He gave a prime-time speech to the nation. He wrote two columns in major newspapers. And he answered a few spontaneous questions from journalists. But again, Joe Biden didn’t sit down this week for an interview with any broadcaster or newspaper. Nor did he hold a press conference.
The US president, who has vowed to restore trust and transparency after Donald Trump’s conflicting tenure, faces criticism as Sunday marks 116 days since his last press interview.
“Biden’s refusal to address the American people about the many crises they face under his failing administration is inexcusable,” said Emma Vaughn, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
As he nears 18 months in office, a president eager to get his message across has settled into certain rhythms and comfort zones while avoiding, to the frustration of the White House press, certain traditional forums.
This week, he wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal on his plan to fight inflation and another for the New York Times on the American strategy of supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
Biden gave a speech on gun violence at the White House Thursday night in hopes of reaching a large television audience. He made further remarks from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Friday on the latest employment numbers and answered a few questions from reporters.
Like Trump, Biden frequently stops to speak to reporters who shout questions about Marine One’s whirring propellers as he paces back and forth from the White House — but such exchanges lack the depth or follow-up opportunities afforded by substantial one-on-ones.
Biden’s last interview — and his only so far in 2022 — was with NBC News’ Lester Holt on Feb. 10. To put that into context, his maintenance rate is far behind his recent predecessors at the same stage of their presidency.
From taking office on January 20, 2021 through April 29, 2022, Biden has given 23 interviews. Between Jan. 20, 2017, and April 29, 2018, by contrast, Trump gave 95 interviews, according to the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan group that chronicles presidential communications.
Over their equivalent periods, Barack Obama gave 187 interviews, George W Bush gave 60, Bill Clinton gave 64, George HW Bush gave 70 and Ronald Reagan gave 78, according to the Project. Biden has also held fewer solo press conferences than other recent presidents.
Bill Whalen, a former media consultant for politicians including former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, said: ‘We went from flooding with Donald Trump, who couldn’t go a day without talking to the press – this that would create another set of problems for the Trump White House — now in a drought where that president has, for the better part of four months, not sat one-on-one with a reporter.
Biden has earned a reputation for gaffes over half a century as a senator, vice president and president. He recently took his own staff by surprise with a blunt pledge to defend Taiwan militarily and a candid admission that he was unaware of the severity of the infant formula shortage until April.
Such incidents, observers say, help explain why White House officials want to keep Biden off the grills of the nation’s toughest investigators.
Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, California, added: “The strategy is pretty obvious. The White House doesn’t trust the president to come out impromptu and doesn’t want to leave the president to his own devices. They just don’t trust him to get the story clean without issue.
But the cautious approach could backfire on Biden, 79, he warned. “It could potentially, in the back of voters’ minds, question his competence, his energy, his ability to handle the job. This raises questions: why are you isolating the president, why are you hiding the president, why are you not letting him talk to reporters?
“Are you afraid that he will say something bad or that he will be badly perceived? Second, you’re slowly building up resentment in the press corps so that with all that added pressure, by the time they finally sit down one-on-one, it might not be as friendly as they make it out to be. would like.
Biden’s media interviews so far have included major television networks, three CNN town halls, an appearance on MSNBC and three regional television interviews via Zoom, as well as conversations with late night host Jimmy. ESPN’s Fallon and Sage Steele. He gave only three print interviews.
Last month, he hosted New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for a lunch of a tomato tuna salad sandwich, a bowl of mixed fruit and a chocolate milkshake. “But it was all off the record – so I can’t tell you what he said,” Friedman wrote.
Meanwhile, media reports suggest White House staff are divided over Biden’s communications strategy as his approval rating drops, the midterm elections loom and his arresting speeches often fail.
CNN wrote this week: “Helps regularly talk about how little traction they get from Biden’s one-off appearances or events, then — whether it’s inflation, formula shortages, or mass shootings or other crises landing on Biden’s desk — he’s often left looking like he’s hunkered down reactively on the issues that matter most to voters rather than setting the agenda.
Biden has earned praise for restoring the daily White House briefing with press secretary, Jen Psaki, and her successor, Karine Jean-Pierre. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, has established himself as a tireless champion of the administration on Twitter. And the president has maintained the tradition of holding joint press conferences with foreign leaders, most recently in Japan.
Frank Luntz, political consultant and pollster, said, “The average voter can’t tell if Biden is doing a press conference, an interview, or a speech. Everything fades for them. But as the midterm elections approach, this will be problematic. Biden is still a drag on Democrats. The more he focuses on something else, the better for Democrats. »
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.