Asked about that paucity of pressers — ahem! — on Sunday by CNN’s Brian Stelter, White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied that Biden “takes questions several times a week.”
If that quote rings a bell, it’s because it’s almost exactly how former President Donald Trump’s press shop defended his own lack of news conferences.
“President Trump is more accessible than most modern presidents and frequently takes questions from the press,” then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told the Associated Press in late April 2018 after Trump faced criticism for having held just a single formal press conference to that point in his presidency.
Democrats who were regularly up in arms about the Trump administration’s approach to the media have now taken to defending Biden’s approach by insisting he’s been very busy dealing vaccinating the country and dealing with the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Which is, without question, a massive undertaking!
At the same time, the amount that Biden is doing or seeking to do — $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, trillions in proposed infrastructure spending, an overhaul of election laws etc. — is historic. And as such, would benefit from the President explaining it and taking questions from reporters on his approach and thinking.
There’s also this: Biden premised his entire 2020 candidacy on the idea that he would hold himself to a higher standard than Trump. And that he would do so not just because he thought it was personally important but because the nation needed a more transparency in the White House.
Given that, echoing a Sanders excuse for why the President isn’t holding more press conferences isn’t exactly a good look.
And finally this: Scads of reporting from a variety of outlets makes clear that the Biden White House is actively working to limit his exposure to the media.
“Three months in, Joe Biden’s White House has settled on a firm press strategy: First, do no self-harm. … It’s the Hippocratic Oath for engagement with the fourth estate. And if it means criticism from the press and opponents about Biden’s availability, so be it.”
The Point: Biden’s lack of direct engagement with the press is on purpose — and strategic. That’s true whether or not Psaki (or the rest of the White House) wants to acknowledge it.