• January 31, 2023

In Biden press conference, news intrudes on president’s agenda

President Joe Biden arrived in the East Room on Thursday for his first press conference at the White House with an agenda: the progress his administration has made in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact.

But messages beyond his control kept getting interrupted.

The socially distant reporter space had other issues on its mind. They repeatedly urged his government to fight the influx of migrants on the southern border. Two asked about the Senate filibuster threatening to stall its legislative agenda. One asked about provocative rocket shots by North Korea and another about strained relations with China.

The predictable disconnection between his embassy and its questions was probably one reason Biden waited until day 65, later than any other modern president, to convene his first formal press conference. (This is also one reason why journalists believe the gatherings are important, although it’s not entirely clear whether voters feel the same way.)

In an opening speech, Biden announced that he would double his original target for COVID-19 vaccinations and now swear to give Americans 200 million injections during his first 100 days in office. He pointed to the impact of the $ 1.9 trillion aid package he signed, which has already gone into effect Deposit money into bank accounts and increasing estimates of economic growth. He noticed this again Unemployment claims had fallen.

“Help is here and hope is on the way,” he said.

But perhaps it was a sign of his success on these fronts that not a single reporter mentioned COVID-19 or the economic recovery. Instead, he was asked if he would meet former President Trump’s deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1 – likely not, Biden said, but suggested they would be down within a year – and on efforts by Republicans to impose voting restrictions.

“This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” he said of the hundreds of bills that Republican lawmakers have tabled to regulate voter access. In a rising voice, he called the effort “un-American” and “despicable”.

There were even two follow-up questions as to whether he wanted to run for a second term. He replied that he expected this and with Vice President Kamala Harris on his ticket, although he warned that 2024 was a long way off and that he was “a great respect for fate”.

Much of the questions concerned immigration and the border, particularly how to deal with an influx of unaccompanied children. His government appeared unprepared to address the problem, although there were early signs that it was going to be a problem. Biden denied claims that his policies encouraged families in Central America to send their children on the dangerous journey north, but also denied the idea that he should take a tougher line to contain the tide.

“Well, look,” said Biden. “The idea I’m going to say – which I would never do – if an unaccompanied child ends up on the border, do we just let them starve to death and stay on the other side? No previous administration has done that either – except for Trump. I will not do it. I will not do it. “

He was good Biden-esque. It was the longest out of date exchange of his presidency, spanning over an hour. He expressed empathy, spoke in conversation, and twice found himself going on too long and saying he was going to stop – in general, officers of an observation don’t say aloud. He didn’t use a teleprompter, but when answering questions about Afghanistan and China, he seemed to be reading from notes, presumably to get every word just right on a delicate diplomacy issue.

It wasn’t always crisp, and its reference to “Jim Eagle” triggered unsuccessful Google searches to understand the reference – perhaps the Biden counterpart to Trump’s 2017 mystifying tweet about “covfefe”. But he was focused and responsive, countering the throats of his fiercest critics for having lost a step at the age of 78.

The contrast to its predecessor was hard to miss. Trump was often deliberately provocative when speaking to reporters, enjoying barbaric exchanges, and sometimes attacking the intelligence and patriotism of those who asked questions. Biden was reluctant, even suggesting at one point that he might provide more details on the policy than reporters wanted to hear.

When a reporter from Univision asked about the influx at the border, he thanked her for reporting there.

Towards the end, when no one had asked about his next major legislative priority, he switched from a gun control question to a promotion for the sweeping economic recovery law he plans to unveil in Pittsburgh on Friday. When no one asked the question he wanted, he answered it anyway.

“The next big initiative … is to rebuild this country’s physical and technological infrastructure so that we can compete and create a significant number of really well-paying jobs, really well-paying jobs,” he said. “We can do so much.”

Jack

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