Biden will not commit to the usual post-election press conference amid the threat of losses

WASHINGTON — Members of the White House press corps are urging President Biden to stick to tradition and hold a news conference after Tuesday’s midterm elections — but press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre again declined to say Monday whether the president would host one.

Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich, the newest board member of the White House Correspondents Association, urged Jean-Pierre to make a commitment at her regular briefing Monday — after WHCA President Tamara Keith of National Public Radio did so last week.

“An outside observer might conclude that he doesn’t want a press conference because he is about to lose control of one or both chambers [of Congress]’ said Henry. “So why not commit the White House the day before the midterms to holding that traditional post-midterm press conference the day after the election?”

The Fox reporter said a mere “statement or comment” would be “not only a departure from the traditions the president has promised to restore at the White House, but it also doesn’t allow for the kind of nuanced discussion of what voter signals are about the submission.” the Midterms or how he plans to deal with the new Congress.”

Jean-Pierre responded that “it takes some time in any administration to set the schedule,” before saying that Biden would make some sort of public statement, but declined to say if it would be a formal press conference Art he last held in January.

“I was very clear, you will hear from the President. He is always happy to answer your questions. You know, he’ll – I’m sure he’ll answer your questions too. I’m just not making any headway,” replied Jean-Pierre.

Joe Biden
President Biden has yet to commit to a standard post-midterm press conference on Wednesday.
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

“I’m just not going to go into specifics about what his day on Wednesday will be like. But again, he’s going to address the American people, and I think that’s important. He’ll be aware of what he’s thinking and I’m just not going to get anywhere from here.”

It would be unusual if Biden did not hold a press conference immediately after the midterms.

NPR’s Keith pointed out to Jean-Pierre last week that former Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all held press conferences after their first half. George HW Bush did not do this as the Gulf War overshadowed domestic politics.

“A formal press conference allows for a more in-depth examination of the president’s views,” Keith told the Post in an email.

“It helps the American people better understand where the President is coming from than just a statement or even answering a few questions,” she said. “President Biden’s most recent predecessors answered questions ranging from 45 minutes to an hour and a half the day after the vote, giving the public a glimpse of how they interpreted the election results and, importantly, how they intended to govern in the months to come.”

Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s first press secretary from 2001 to 2003, said holding a press conference for Biden was particularly necessary given questions about his intellectual acuity and political future as he prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday to celebrate on November 20th.

“I think it’s particularly important for Joe Biden, given the questions that will be asked, whether he will stand for re-election,” Fleischer said. “It’s such a tradition. Presidents – win or lose – do it. If he doesn’t, it will be a blatant departure from the norm and people will wonder if he’s capable of holding one.”

Fleischer added that if Biden were to hold a press conference, he would watch the president explain the election results.

“If his party loses the way it is projected, what is his explanation? Is “Mega MAGA” to blame? Is it a realization that the Democrats are leaning too far to the left? Does it signal a change in his way of governing?” said Fleischer.

“In the era of divided government, it’s really up to the President to decide if something is done, even more so than Congress. Presidents can decide, ‘Pass whatever you want, and I’ll veto it — we’ll fight,’ or presidents can do what Bill Clinton did when he lost the House and Senate in 1994, and of the work from the middle.”

Data compiled by political scientist Martha Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, suggests Biden is lagging behind his recent predecessors at press conferences.

Biden has given 17 press conferences since taking office – most of them during trips abroad, although some have featured visits by foreign leaders to the White House, where it is traditional for the US president to only visit two American reporters.

So far, according to Kumar’s data, Biden has averaged 0.8 press conferences per month – compared to Trump’s 2.6 per month and Obama’s 1.7 per month over the course of their presidencies. George W. Bush conducted an average of 2.2 press conferences a month, Bill Clinton an average of two a month, and George HW Bush an average of three a month.

Karine Jean Pierre
Karine Jean-Pierre couldn’t say if Biden would commit to the usual conference.
Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images

In the past century, only two presidents averaged fewer press conferences per month than Biden — Richard Nixon, who resigned in August 1974 over the Watergate scandal, averaging just 0.6 per month, and Ronald Reagan at 0.5 per month. Kumar noted that Reagan’s list included few foreign events and more nightly East Room forums with major news networks.

“Technology was important, especially when you contrast Reagan’s press conferences because Reagan held nightly press conferences in the East Room that were broadcast by all television networks,” Kumar said, noting that American viewing habits at the time meant the events were “united people ” in focus.

Presidents who served when radio was more widespread than television actually gave more press conferences. Franklin D. Roosevelt gave more than 1,000 press conferences during his 12 years as President and averaged 7 per month, while Calvin Coolidges did more than 500 for an average of 7.8 per month over his two terms.

Biden also lags behind in interviews, citing just 42 as of Sept. 30 — less than 1/3 as many as Trump’s 143 at the same point in his presidency and less than 1/5 as many as Obama’s 231. However, Biden outperforms both on that count to brief question-and-answer sessions — with 326 to Trump’s 255 and Obama’s 68 at this point in their presidencies, though Biden’s exchanges can be very brief.

Brian Karem, a veteran White House reporter who writes for Salon and other media outlets, said Biden should hold a press conference “regardless of the outcome” of the election and that “it should be an open press conference with every member of the press Anyone with a White House press pass can attend.”

Karem, who has been helping rally reporters through Biden’s press office’s mysterious pre-screening process for large indoor presidential events, said the give-and-take of a press conference is important to the public.

“There is no reason on God’s green earth why the current President of the United States, because of his leadership and because of it, cannot hold a White House press conference in front of an open press and answer questions about the direction this country is moving in the midterm -Elections,” Karem said. “Voters deserve answers. And we have many questions. They should all be addressed.”

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