When Biden finally has a news conference, focus on real life: jobs, vaccines, staying alive
As Joe Biden crossed the 50-day threshold of his presidency last week, he was met with a flurry of headlines fixating on something pretty much no one in America gives two damns about: To date, the president has not held a news conference.
“Biden not yet holding a formal news conference raises accountability questions,” read one headline from ABC News. “After 50 days as president, Biden still hasn’t held a news conference. Critics and allies wonder why,” The Washington Post wrote. Fox News has started a daily drumbeat writing, “Biden still hasn’t held a news conference, 55 days and counting.”
Let me tell you something, if Fox News is chasing a narrative, that should be a signal to run in the opposite direction — fast!
It’s almost as if the Washington media world has completely forgotten what Biden inherited from his predecessor. There was the tiny detail that just two weeks before he was sworn in, the U.S. Capitol was ground zero for a violent insurrection at the hands of white nationalist domestic terrorists, who were sent there by the then-president of the United States.
Amidst a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 530,000 Americans, Biden inherited what aides described as a chaotic vaccine situation on supply, allocation and distribution. While his predecessor inherited a strong economy thanks to Obama-era policies, Biden inherited an economy littered with land mines, including 22 million jobs lost during the COVID-19 crisis.
President Biden has been busy
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Biden has inherited the most challenging environment in modern American history. Dealing with the twin health and economic crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, I can’t imagine why the president hasn’t found the time to hold a news conference with a bunch of reporters who will ask him questions that, by and large, he probably can’t answer.
Had Biden held the news conference before the historic American Rescue Plan was passed, he would have been peppered with questions about the legislative process, specific senators and their demands, what compromises he might be willing to make. He would have been asked to effectively negotiate the deal through the media. That’s not a recipe for success.
Technical legislative issues like the filibuster and budget reconciliation have tremendous bearing on what Congress can get done, but quite frankly, questions about them don’t matter to the American people. This is not a blip on their radar. Right now, what real people care about is getting or keeping their job and getting a vaccine and staying alive.
President Joe Biden speaks on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown on March 11, 2021. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
The president does plan to have a full news conference soon — “before the end of the month,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on March 5. And when he does, will reporters focus on substance and priorities that affect everyday Americans, or will they fixate on inside baseball? Will they scrutinize and exaggerate so-called gaffes? Will they ask questions they know the president would be a fool to answer?
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Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that Biden should be shielded from tough and legitimate questions. Of course he should answer them. But I also know that we just lived through four years of a ratings-obsessed president who labeled the news media “the enemy of the people.” Who, every time he opened his mouth, required an avalanche of fact-checkers to bat down the more than 30,000 “false and misleading claims” he made, some of which led to violence and death. Who sent out his press secretaries to knowingly deceive the media and the American public, until he just stopped sending them out there at all.
We’ve all had enough theater
Under President Biden, White House press briefings have returned. He participated in a sit-down interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS that was televised on Super Bowl Sunday. Last week, Biden delivered a powerful address to the country to mark the one-year anniversary of the COVID shutdown. ABC’s “Good Morning America” scheduled an interview he did with George Stephanopoulos for Wednesday. And Biden has had many short, informal Q-and-A sessions.
I for one am heartened to have a president who is acting responsibly, decisively, honestly and with purpose. Biden isn’t over-exposed, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t delivering on his promise to restore credibility, trust, and integrity to the White House. He isn’t rage-tweeting at 2 a.m. and giving us new material to fuel the outrage machine we’ve become so accustomed to riding, but that doesn’t mean the things he has to say are any less interesting or impactful.
Conspicuous absence: Biden hasn’t held a news conference or been imitated on ‘SNL’ in his presidency. Why not?
Lord knows there is plenty of new material for outrage courtesy of democracy arsonists like Sens. Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley, and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kevin McCarthy. I for one am grateful the president of the United States is not among them. He doesn’t deserve a free pass, but he does deserve our patience and has earned the benefit of the doubt.
When the time comes and Biden does take questions in a formal press conference setting, I hope reporters make good use of their time to ask thoughtful, insightful, realistic questions that actually matter to the American people. Otherwise, it’s just theater, and I think we’ve all had more than enough of that.
Former Republican Kurt Bardella is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors. He served as the spokesperson and senior adviser for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2009-2013. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to [email protected]
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