How Biden's first presser became a big effing deal

On his 64th day in office, President Joe Biden is scheduled to finally hold his first press conference in Washington, D.C. at 1:45 pm eastern time today. For some members of even the most liberal press outlets, this comes as a relief because the grumbling in the press corps over this lack of direct access has reached audible levels. Even CNN’s Pamela Brown went on a bit of a tear last week, publicly questioning why Biden’s staff couldn’t “carve out the time” to take care of what is generally considered to be a routine chore for presidents. But at the same time, there’s a palpable sense of dread running through some of the nation’s newsrooms, as if reporters are collectively holding their breath, waiting to see what might happen. You can get a sense of how gently the press is approaching this question from the wording of this report from CBS News about today’s event.

President Biden will be giving his first press conference as president on Thursday, March 25, at 1:15 p.m. ET. While Mr. Biden has periodically taken questions from reporters, he has not yet had a full press conference since taking office.

CBS News plans to carry his remarks live on local CBS stations as a Special Report. CBSN will broadcast the press conference in full as well.

Mr. Biden has been criticized by conservatives and even some political allies for his delay in holding a formal press conference.

You’ll note how CBS tries to provide cover for Biden, They only make it to the second sentence of the piece before saying that Biden “has periodically taken questions.” That may be true, but it’s only been a few in passing or in carefully scripted one-on-one interviews with friendly journalists on cable news.

You’ll find similarly apologetic descriptions if you read through the Associated Press announcement of the presser. They provide an excuse for Status Quo Joe in the very first sentence, saying that he wanted to hold off on doing this until “he could use it to celebrate passage of a defining legislative achievement, his giant COVID-19 relief package.” They go on to proclaim how he bravely overcame stuttering as a child and make light of his history of “gaffes” because he tends to be “long-winded.”

We even saw Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan installing kiddie bumpers in the media bowling alley gutters, urging her colleagues to not engage in any “grandstanding” just to prove they can be as tough on Biden as they were on Trump. Perish the thought!

So why is everyone acting as if this press conference, an event that should be as routine as the sun rising in the east during most administrations, is some sort of make-or-break moment that could leave Biden’s presidency on the ropes? The answer is obvious. It’s because Joe Biden and his handlers set themselves up for failure when it comes to their interactions with the media long before Uncle Joe was ever sworn into office.

Back during the general election campaign last summer, Biden remained in his basement most of the time. The majority of his communications came via well-scripted videos recorded in his home, and he even managed to mess them up sometimes. On more than one occasion, Biden’s teleprompter obviously failed and he quickly floundered, literally waving his hand trying to get the text rolling again.

Even after he took office, Joe Biden’s infrequent sessions with reporters looked problematic. He was regularly accompanied by his wife, who sometimes jumped into the middle of an interview to bail him out when it seemed like his mind was wandering, as happened during one Univision session in February. There has been a cloud hanging over the Oval Office in this regard, giving viewers the sense that Biden’s staff is chewing Tums like addicts in the background, muttering Dear God… please don’t let him short circuit. The best that they’ve been able to hope for was some friendly coverage from outlets like Politico who have cheered on his “largely gaffe-free presidency.” Of course, it’s hard to make gaffes when you’ve been moved into the media equivalent of the witness protection program.

None of it had to be this way. If President Biden is still as fully in control of his faculties as his team insists he is, they could have hustled him out into the briefing room for a full press conference in the first two weeks of his term. Trump held one on February 15 of his first year. (In fairness, we should note that it was ages before he did another one, though.) Barack Obama did his on February 10, 2009.

If Joe Biden had scheduled his first presser at the beginning of February, he would have been exemplifying the “return to normalcy” that he promised. Even if he blew a couple of lines or stammered a bit at points, it would have been written off as just another famous Biden “gaffe.” The circus would have moved on and Uncle Joe could have gotten back to business.

But at this point, all of the hand-holding and disappearing acts, combined with the awkward moments where Biden seems to just lose his grip on the thread of his remarks, have led us to this moment of collectively bated breath. Will there be any tough questions? And if Biden gets annoyed by any of them, will it show? More to the point, will he be able to remain on message? If he trails off into some period of stammering, incoherence, or (even worse) silence, that is going to be the only story of the day. Nobody will care what answers Biden gave at that point.

So here’s the reason that Joe Biden was set up to fail. If none of those things I just mentioned come to pass and he fields all of the questions competently, that’s the best outcome his handlers can hope for. And that would just be an example of doing the job he’s supposed to be doing anyway. The bar is set so incredibly low at this point that for Biden to fall short of it he’d need a shovel. But there’s obviously a very real concern that the shovel may still come into play.