Jan 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden holding far fewer press conferences than his predecessors

Data: The American Presidency Project; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

President Biden has held fewer news conferences during his first year in office than his recent predecessors, according to data compiled by the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Why it matters: Solo news conferences present an opportunity — and a risk — for presidents to defend their actions, parry with reporters and talk directly to the American people. The one Biden is holding at 4 pm Wednesday will be just the 10th of his presidency.

  • The White House has been hesitant to use them, preferring more controlled interactions or appearances by surrogates such as his press secretary or Cabinet secretaries.
  • The deferral has indirectly raised the stakes for when the president does step into the solo spotlight.
  • Biden's last major news conference was in early November, at the close of the global climate change summit in Scotland.

What they're saying: A White House official said the president would note the country's progress in vaccinating all willing Americans and growing the economy amid record job creation.

  • "The president knows there’s more work to do, so he’s also going to level with the American people about the challenges we still face — especially when it comes to COVID-19 and higher prices — and the actions he’s taking to tackle them," the official said.

By the numbers: Not all news conferences are alike.

Full-fledged news conferences feature the president alone at the microphone, fielding questions — often for up to an hour — from the reporters who cover him daily.

Joint press conferences, when the president appears side-by-side with a foreign leader, typically have just a couple of questions from each country’s press corps.

  • Biden has held six joint pressers and three solo ones, according to the data.
  • President Trump logged one joint presser in 2017 and 20 by himself.
  • President Obama held seven joint pressers and 20 on his own — including four in prime time.

Between the lines: The official tallies from UC Santa Barbara don’t capture all the informal interactions between a president and reporters.

  • Trump loved “chopper talk,” chatting with reporters over the whine of Marine One, answering questions he wanted to, driving his narrative and feeding the cable TV frenzy.
  • Those engagements aren’t captured in the UCSB numbers.
  • But Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor emeritus at Towson University, who keeps close tabs on presidential activity, noted Trump had 227 short question-and-answer sessions during his first 18 months in office.

Flashback: Obama used a solo news conference after the 2010 midterm election to attempt a reset — publicly eating crow by calling the election a "shellacking."

  • He also extended an olive branch to then-House Speaker John Boehner, saying he was open to hosting him at the White House for a "Slurpee summit."
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