WH scraps presser with Canada, Mexico leaders amid prez blunders

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WH scraps presser with Canada, Mexico leaders amid prez blunders

The White House has abandoned plans for President Biden to hold a press conference Thursday with the visiting leaders of Mexico and Canada after his aides were left scrambling to clean up a series of misstatements.

Biden, who turns 79 on Saturday, is known for going off-script and on Tuesday made imprecise remarks on Taiwan, the 2020 Olympics and his selection of a Federal Reserve chairman, forcing a mop-up operation by his spokespeople.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week that there would be a press conference when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visit DC, before the plan was scrapped.

“He’s going to be holding [meetings] with both of the leaders tomorrow. There will be pool sprays at the top of each of those. And then the North American Leaders Summit, where we’ll have a pool spray at the top of that,” White House spokesman Chris Meagher told reporters on Air Force One.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki initially said Biden would hold a press conference with Canadian and Mexican leaders.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Justin Sink, a reporter for Bloomberg News, pressed Meagher on the reason for the change of plans. Pool sprays sometimes — but not always — feature questions from reporters. For example, Biden declined to take questions at a September pool spray in the Oval Office with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, even though the visiting leader chose to answer queries.

“If Jen said that this is going to happen and there’s long-standing precedent of this happening and the most recent data point is yesterday where you guys had to clean up not only this Olympic comment, but his comment on the timing for the Fed and his Taiwan comment, is the worry that you don’t want the president taking questions? And if not, I think the best way to satisfy that would be to have the president out there tomorrow,” Sink said.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden has made several verbal gaffes recently.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Meagher deflected, saying “the president often takes questions throughout the course of the day.”

Biden on Tuesday gave the impression that he might visit the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing after reports that the US would not send a formal delegation amid tensions with China. “I’m the delegation,” Biden said, forcing Meagher to clarify, “The president was not providing an update in his answer last night.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Getty Images

On Taiwan, Biden said Tuesday, “It’s independent. It makes its own decisions.” Later in the day, he was forced to clarify, “We are not encouraging independence.” The government of mainland China opposes Taiwan independence and the US government’s longstanding “One China” policy also discourages it.

And Biden said Tuesday he would announce his nominee to lead the Federal Reserve “in about four days.” Meagher gave a longer timeframe Wednesday, saying Biden “will likely make a decision before Thanksgiving.”

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Getty Images

Psaki began to pull back from her commitment to having a press conference even before the latest stumbles. Asked about the plan on Tuesday, she said, “I know I said that last week… The schedule is constantly changing, so let me just take another fresh look at it.”

Biden has on other recent occasions given answers that his aides scrambled to correct.

Biden emphatically told reporters this month there wouldn’t be generous settlements for the families of illegal immigrants separated during the Trump administration, before his spokespeople said he actually was “perfectly comfortable” with payouts. The American Civil Liberties Union said Biden wasn’t fully informed of settlement talks with the Justice Department.

Although Biden does regularly take questions from reporters, he usually answers only one or two questions at a time and he’s given far fewer interviews than his recent predecessors.

Reporters have repeatedly complained that the White House also pre-screens journalists allowed into events where Biden might take questions using an opaque selection process, shaping the variety of topics that might be raised.

And during Biden’s foreign trips this year, journalists were outraged by a decision to exclude them from a meeting with Pope Francis and to abruptly disinvite press from a summit between Biden and Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan — forcing reporters to rely on Erdogan’s press office for information.

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