A new report — and President Biden’s own words — have renewed concerns about how tightly the nation’s commander-in-chief is handled by his staff.
White House staffers are on pins and needles when President Biden speaks publicly, fearing he’ll field questions from reporters afterward and muddle the West Wing’s carefully crafted messaging, according to Politico.
The agita level is so high that some staffers will either mute the sound or turn off his remarks, the site reported Thursday.
“I know people who habitually don’t watch it live for that reason,” one official told Politico.
The president’s advisers try to manage him tightly, telling him to either decline to answer or field just a few questions shouted out by reporters, the report said.
And Biden is known to acknowledge, “I’m really going to get in trouble” before opening the floor to questions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted during an interview in May that allowing Biden, 78, to take questions is “not something we recommend.”
“In fact, a lot of times we say `Don’t take questions,’” Psaki said, adding “He’s going to do what he wants to do, because he’s the president of the United States.”
The White House said Biden likes to tailor his own messaging.
“As the President has shown over and over since he announced his candidacy more than two years ago, he’s the most effective communicator for his vision and his agenda,” spokesman Mike Gwin told Politico in an email.
“The President deeply values the role of the press – that’s why he regularly takes time to answer their questions in interviews, press conferences, and the dozens of media availabilities he’s done since taking office,” he said.
Biden is aware of his propensity as a “gaffe machine” and during a teleconference last month thanking members of the USA team who competed in the Olympic Games in Tokyo he spoke about it.
“Anyway, I should get going. I can get myself in trouble here. But I get in trouble for things I say, I know. No one ever doubts I mean what I say; the problem is I sometimes say all that I mean,” he told the athletes near the end of their meeting.
While Biden sees himself as a straight shooter, his verbal blunders can also deliver a self-inflicted blow.
Speaking at the White House on July 8 about his deadline to leave Afghanistan, Biden pooh-poohed the possibility that the Taliban would return to power.
“The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” he said.
Biden also said the mission in Afghanistan “hasn’t failed – yet.”
A little more than a month later, Taliban fighters marched into the capital Kabul and stormed the Presidential Palace, stopping to pose for photos.
In one instance of Biden walking off the stage at a presser and then returning to take questions, the president lashed out at CNN’s Kaitlin Collins, who shouted out a query about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Why are you so confident he’ll change his behavior, Mr. President?” Collins asked at the end of a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, after June’s summit between Biden and Putin.
“I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior! What the hell? What do you do all of the time? When did I say I was confident?” Biden shot back as he walked toward her with his finger in the air.
“I’m not confident of anything, I’m just stating the facts,” Biden told her, before saying, “If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.”
He later apologized to Collins for the outburst.
A few days before his summit with Putin, Biden let slip at a meeting of the G-7 nations in Britain that his White House handlers provide him a list of people to call on during news conferences.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to get in trouble with staff if I don’t do this the right way,” Biden said after taking a question from a Bloomberg reporter.
Then at the end of the news conference, Biden was walking away when a reporter shouted a question.
“I’m going to get in trouble with my staff. Yeah, go ahead. But pretend that I didn’t answer you,” Biden said.
The president has come under criticism for not taking questions at solo press conferences on different matters and limiting the back-and-forth exchanges when he’s talking to reporters when he’s preparing to leave the White House.
At a White House press conference about the coronavirus in May, Biden told reporters, “I’m not supposed to be answering all these questions” but continued the face time with reporters.
“You guys are bad. I’m not supposed to be answering all these questions,” the president said. “I’m supposed to leave, but I can’t resist your questions.”
Most recently, Biden was speaking to union leaders on Tuesday during a belated Labor Day celebration at the White House event and noted what he was supposed to do at the end.
“Now, I’m supposed to stop and walk out of the room here,” Biden said as he concluded his speech. “I’m going to stop, and with your permission, I’m going to walk into the room because I want to say hello to all of you.”