Fox News and the RNC had fun with this clip of Joe Biden, which is clippier than it should be, as you’ll see here. It’s almost certainly a mistake by the White House staff, but it’s not the first time that the boss has been mysteriously cut off during a Q&A session, either. The implication here is that Biden’s comms team got the heebie-jeebies when he said the magic words — “Can I ask you a question?”
Yeah, that rarely works out well for Biden, but this doesn’t look particularly alarming:
BIDEN: “Can I ask you a question?”
*White House feed cuts out” pic.twitter.com/YQ9I9u3r98
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) September 13, 2021
The mic cut-off looked much more suspicious three weeks ago, and in that case it didn’t quite happen in time to save Biden from his own smirking, callous instincts. Not only did the shutoff alert everyone to Biden’s answer, the reporter on hand simply provided the transcript anyway:
REPORTER: “If Americans are still in Afghanistan after the deadline what will you do?”
*White House cuts audio feed* pic.twitter.com/k0SGWhpXm6
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) August 25, 2021
I asked President Biden what he will do if Americans are still in Afghanistan after the 8/31 deadline.
His response: “You’ll be the first person I call.”
Took no questions. pic.twitter.com/MlyFIayrMZ
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) August 25, 2021
Let’s not kid ourselves. There has been a concerted effort by this administration to shield Biden from any intense questioning from reporters. Biden spent most of the two weeks of the withdrawal walking away from the podium rather than taking questions while his administration abandoned Americans and allies behind Taliban lines. The one interview Biden gave was to former Clintonista George Stephanopoulos, whose usually reliable soft treatment didn’t avoid this disastrous moment:
Joe Biden dismisses concerns over images and videos of Afghans falling thousands of feet to their deaths trying to escape Taliban rule in Afghanistan:
“That was four days ago, five days ago.” pic.twitter.com/AIDFvGZMb4
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) August 18, 2021
This media avoidance got explained by Politico last week, in which unnamed White House staffers claim to be horror-stricken by Biden’s attempts to answer questions. Allahpundit quipped, “So this makes it unanimous, then,” but it’s part of the job for presidents to answer questions. If aides have to hover over a mic button like a TV producer with a live feed from an NFL sideline, then we probably have a president not up to the job.
In this case, though, it looks more like an accident of timing or a misunderstanding. Biden wasn’t in a hostile press setting for this Q&A, or as hostile as it gets for Democratic presidents and the media. He was engaging in a discussion about fire suppression with federal and state officials, an environment which wasn’t likely to produce an embarrassing response to a tough question about Biden’s performance. (Of course, Biden can be embarrassing enough without tough questions, but that’s an argument for not streaming the event at all rather than cutting it off abruptly.)
Furthermore, this is a demonstration of engagement by Biden that the White House probably preferred to promote rather than tamp down. He’s the one proactively asking a question rather than avoiding questions tossed at him. Why would they want to cut that off?
The media-avoidance strategy from Team Biden stretches back to the earliest days of the 2020 election campaign. Clearly they don’t want Biden to take any more spontaneous questions from reporters than minimally necessary to maintain his credibility. But this doesn’t appear to be anything more than an “oops” moment by the White House media team.
Update: CNN’s Daniel Dale provides the backstory:
At length, Sen. Jim Risch absurdly said someone at the White House yesterday hit a "button" to stop Biden from talking.
No. There was a planned "pool spray," in which press/cam is allowed in for brief remarks at a meeting's start; it ended as Biden began questioning officials.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 14, 2021
That’s pretty much what it looked like, although it was awkward. And perhaps if we hadn’t had the earlier mic cut and the entire question-avoidance strategy going back to April 2019, people would have given this one the benefit of the doubt.