White House reporters clamor for press conference as Biden waits longer than predecessors

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

There are many ways to measure an American president’s accessibility. One way is by counting press conferences. Right now, by that count, President Biden looks invisible.

CNN White House reporter Kevin Liptak shared this note with colleagues on Wednesday: “As we await word on when President Biden will hold his first solo press conference, an analysis of the past 100 years shows he is behind his 15 most recent predecessors, who all held a solo press conference within 33 days of taking office.” Liptak pored through this university database to confirm the data.

Thursday will be Biden’s 43rd day in office. “While he has taken questions from reporters on a few occasions, including during sprays and a more formal Q&A session following an event in January, he has not held a formal press conference,” Liptak noted. “That includes both a solo press conference or a 2+2 news conference during his two virtual ‘bilateral’ meetings with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.”

So what’s Biden waiting for? The passage of a Covid relief bill, possibly. The NYT’s Katie Rogers brought that up when I asked about the press conference drought on last Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.”

After the telecast, I heard from a few viewers who said the press corps should be more patient with Biden, in light of Trump’s odious treatment of the press. It’s true that Trump proved the limits of accessibility, since frequent Q&A’s are barely valuable when the answers are lies. But Trump isn’t the only benchmark for Biden — that’s why I appreciated Liptak’s look way back in time, showing that Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, and Herbert Hoover, just to name a few, all held pressers soon after being sworn in…

The WH’s response

On Wednesday night I asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki if she had a response to the clamoring for a POTUS presser. Psaki answered: “We look forward to holding a full formal press conference, but in the meantime the President takes questions from the reporters covering the White House regularly, including this morning. And his focus day in and day out is on getting the pandemic under control and putting people back to work. That’s what people elected him to do.”

In my view, reporters are right to be pushing for more Q&A access, and they shouldn’t let up the pressure. Biden should use the press conference setting to tell the public about what he’s doing…

Tucker’s gross distortion

Here’s a classic example of how Fox’s Tucker Carlson takes something legit and turns it into B.S. commentary. Questions about when Biden will have a full-fledged press conference are legit — but on Wednesday night Carlson went way further and said Biden is “refusing to speak directly to the media.” Weird, since Fox’s White House reporter Peter Doocy has repeatedly interacted with Biden this winter. That’s not “silence.” Carlson then ridiculed Biden’s public speaking and said he didn’t want to see a presser after all: “It’s one thing to know your country is being led by a guy in cognitive decline, it’s another thing to see it, and we don’t want to see it.”

For the record

— “Biden holds a 51% approval rating in a Monmouth U survey released on Wednesday,” down slightly from 54% in late January… (Fox)

— One of Wednesday’s biggest stories: “Biden has agreed to a compromise with moderate Democrats to narrow the income eligibility for the next round of $1,400 stimulus checks…” (CNN)

— The Trump admin “referred a record number of classified leaks for criminal investigation, totaling at least 334,” according to a newly unearthed DOJ document… (The Intercept)

— From CNN’s fact-check team: “In an opinion article published on Wednesday, former VP Mike Pence did something he used to do in office: echo a lie” from Trump “in a slightly more sophisticated way…” (CNN)