President Joe Biden has repeatedly implied that his handlers set the rules and determine when and where he’s allowed to take questions from the press, leading observers to ponder who is actually calling the shots behind the scenes.
The trend began with Biden’s first formal White House press conference as president in January. Following his remarks about his “Made in America” manufacturing initiative, a member of Biden’s staff was heard calling on specific reporters to ask their questions to the president, something that was similarly done during the 2020 presidential election and the transition period. However, the president has since escalated the practice and Biden has repeatedly suggested he’s not in the driver’s seat when it comes to handling the press.
“I’m not supposed to take any questions”
Biden declared Sunday he wasn’t “supposed to take any questions” during a visit to the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA headquarters as Hurricane Ida slammed Louisiana.
“I’m not supposed to take any questions, but go ahead,” Biden said to a reporter before quickly changing his mind when he was asked about Afghanistan.
“I’m not gonna answer Afghanistan now,” he said before turning his back to the press and walking away.
While presidents have often relied on pre-set lists of reporters to call on at formal press conferences, his phrasing that he was “instructed” to choose a certain journalist drew attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, they gave me a list here. The first person I was instructed to call on was Kelly O’Donnell from NBC,” Biden said.
“As usual… they gave me a list”
Biden was mocked for “saying the quiet part out loud” in June when he admitted at the outset of his press conference in Geneva he would only be calling on reporters from a prepared list.
“I’ll take your questions, and as usual, folks, they gave me a list of the people I’m going to call on,” Biden told the press following his anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Observers wondered whether the “they” Biden referred to was his communications team.
It’s unclear whether Biden is trying to be folksy when he uses that kind of language.
“I’m going to get in trouble”
Biden joked when taking questions at a press conference in June following the G-7 summit, claiming that his staff will be upset with him if he does not conduct the event as they wish.
Early on in the question-and-answer portion of the program, Biden was quick to inform reporters that he would operate strictly by the book.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to get in trouble with staff if I don’t do this the right way,” Biden said before calling on Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs.
“I’m really gonna be in trouble”
Biden also said he would be “in trouble” if he continued to take questions from reporters during a rare back-and-forth with the press in April.
After speaking about new federal health guidelines for mask-wearing for vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals, Biden answered a few shouted questions from gathered reporters at the White House.
“I’m sorry,” he said, after listening to questions about his own mask-wearing and a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is the last question I’ll take, and I’m really gonna be in trouble.”
“I’d be happy to take questions if that’s what I’m supposed to do”
Biden’s unusual word choice when it comes to answering questions doesn’t only apply to the press. The White House confused onlookers in March when it suddenly cut the feed of a virtual event after Biden said he was “happy to take questions” from Democratic lawmakers.
Accompanied by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and the House Democratic Caucus, Biden addressed lawmakers on the topics of COVID relief and the ongoing vaccine rollout. He closed his remarks by calling on Democrats to help “restore faith” in government. He then appeared ready to take questions.
“I’d be happy to take questions if that’s what I’m supposed to do, Nance,” Biden told the speaker. “Whatever you want me to do.”
The feed ended seconds later, after a brief pause from the president.
Fox News’ David Rutz, Joseph A. Wulfsohn, Robb Blitzer and Cortney O’Brien contributed to this report.