WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden was fielding his fourth question from a reporter after delivering remarks on the pandemic last week when he apologized to the press corps.
“Look, I’m sorry. This is the last question I’ll take,” Biden said. “I’m really going to be in trouble.”
In trouble? Really?
In fact, yes, White House press secretary Jen Psaki divulged in a podcast interview this week.
Psaki told CNN’s David Axelrod that the communications shop frowns on Biden’s willingness to engage with reporters who shout questions during Biden’s public appearances.
“That is not something we recommend,” Psaki said. “In fact, a lot of times we say `Don’t take questions.’ ”
But, she conceded, “He’s going to do what he wants to do, because he’s the president of the United States.”
Psaki, who expects to step down from her high-profile and high-pressure job in about a year, spoke candidly about the effort of keeping on message a president who likes to interact with people, including reporters.
That means staying focused on the issues the White House wants to talk about – particularly what’s being done to stop the pandemic and get the economy back on track. It also means staying away from controversial issues like the surge of migrants at the border.
Psaki said one reason the White House resisted calling the situation a “crisis,” despite reporters’ persistently pressing why officials wouldn’t use that term, was to not give the media a “nugget” that could run across the bottom of television screens or be tweeted out.
“We understand and know the nature of some components of social media and media these days,” Psaki said. “And we just didn’t want to feed into that, on this issue, or really any issue.”
The press has also pushed the White House on why Biden has not gone to the southern border himself to assess the situation.
Acknowledging the border is an important issue, Psaki added that a “much smaller percentage” of the public is focused on the border than the share that cares about the pandemic and the economy.
“So that may be maddening,” she said. “But, you know, that’s what we try to do.”
Psaki addressed two of her missteps in the first 100 days, her flippant comment about Space Force and the initial definition of the president’s goal of getting a majority of schools re-opened.
Asked about Space Force during her second week at the briefing podium, Psaki said: “Wow. Space Force. It’s the plane of today!”
She later tweeted her support for Space Force’s “important work.”
View:White House says Space Force has ‘full support’
Psaki called that a “good lesson” for her about not seeming to denigrate people who are working hard at their jobs. (She also credits the head of Space Force with writing her a note – the contents of which she didn’t share – and giving her a Space Force pin.)
“I will always be an advocate for the Space Force,” she said.
On school reopenings, Psaki said she immediately realized how unsatisfactorily it sounded when she said Biden’s goal would be met if more than half of schools had “some teaching” in person “at least one day a week.”
So before Biden appeared at a CNN Town Hall in Wisconsin in mid-February, Psaki said she told the president the message needed to be “cleaned up.”
At the town hall, Biden called the original definition that Psaki gave a “mistake in the communication.”
Psaki said that didn’t bother her.
“But in the moment, I remember people thinking, ‘Oh, you’re in trouble.’ And it was like, ‘I mean, I kind of suggested you say that,’” she said. “So I’m not going to take it too personally.”
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