“What press conference?” he joked when asked Wednesday night how he was preparing.
In reality, Biden has been preparing for days to face the White House press corps, according to several people, who conclude that he recognizes the brilliant attention it will attract. Biden has discussed his strategy with various members of his inner circle and even held an informal practice session earlier this week.
The event, scheduled for the afternoon in the East Room of the White House, will be Biden’s longest period of questioning since he took office. During all his years in Washington, it is a moment that he had not experienced for himself before; Senators and Vice Presidents rarely hold their own televised press conferences alone.
He is taking the step later in his presidency than his recent predecessors, who called formal press conferences within his first 40 days in office. The White House officially put Thursday’s event on the calendar in the middle of last week, giving reporters and themselves plenty of time to prepare.
During most of Biden’s formal events at the White House, he has spoken directly into a camera mounted with a teleprompter and read a prepared speech. His encounters with reporters have been more ad-hoc, responding with a sentence or two when throwing a question at the end of an event or on the way to his helicopter.
He has prepared extensively for some of those events, including his primetime address to the nation earlier this month. He spent days editing his comments, making sure he was using the appropriate tone while using exactly the right words and phrases. Biden didn’t want to make a single mistake, he told others.
However, a press conference is a different perspective. While Biden is expected to open with prepared remarks, the question and answer session will not be scheduled.
To help punctuate the event with agenda-driven news, Biden plans to announce a new vaccination target after hitting its initial target of 100 million shots well ahead of schedule. That fits in with your desired message about responding to the pandemic.
But the rest of the event will be dictated by questions from journalists who will surely deviate from the White House’s preferred topic of facing the pandemic.
To prepare for the event, attendees have written sets of talking points for possible questions on a wide range of topics. White House officials expect a number of questions to come up about immigration, but they have also been preparing for other issues, from the state of bipartisanship to the future of Senate filibuster and the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
As he has done before other major public appearances, Biden has taken home informational books containing political positions and framing for possible responses. Biden’s three-ring binders are typically organized by topic, with tabs separating sections and content written in a 14-point font. He read them in the afternoons and returned the next day with comments for his team.
Biden’s advisers have also worked to avoid situations that would make the president furious, as happened sometimes in the election campaign when they were faced with questions he did not like. Among former employees and the people who have worked closely with him, Biden’s penchant for defensiveness when challenged is well known.
He once lashed out at a voter who questioned him about his son, Hunter, calling Iowan, 83, a “bloody liar.” On another occasion, he called a younger New Hampshire voter a “lying dog-faced pony soldier” when asked about his eligibility.
He has also gotten into verbal discussions with journalists when asked about his family or, early in his administration, about his goal of administering 100 million vaccines in 100 days.
“Come on give me a break, man!” he said.
While advisers don’t think occasional flashes of anger are necessarily a bad thing for Biden, they don’t think his press conference should be marked by outright hostility in the same way as President Donald Trump’s.
Part of avoiding that is giving Biden as many potential questions as possible, attendees say, in the hope that he will feel prepared for whatever comes his way and won’t be caught off guard in a way that puts him on the defensive. . The way the questions are phrased, which, during a presidential press conference, is usually quite accurate, could also make Biden furious.
When asked by reporters this week how Biden was preparing, press secretary Jen Psaki joked that she was “looking at his Twitters and seeing what he has in mind.”
“He’s, you know, thinking about it,” he said aboard Air Force One. “It’s an opportunity for him to speak to the American people, obviously directly through the cover, directly through all of you. That’s why I think he’s thinking about what he wants to say, what he wants to convey, where he can provide updates, and, you know, I look forward to the opportunity to interact with a free press. “
Like his predecessors, Biden has been provided succinct talking points that attempt to summarize complex problems in a way that they can be easily communicated to a general audience.
That hasn’t always been Biden’s strong suit. Sometimes he delves into the inner complexities of matters or uses confusing turns of phrase to describe a thought or idea. Since his presidential campaign last year, he has worked remarkably to reduce those kinds of tangents, telling the public that he does not want to bore them.
“It will be like Sanskrit for the people listening here,” he said when answering a question about the delayed transition last year during an interview with ABC News last week.
“I’m going to get in trouble,” he said during a CNN town hall in February. “I’m only supposed to speak for two minutes in an answer.”
In fact, keeping Biden concise has been an ongoing challenge for the people who work for him, and a press conference provides precisely the place where brevity is seen as an advantage, but where lengthy responses have fallen on its predecessors.
In his recent memoirs, former President Barack Obama said he “enjoyed the unscripted nature of live press conferences,” but admitted that he sometimes spoke bluntly on political issues.
“I succumbed to an ancient pattern, giving exhaustive explanations of every facet of the issue under discussion,” he wrote of a 2009 health care press conference that was overshadowed by a response he gave about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry. Louis Gates at his home in Massachusetts.
For all presidents, press conferences present the unique challenge of tackling questions that have little to do with that day’s preferred topic. Biden has gone the extra mile to stay strictly on the message during his first two months in office, rarely backing away from his efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
News and events
But the events of this week alone illustrate the difficulty of sticking to that message. Two mass shootings that have left 18 Americans dead, an influx of migrants at the southern border and a new provocation from North Korea have little to do with the priorities of the agenda it has worked hard to promote.
A press conference will only exacerbate the difficulty of staying on message, as Biden is forced to answer key questions on topics he hasn’t discussed in depth since taking office.
When asked about one such issue this week, diversity within his cabinet, specifically focused on Asian Americans, Biden offered a flash of defensiveness.
“We have the most diverse cabinet in history. We have a lot of Asian Americans who are in the cabinet and at the sub-cabinet level,” Biden told reporters in Ohio, before raising his hand to add, “Our cabinet is formed “.