Report: Some WH aides can't bear to watch when Biden takes questions from reporters

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

So this makes it unanimous, then.

Almost unanimous. Apparently some aides are forcing themselves to watch, presumably peering through their fingers with their hands over their eyes.


Why would a politician famous for verbal gaffes insist on taking questions from the press? I wonder if Biden fears it’d look too suspicious for a senescent 78-year-old to stop giving spontaneous answers in public altogether. Forced to choose between that and giving stumbling off-the-cuff responses, he might be calculating that the latter is the least bad choice.

Some of his staff believe he should rethink that, per Politico.

When Biden gives public remarks, some White House staffers will either mute him or turn off his remarks, according to White House officials.

It’s not that they’re indifferent to what their boss has to say. Indeed, their livelihoods are directly invested in it. Rather, they’re filled with anxiety that he’s going to take questions from the press and veer off the West Wing’s carefully orchestrated messaging.

“I know people who habitually don’t watch it live for that reason,” said one current official…

Biden has delivered several self-inflicted wounds during freewheeling Q&A sessions that required immediate clean-up. On Afghanistan, he told reporters that a Taliban takeover of the country was “highly unlikely,” said Al Qaeda was “gone” from Afghanistan when it wasn’t, and declared that he’d seen “no question of our credibility” from allies when there had been a lot.


He seems to enjoy sparring with Peter Doocy when he takes questions so maybe it isn’t a strategic choice. Maybe it’s just an old guy being baited and unable to restrain himself from rambling, like Grandpa Simpson talking about how tying an onion to one’s belt was the fashion when he was a boy.

Still, remember that ABC interview a few weeks ago when Stephanopoulos mentioned Afghans falling to their death after clinging to the wings of American planes taking off from Kabul and Biden responded indignantly, “That was four days ago, five days ago”? I wonder if that’s the last sustained Q&A we’ll see him do for awhile.

His aides should show him his polling lately, as that might lead him to appreciate a “the less said, the better” approach. Jazz wrote this morning about two new polls from Scott Rasmussen showing Biden’s job approval on Afghanistan continuing to slide and some voters experiencing buyer’s remorse about last year’s Democratic primary. YouGov also has new data out today that corroborates the decline in Biden’s support. He’s at 43/52 in overall approval, one of the worst numbers of his brief presidency. And his rating on Afghanistan especially is grim:

Just 33/55 overall, with independents at 31/61(!). The withdrawal from Afghanistan has been so messy, in fact, that Americans split almost evenly when asked if withdrawing from the country was a mistake:


The Democratic and Republican numbers are heavily influenced by partisanship, of course, but indies are closely divided. Biden’s big gamble on the evacuation fiasco is that Americans will forgive the White House for it in time out of gratitude for Biden having finally extricated us from an unwinnable war. That’s more likely than not, but the uglier the Taliban’s rule becomes…

…the more misgivings about leaving Americans may feel. That might explain why independents are ambivalent already.

It’d be incorrect to attribute all of Biden’s problems to Afghanistan, though. Americans have a short memory about foreign policy so those political wounds probably will heal by next fall. I’m not sure about this one, though: Here’s what YouGov got when they asked if people approve of Biden’s handling of COVID, traditionally one of his strongest issues.


He’s underwater now at 42/46 overall and at 37/51 among independents. The most basic promise of his campaign was that his administration would get COVID under control once and for all. Delta has blown that up, to the point where the U.S. is now seeing more cases today than it was a year ago. The good news for Biden is that things will probably be better by this time next fall as population immunity inexorably builds. The bad news is that so long as the virus is running wild it’s easy for swing voters to ask, “What did we elect this guy for, anyway?”

By the way, his disapproval in RCP’s polling average stands at 49.5 percent. That’s the highest mark he’s seen to date.

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