White House and press corps clash over Biden access before Ireland trip

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden steps off Air Force One at Belfast International Airport in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, April 11, 2023. Biden is visiting the United Kingdom and Ireland in part to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky/AP

White House and press corps clash over Biden access before Ireland trip

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President Joe Biden‘s hot-and-cold relationship with the press has been doused with freezing water.

Reporters, whose news outlets are traveling with Biden to the United Kingdom and Ireland for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement and other engagements, have been pushing back on the White House this week over their lack of access to the president during the trip. But the White House is withstanding the pressure to change with Biden’s schedule after experiencing success, as his communications team did during his 2020 campaign, by being selective with his interviews and careful with his other public events.

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Reporters will always ask for more access, according to Democratic strategist and White House alumnus Eric Schultz, who continues to speak for former President Barack Obama. That is their prerogative and they should try, Schultz said, but he wondered “to what end.”

President Trump held plenty of news conferences but used them to lie, berate reporters, and spread baseless conspiracy theories,” Schultz told the Washington Examiner. “Is that a useful exercise for civil society? With respect, reporters may want to broaden the metrics they use to gauge an administration’s responsiveness to the press.”

That being said, it has been roughly 148 days since Biden’s last stand-alone press conference, meaning he has participated in fewer conferences than the last five presidents. That last press conference was convened on Nov. 14 on the sidelines of the Group of 20 leaders summit in Bali, Indonesia, after his highly anticipated first in-person meeting as chief executive with Chinese President Xi Jinping. His last solo press conference on U.S. soil, traditionally accessible to the entire press corps, was on Nov. 9 after last year’s midterm elections.

Biden did take two questions this week from NBC Today weathercaster Al Roker before the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday and appeared on Comedy Central last month after his last interview with a reporter on ABC’s World News Tonight in February. But his last sit-down with a print publication was with the Associated Press last summer. He has only done three others, all of which were in the first year of his administration: the Atlantic and the New York Times in May, as well as People magazine that February.

The White House’s tactics are similar to Biden’s 2020 campaign, which was severely curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, though Biden did not make as many stops as some of his primary opponents before the shutdowns. Public health precautions were still recommended when he moved into the White House, only being rolled back last spring when Washington, D.C.’s mask mandate was lifted.

The White House disputes the “Biden in the basement” analogy as his harshest critics speculate about his age and mental acuity. Instead, aides contend he has answered more than 320 shouted questions, excluding those asked during press conferences and interviews, since the start of his administration.

“Before he got on Air Force One, he took about five very newsy questions for all of you, which I think was very important for all of you and it’s also for the American people,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday en route to Belfast, Northern Ireland. “So it’s more than President Trump and Obama combined, or President Obama and George W. Bush.”

At the same time, his responses to shouted questions are routinely hard to hear, particularly if he is on the White House South Lawn and Marine One is nearby.

Jean-Pierre was pummeled this week with questions about the omission of a press conference from Biden’s U.K. and Ireland five-day itinerary, which includes political meetings, remarks at Ulster University, a tour of Carlingford Castle, and a visit to his family’s ancestral homes in County Mayo and Louth.

“Is the administration trying to protect the president from our questions?” Gray Television White House correspondent Jon Decker asked Monday.

“Absolutely not,” Jean-Pierre replied. “The president many times has stood in front of all of you, has taken questions on his own because he wanted to see what was on your minds. … That will certainly continue to be. When it comes to a formal press conference, I don’t have anything to share with you at this time.”

“You recognize that as it relates to prior administrations, the president’s predecessor, President Obama, President George W. Bush — I’ve been here long enough to have covered President Bill Clinton — this is not the norm,” Decker said.

“It is also unprecedented that a president takes as many shouted questions as this president has,” she countered. “We’ll certainly get the data and share that with all of you.”

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The Republican National Committee has repeatedly needled the White House for its approach, tracking Biden’s press conferences and interviews.

“Biden has utterly failed to live up to his promise to be transparent, open, and honest,” RNC spokesman Kyle Martinsen told reporters in January after it was revealed Biden is being investigated for mishandling classified information. “For Biden, hiding from the press is par for the course. Biden has conducted far fewer press conferences and press interviews than any president in modern history.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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