an hour.

The press conference, which took place over halfway into his first 100 days in office, was at a later date than recent past presidents. Social distancing measures put in place due to the coronavirus have also restricted the number of journalists present.

Yet the recent changes to the press briefing aren’t the first time the presidential tradition has shifted between terms. Here’s a look back at how past presidents handled their first major meeting with the news media.

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US President Donald Trump takes a question as he speaks during a press conference — his first — on Feb. 16, 2017, at the White House. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM, AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump held his first formal press briefing on Feb. 16, 2017. And his first, was also his last for that year. 

The former president was widely known for his use of Twitter rather than formal briefings to announce national policy, make inflammatory, head-line grabbing statements and deride his allies and enemies alike. Trump was also fond of “chopper talk,” as comedian Stephen Colbert dubbed it when the former president would meet impromptu with the press between flights on Marine One and the White House.

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 9, 2009. Before taking questions from the news media, Obama began his first prime time news conference by urging Congress to pass the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. (Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

President Barack Obama

Former President Obama held his first press conference on Feb. 9, 2009.

As the country was still reeling from the economic fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, many of the first questions at Obama’s first press conference concerned the economy, especially negotiations on the administration’s then-speculated stimulus package. He met with the press six more times during his first year in office.

President George W. Bush calls on a reporter during his first news conference at the White House on Feb. 22, 2001, in Washington. The president spoke at his first White House news conference a month after his inauguration. He said one of his early goals was to "change the tone"' in Washington and "encourage civil discourse. I think we're making good progress.'' (Photo: KENNETH LAMBERT, Associated Press)

President George W. Bush

President George W. Bush met the press about 30 days into his first term, on Feb. 22, 2001, after a contentious path to the White House. During his first press briefing, Bush vowed to “change the tone” in national politics and “encourage civil discourse. I think we’re making good progress.”

The president also issued warnings to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein about his alleged manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction in his first briefing, an issue that would come to define Bush’s presidency after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Bush said he expected Hussein to be a “peaceful neighbor” in the region and “not to develop weapons of mass destruction. And if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence.”

In this March 23, 1993, photo, members of the media fill the East Room of the White House during President Bill Clinton's first formal news conference since taking office. (Photo: Marcy Nighswander, AP)

President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton’s first meeting with reporters was later than most recent presidents — March 22, 1993. The president fielded questions addressing the pro-democracy movement in Russia, trade with Japan and efforts to reduce the federal debt.

Clinton promised to help the country adapt to a changing world by “reducing the deficit, asking the wealthy to pay their fair share, investing in the future, and creating jobs.”

Clinton also previewed policies that would define his years in office, including discussion of LGBTQ serving in the military ahead of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and the Clintons’ push for health care reform.

President George H.W. Bush points to a reporter during a news conference on Feb. 6, 1989 — likely his second formal one — at the Old Executive Office Building to unveil a plan to bail out this nation's savings and loan institutions. (Photo: SCOTT APPLEWHITE, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

President George H. W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush was a big fan of the formal press conference, holding his first one a mere week into his one-and-only term, on Jan. 27, 1989. T, he met with the press 27 times. It was at his first gathering with media that his campaign pledge of “no new taxes” started to show some fractures.

A Los Angeles Times report from the event said Bush “while still expressing firm opposition to tax increases during his initial year in office, implied … in his first presidential news conference that he might have to accept higher taxes later in his term.”

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