First the White House put off the first full presidential presser for a modern-record 64 days. Then it tossed the border crisis to Kamala Harris one day beforehand, effectively giving Joe Biden a handy out for tough questions on the crisis. And now we discover that the White House has taken social distancing to a reductio ad absurdum, as Mediaite reports:
Getting ready. pic.twitter.com/C4S4xybkz4
— Meghan Hays (@MegHays46) March 25, 2021
— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) March 25, 2021
After much media handwringing, the White House press corps will finally get their shot to question President Joe Biden in a formal setting on Thursday. But based on the room setup, some of them might a megaphone to do it.
Meghan Hays, the White House director of message planning, tweeted out a photo, Thursday morning, of the socially-distanced set up in the East Room ahead of the afternoon news conference.
The message planning director’s apparent message? Bring binoculars.
As you can see in the photo above, the chairs appear to be spaced much farther apart than the CDC-recommended six feet. As a result, only 25 reporters will be admitted to the session. And those that are allowed in will be asking their questions from a mile away — a proximity which is hardly conducive for pointed follow-ups.
Why, it’s almost as if the White House wants to put up as many obstacles as possible for today’s East Room event. Will this be enough to keep reporters from pressing Biden hard for answers? Are they interested in doing so in the first place?
We’re about to find out. Follow along here live, and we’ll update as events require.
Update: We’re two reporters into this, but so far Biden’s giving a fairly routine performance for presidential pressers. At one point, he even asked if he was giving too many details in his answers. He seems well prepared, engaged, and on point so far. Biden being Biden, we’ll probably get a gaffe, but the general impression so far is that Biden’s doing all right.
Update: With that said, Biden’s referring to his briefing book quite a bit. Not all of the time, but there are moments where he’s clearly reading off of it.
Update: Interesting moment on border messaging; Biden says he won’t send a message that everyone will be turned away at the border. But when a reporter brought up a 9-year-old whose mother in Honduras sent him, Biden then said the child would almost certainly get sent back to his mother.
Update: The questions aren’t all softballs, but they’re not terribly pointed either. Most of them have been around his major agenda, which allowed him to complain about Republicans.
Update: Biden says he plans to run for re-election, after taking a couple of shots at Donald Trump.
Update: Biden’s been sighing into the mic and seems to be slowing down. I’m not the only one noticing:
Biden sounding and looking tired partway through.
— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) March 25, 2021
His answers are not quite as crisp either, but it’s not as if he’s nodding off or offering non-sequiturs. Biden’s starting off with rhetorical tics that allow him to gather his thoughts a bit more obviously than at the start.
Update: Aaaand it’s over at almost precisely an hour. Biden got no truly adversarial questions, although some on the border situation were tougher for him to answer. He started well, but Biden clearly began to tire before it even got halfway over. He remained engaged and coherent, but Biden read a lot from his briefing book. No matter, though; expectations were low enough that managing to remain upright and not get utterly lost was enough to score this one as a win for the White House.
However, since they’ll inevitably score it that way for public consumption, the pressure will increase to do these more often than once every 64 days.
Update: An astute reader reminds me that Fox News didn’t get any questions today. Nor should they expect too many in these presidential pressers. Peter Doocy routinely flummoxes Jen Psaki, so …