Press Corps Demanding Press Conference

President Biden is being pressured to face the music after the midterms.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a Medal of Valor ceremony, Monday, May 16, 2022, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

POLITICO (“Will Biden take his medicine?“):

n 2006, President GEORGE W. BUSH called the Democratic takeover of Congress in that year’s midterm cycle “a thumping” during a 42-minute East Room press conference the next day.

Four years later, when President BARACK OBAMA saw control of Congress swing back to the GOP, he called it “a shellacking” during a 56-minute presser in the White House Cross Hall. Humbled, Obama reflected on how he failed to address the curse of incumbent presidents losing ground in midterm years — and the long tradition of these leaders facing the music afterward.

“This is something that I think every president needs to go through, because, you know, the responsibilities of this office are so enormous,” he said. “This is a growth process.”

After his own midterm pummeling in 2018, President DONALD TRUMP held forth for nearly 90 minutes in the East Room. He was, not surprisingly, less chastened than his predecessors, blaming his party’s losses on Republicans who didn’t support him ardently enough.

With polls showing the current election landscape tilting in favor of Republicans, it’s still unclear whether President JOE BIDEN is going to participate in the ritual of a post-midterm press conference. Or, more to the point, whether his aides see any upside in putting him out there.

The White House has yet to commit to Biden holding a press conference next Wednesday after all the votes are cast. And it’s not for lack of trying by the White House Correspondents Association.The group’s president, NPR’s TAMARA KEITH, and others have been pushing press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE about the matter for months, first in routine meetings and, just weeks ago, in a written letter formalizing the request.

“There is a long tradition of presidents, whether their party wins or loses, addressing the American people and answering questions at length from the press the day after a midterm election,” Keith said in a statement to West Wing Playbook. “We are disappointed that despite this precedent and repeated requests from the WHCA, the White House has thus far failed to commit to the traditional post-midterms press conference.”

Biden’s schedule for Wednesday, the White House said, is still up in the air. But in a statement to West Wing Playbook, a White House spokesperson confirmed that Biden will deliver some kind of election response — it just might not be in the form of a press conference.

Given that it’s quite possible we won’t even know who won key races Wednesday, scheduling a press conference that day seems premature. But the tradition of the President talking to the American people through the press after the midterms is a good one.

Indications as to whether and how he’ll do it are mixed:

“As WHCA knows, and as Karine has repeatedly confirmed from the podium, the president will speak to the elections the day afterward,” the spokesperson said. “He takes questions from the press nearly every day, which has not been the ‘norm’ for past presidents. We will have additional information to share next week.”

An indication that Biden will face the music in some fashion came weeks ago, when his planned departure for an upcoming trip that’ll take him to three international summits were quietly pushed back from Wednesday night to Thursday. The move forced some of his travel schedule — which will include stops in Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia — to be compressed, but was driven by a recognition he would need to focus Wednesday on the election fallout, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The hesitancy of the staff is understandable:

And yet, aides remain split on what to do. Many in the president’s inner circle are leery of a full press conference for several reasons: giving reporters a chance to grandstand, Biden’s propensity for verbal slip-ups and, above all, the increasing probability that he won’t have much good news to discuss. The moment, some worry, is also ripe for questions about whether Biden will run again in 2024, a topic the president isn’t currently eager to discuss.

One idea that has gained traction is to avoid an extended formal news conference on Wednesday but to address the press — and possibly take a few questions — in another setting, either at an event or even when he departs the White House on Thursday for Egypt en route to Asia.

Democrats losing control of both Houses of Congress would be a completely normal occurrence, one that has been predicted since the outset. The President’s party almost always loses seats in the midterms and their margins were already razor thin.

Biden’s propensity for verbal gaffes is, of course, a reason for concern. A press conference is not his best showcase. But public speaking is a chief component of the presidency.

As to questions about whether he’s running for re-election, they’re perfectly reasonable. All indications are that he plans to do so.

Regardless of form or format, the sentiment among some inside the building is that Biden must engage the press corps, in part to squash any stories that he is ducking them, but also to get it out of the way before he leaves for the hugely consequential Asia trip. Those aides argue that addressing the election before Air Force One lifts off will make it far more likely that the media will focus more fully on the trip itself – which will include a meeting with China’s XI JINPING and efforts to rally the world against Russia’s VLADIMIR PUTIN.

The American press corps is hardly known for its decorum. So, yes, if Biden hasn’t exhausted their appetite to ask election-related questions before his departure, they will certainly spring them on him abroad. That’s just a bad look.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2022, Campaign 2024, Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    The problem with press conferences is the press. The questions they ask are inane and worthless.

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  2. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Part of that inane questioning is a deliberate effort to stir up things. All reporters go into a press conference with the hope that “something might happen.”

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  3. Cheryl Rofer says:

    I see you’re continuing to what you can to diss Biden. In the runup to this election, that’s highly irresponsible. Republicans must be thoroughly thumped. There’s a time and place for criticism, even trivial ones like this one. But your continuing stream of negativity supports Republicans. We will all pay for that.

    I know: free speech, legitimate criticism, blah blah blah. I’m sorry you no longer have a responsible conservative party. The way to get one is to support Democrats for now.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    The prez is supposed to hold a press conference because Politico pretends there’s some sort of tradition? The interesting thing about this is the story talks of Bush II, Reagan, and Obama having bad midterms, but the press will still pretend whatever happens Tuesday is a tectonic shift.

    Politico seems to think this pretend story helps meet their Dems in Disarray quota for the day. Why is it here.

    And no, James. No matter what Biden does before his trip, the press will still fill an important foreign trip during a war in Europe with deep, insightful questions like, “You did bad in the midterms, nyanner nyanner.”

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  5. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    Again, a question such as “why do you think the Democrats did so badly in the midterms?” is intended to rile up the questionee rather than enlighten the viewers or readers. The reporter is hoping for an explosive reaction rather than a calm, considered one. An explosive response makes for a better story, and certainly better television.

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  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    One of the big changes in this election cycle has been Republican candidates refusing to ever meet with the press, and instead only engaging with friendly propaganda outlets:

    Doug Mastriano avoids credible outlets for interviews with antisemites, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and pro-insurrectionists

    Not only have they not suffered any cost for this, they’ve benefited greatly, with the “mainstream press” happily acting as stenographers to spread that propaganda to wider audiences.

    It’s time for the Democrats to stop being marks and paying attention rules that they alone are expected to abide by. If Biden wants to discuss the aftermath of the midterms, he should go for a one-on-one on Al Franken’s podcast or some similar venue.

    Let the agent provocateurs at the White House Correspondents Association fend for themselves.

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    I stopped watching presidential press conferences back in the George HW Bush era. Foreign press wear occasionally get called on and they would ask intelligent, meaningful questions with policy impact. For example, there might be a question about a movement to extend cause territorial waters, and that in turn would affect the fishing industry of that specific country Bush would give a meaningful and detailed answer that reflected the public position of the US government. Then an American correspondent would come out and ask a question and almost without fail they were trivial and stupid. It was an embarrassment.

    A recent example of this was the kerfuffle over the Australian sub purchase. It was painfully obvious the “serious” media in the US literally had no idea that there were much, much more important issues than who got the contract. All they could talk about was whether it was bad Biden hurt France’s feelings. Worthless. We had far better insight into this whole thing here in the comment section of this blog than anything I saw in the major US media.

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  8. DK says:

    But the tradition of the President talking to the American people through the press after the midterms is a good one.

    Okay. But why? Just because?

    President Biden is being pressured to face the music after the midterms.

    As Prof. Joyner notes, it may take days to count votes. We don’t know. So face the music for what? Something that hasn’t happened yet? Are the elections over?

    This type of predetermined narrative punditry is exactly why Democrats need to jettison tradition. There’s no reason for Democrats to speak through today’s Twitter-brained politicos, who don’t report news but instead have already made up their minds and decided the future with already-decided clickbait narratives.

    Biden and Democrats should start finding ways to message directly to the people.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I’ve been doing this for just shy of 20 years and have never and will never tilt my commentary based on whatever minimal effect it might have on the election. (See, for example, my plethora of posts excoriating McCain for his choice of Sarah Palin.) And, frankly, aside from acknowledging the obvious—that Biden isn’t quick on his feet in verbal communication—the post isn’t even critical of Biden.

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: That’s an interesting comment. What makes the U. S. political press more juvenile than in other countries. Rupert Murdoch ended up here, does his style rub off on others? is our press less or more competitive? Are newspapers as financially stressed as here? Is the local press stronger or weaker? Is the foreign press less or more partisan? Do multi-party political systems make a difference? Are their audiences different somehow?

    I read The Guardian online most days. I criticize FOX for having so little actual news on their site, but WAPO and NYT aren’t all that much better. The Guardian seems to have more actual news. I have no trouble believing our press is particularly bad, but why?

    Or are the foreign press more considered when questioning the leader of the world’s only superpower and just as juvenile as our own when questioning their own leaders?

  11. al Ameda says:

    Honestly, for years it’s been my practice, unless it is a matter of great importance, to avoid watching a presidential press conference.

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: I honestly don’t know if it is still true that the foreign press is better. Like I said, I haven’t watched a press conference in decades.

    For much the same reason I consider modern debates a waste of time and no longer watch them. If you ever want to see what debates used to be like, I recommend the Nixon/Kennedy debate. Serious questions about substantive issues, with real answers. They agreed on policy positions far more than they disagreed, which is not surprising when you think about it.

  13. CSK says:

    @gVOR08: @MarkedMan:

    The British tabloids are quite juvenile and trashy.

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  14. Mr. Prosser says:

    @MarkedMan: Your comment on the press at press conferences reminded me of Edward Longshanks comment in Braveheart, “The problem with Scotland is that it is full of Scots.”

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: I also don’t watch the debates. I do watch public and press reaction in the following weeks. I’m old enough that I watched Nixon/Kennedy live. I feel like the press analysis that Nixon lost because of his five o’clock shadow was a key moment in the descent into horse race trivia.

  16. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I remember a lot of interest by the US news media about the Dan Quayle vs Murphy Brown kerfuffle.

  17. Kurtz says:

    One of the block quotes in OP lists the biggest issue with this era’s media: grandstanding.

    These people are not journalists, they are infotainment celebrities. Their job, as they see it, is to build a personal brand by catering to a specific audience.

    Building a personal brand does not inherently conflict with doing good journalism. But building that brand on quality journalism is much more difficult.

  18. The Q says:

    Wow, all you closet Republicans afraid and excoriating the WH press corps.

    My my my how far the liberal left has become a parody of itself.

    That picture of Nixon shoving Ron Ziegler out there to “deal” with the nasty press corp comes to mind when reading these absurd comments.

    I would expect much better from the woke boomer/Gen Xcrowd. But demonizing the WH press is 50 years old and to see the neolibs channel their inner Nixon just exposes the mass hypocrisy and elitist attitude that has driven white blue collars and suburban moms and Hispanics to the evil GOP.

    Biden should meet and discuss the history of midterms and stress that the Dems did better this time compared to Obama Reagan Bush 2 and Trump’s setbacks.

    To hear the almost universal comments here of “F the post midterm presser, the press is out to get us” is delusional.

  19. Ken_L says:

    Biden would pay precisely zero political price for refusing to hold another press conference during his entire presidency, let alone on a day some political tragics have decided is a “tradition”. It would be as immaterial to voters as abandoning the tedious Thanksgiving turkey pardon, and almost as welcome as cancellation of the pointless State of the Union nonsense.

    If the vast majority of Americans who don’t regard politics as a spectator sport are interested in the president’s views about the election result, the most effective way for him to convey them is by way of written statements, speeches and long-form one-on-one interviews with intelligent interviewers who want to hear them (as opposed to wanting to generate controversy). He should hold a press conference if and when he sees some political advantage in doing so. But the idea he is obliged to respond to a series of asinine questions from reporters desperate to stir the shit is absurd. One of the few insightful things the former guy said was that politicians no longer need the media to communicate with voters. The probable success next week of Republicans who have either ignored mainstream journalists or treated them with open derision demonstrates how right he was.

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  20. Kurtz says:

    @The Q:

    Using Nixon era examples is absurd. You may as well be using horse-and-buggy adoption rates in relation to the Oregon Trail to analyze the shortage of truckers.

    You may also want to check your usage of “delusional” a bit.

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  21. DK says:

    @The Q: Meanwhile, over in realityland…

    “Demonizing” is what the media’s sexist, selfish, dishonest media bros did to Hillary Clinton in 2016 over dumb, irrelevant emails — with ongoing disastrous effects for American democracy.

    “Delusional” is the nonsensical, fake, right wing propaganda claim that a supermajority of Hispanics aren’t Democratic.

    But this is to be expected from those who want to turn a bunch of lazy, privileged blue check media bros into victims (boo hoo, poor them, let’s weep and play the world’s tiniest violin) and who still can’t hold “white blue colllars” responsibile for their decision to endorse and enable fascism and white supremacy. They’re being “driven.” Yes, Trump voters’ crappy choices are always somebody else’s fault. Every adult is expected to be adult and have agency except them.

    Talk about being a closet Republican. Get a life.

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  22. wr says:

    @Kurtz: “Using Nixon era examples is absurd.”

    And for the Q, fairly shocking. For him, we live in an eternal 1933 where FDR is valiantly fighting to pass Social Security into law and we must all realize that the only way to get it done is to screw over minorities because that’s the only way southern Dems will vote for it, and minorities must gladly accept being screwed over for the good of the majority.

    On the plus side, he’s still about three decades more advanced than JKB, who keeps insisting that there’s no difference between today and 1904, so he takes all his political guidance from works written then.

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