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Biden White House is enforcing message restraint and refusing to hold a press conference.

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Biden White House is enforcing message restraint and refusing to hold a press conference.

 

There will be no press conference. There is no address for the Oval Office. There will be no prime-time address to a joint session of Congress.

President Joe Biden is the first president in four decades not to hold a formal question-and-answer session at this stage in his tenure. It represents a White House media strategy aimed at saving major media set-pieces for the celebration of a legislative victory while also limiting unforced errors by a politician who has a history of making gaffes.

Biden has chosen to take questions more often than any of his recent predecessors, but he typically only answers one or two informal questions at a time, usually at the conclusion of a case.

The White House is exercising extreme message control, allowing workers to talk while doing so with care, in stark contrast to the previous administration. The new White House team has strategically handled the president’s appearances, seeking to lower the temperature from Donald Trump’s Washington and save a major media moment to mark what might soon be a signature accomplishment: passage of the COVID-19 bill, evoking both Biden’s relatively leak-free initiative and the buttoned-up Obama administration.

The president’s messaging control can serve his purposes, but it prevents the media the opportunity to question Biden directly on major policy issues and participate in the kind of back-and-forth that can elicit facts and thoughts that go beyond the administration’s curated talking points.

“I believe the president has missed an opportunity to address the nation from the bully pulpit. The intensity in the Biden White House has been turned down to the point that they have to wonder if someone is listening,” said Frank Sesno, former dean of George Washington University’s school of media. “However, he isn’t very good at press conferences. He rambles on and on. His most effective contact is not spontaneous.”

During their first days in office, other modern presidents took more questions.

According to a report by Martha Kumar, presidential scholar and professor emeritus at Towson University, 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.

Biden has given five interviews, compared to Reagan’s nine and Obama’s 23.

“Biden came in with a strategy about how they wanted to communicate. As compared to Trump, Biden has a better understanding of how to use a team and that a president cannot do it himself,” Kumar said. “Biden has a press secretary who briefs him on a daily basis. He understands that when you have something to say, particularly a win, you hold a press conference. They understand how important it is to use this period early in the administration because people are paying attention.”

According to Kumar’s study, the new president took questions 39 times, but most of the time it was just one or two shouted questions from a group of reporters known as the press pool at the end of an event in the White House’s State Dining Room or Oval Office.

Such conversations can be clumsy at times, with the cacophony of shouts or the whir of the presidential helicopter’s blades idling on the South Lawn making it impossible to have a coherent conversation.

The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller, said, “Press conferences are vital to educating the American people and making an administration accountable to the media.” “As with previous presidents, the WHCA continues to urge President Biden to hold frequent formal press conferences.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, defended the president’s media accessibility on Friday, predicting a news conference by the end of March.

Psaki said, “I would suggest that his attention is on bringing healing and relief to the American people, and he looks forward to continuing to communicate with all of you and other members of the media who aren’t here today.” “And we’ll be sure to inform you as soon as the press conference is scheduled.”

According to aides, the president’s first address to a joint session of Congress — which isn’t technically a State of the Union address but usually has just as much pomp — is also tentatively scheduled for the end of March. However, owing to the pandemic, the format of the address is unknown.

The president was praised for two large scripted addresses: his inaugural address and the speech commemorating COVID-19’s 500,000th death.

Biden, who overcame a childhood stutter, has long enjoyed interacting with reporters and has resisted calls from aides to ignore press questions. Biden, who is known for his long speeches, has been susceptible to gaffes throughout his long political career and has struggled with off-the-cuff remarks as president.

His use of the term “Neanderthal thought” to describe the governors of Texas and Mississippi’s decision to repeal mask mandates dominated a new cycle and attracted ire from Republicans. That provided the sort of diversion his aides had hoped to prevent, and which, in a pandemic silver lining, they were mostly able to avoid during the campaign because the virus kept Biden at home for months, limiting the potential for public gaffes.

Biden has rebuked his predecessor’s incendiary rhetoric against the media, including Trump’s references to reporters as “the enemy of the people,” by stating unequivocally that he believes in press freedom. Biden reinstated the daily press briefing, which had been abolished under Trump and provided a glimpse into the White House’s inner workings. His team has also been promoting the COVID-19 relief bill on cable television.

Although Biden’s own Twitter account, in contrast to Trump’s, often posts rote tweets, his chief of staff, Ron Klain, has become a regular tweeter, using the site to amplify messages and criticize opponents.

By postponing the news conference and joint speech, Biden has kept the first chapter of his presidency open and possibly prolonged his honeymoon. In a poll released Friday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, he received a 60 percent approval rating.

Tobe Berkovitz, a communications professor at Boston University, said Biden’s “rope-a-dope” approach was appropriate at the time.

“For Americans concerned about COVID and the economic crisis that has befallen so many people, presidential press conferences are not on the top of their agenda,” he said.

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