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Joe Biden is the first president in 40 years to let his press secretary do the talking at press conferences. Can he speak for himself?

Has Joe Biden lost his voice? His press secretary addresses concerns

There seems to be some concerns amongst the media about President Joe Biden not holding a press conference. His press secretary Jen Psaki has been fielding questions in his stead. Is it discipline or is Joe Biden avoiding the media?

40 years of press conferences

President Biden is the first executive in four decades to reach this point in his term without holding a formal question and answer session. Some believe it’s a White House media strategy meant both to reserve major media presentations for the celebration of a legislative victory, and to limit unforced errors from a historically gaffe-prone politician.

Biden has taken questions about as often as most of his recent predecessors, but he tends to answer just one or two informal inquiries at a time, usually in a hurried setting at the end of an event. In a sharp contrast with the previous administration, the White House is using extreme message discipline, empowering his press secretary and staff to speak, but doing it with caution.

Thinking about both Biden’s largely leak-free campaign and the buttoned-up Obama administration, the new White House team has carefully managed the president’s appearances. They seem to be trying to lower the temperature in contrast to Donald Trump’s Washington, and save for a big media moment – passage of the COVID-19 bill on Wednesday.

No off the cuff chats

On Tuesday, President Biden’s aides hurried the traveling press corps away as they shouted questions at him. The incident occurred toward the end of a visit by Biden to W.S. Jenks & Son, a Washington DC hardware store that benefited from his temporary extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for smaller businesses.

After watching Biden interact with store owners and employees for about ten minutes, reporters began shouting a series of questions at him with no response. Immediately after, handlers for the 46th president began yelling back assertively, “Come on, press, you gotta go,” as the entire gaggle of reporters was quickly removed from the scene.

Biden, who was standing about fifteen to twenty feet away from the press pool, did not flinch or answer a single one of the shouted questions, including one on the burgeoning immigration crisis at the southern border.

Predecessors’ press push

By this point in their terms, Trump and George H.W. Bush had each held five press conferences, Bill Clinton four, George W. Bush three, Barack Obama two and Ronald Reagan one, according to a study by Martha Kumar, presidential scholar and professor emeritus at Towson University.

Biden has given five interviews as opposed to nine from Reagan and twenty-three from Obama. “Biden came in with a plan for how they wanted to disseminate information. When you compare him with Trump, Biden has [a] sense of how you use a staff, that a president can’t do everything himself,” Kumar stated.

“Biden has a press secretary who gives regular briefings. He knows you hold a news conference when you have something to say, in particular a victory. They have an idea of how to use this time, early in the administration when people are paying attention, and how valuable that is,” Kumar continued.

The people’s time is valuable

The new president’s time is valuable, and the people’s time is valuable. Biden is faced with the greatest crisis the U.S. and the world have faced in this century – the coronavirus pandemic. Biden pledged the focus for his first 100 days in office was to get at least one million doses of vaccine out to the American people. Looks like that’s what he’s doing.

And Biden and his staff are right, the president should be focused on doing what he can to help the sick, dying, unemployed, and just plain broke people in the country that elected him. Press conferences are best for talking about plans and announcing results. Now is the time to focus on doing the job, and that’s what the president appears to be doing.

When pressed about the matter at a briefing, Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki stated, “I would say that his focus is on getting recovery and relief to the American people and he looks forward to continuing to engage with all of you and to other members of the media who aren’t here today,” she said. “And we’ll look forward to letting you know, as soon as that press conference is set.” In other words guys, wait your turn.

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