Reviews | Biden missed big opportunities in his very long press conference
President Joe Biden last week broke the record for the longest presidential press conference ever – spending nearly two hours answering question after question. He held out for so long to prove his stamina and dispel bigoted accusations of ageism.
How did he do by his own standards? First, his opening remarks naturally extolled the bright spots in the economy and the administration’s efforts to control Covid-19 during his first year in office. However, he missed an important opportunity to connect with the public and focus the tunnel-seeing media on the serious legislation he wants to push forward.
For example, early on, Biden proposed reversing some of the tax cuts for giant corporations and the super-rich that Trump pushed through Congress in 2017. Biden did not say why it is urgent that the Congress acted on this issue nor explained that these taxes are necessary not only for fairness, but to pay for the major proposals it has on Capitol Hill. Therefore, the media will not pay attention and assume that he has given up.
Calling himself a “union” for decades, Biden inexplicably did not cry out for a higher federal minimum wage, now frozen at $7.25 an hour. House Democrats passed a bill raising the minimum wage in stages to $15, but the bill is stalled in the Senate and threatened by anti-worker GOP filibuster. He could also have drawn national attention to the Protection of the Right to Organize (PRO) Act passed by the House, which makes it less difficult to form unions. This bill is also bogged down in the Senate. The President’s failure to mention these proposals signals to the press that these bills are not on the table for this election year. Therefore, journalists do not write about these important measures.
Biden portrayed his Republican foes in the Senate with weak language, three times asking if there was anything the GOP was for. This criticism could have been much more penetrating if he had listed ten proposals, passed in the House, against which indentured Republicans in both the House and the Senate were opposed. Imagine the impact, for example, of seeing the GOP block the renewal of monthly checks of $300 or $250 to more than 65 million children (liberal and conservative families in need) during a pandemic in the middle of Winter. Why not mention expanding medicare for the elderly or rebuilding America in every community – the latter desired by just about every local chamber of commerce, union and small business? Such sharp contrasts from Biden would have rattled the cruel duo, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy.
Biden talked about infrastructure, sure, but didn’t highlight the appeal to specific local interests and overwhelming public support. He should also have warned big business to stop seizing and bribing safety net aid for disadvantaged small businesses, under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He could have been referring to the Inspector General’s briefings to the Small Business Administration (SBA), which went almost unnoticed.
Biden marveled that no Republican senator has stood up to draconian Republican leaders who do nothing. Unfortunately, Democrats secured Republican lockdown by not trying months ago to intensely separate some GOP senators, starting with the five non-reelection contenders and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). Romney says he hasn’t received a single call from the White House.
Presidential remarks at press conferences need not dedicate more than two or three sentences to alert the country and the media to an administration’s priorities. Biden’s omissions were indeed disconcerting when compared to his own prior policy positions.
As a lifelong corporate Democrat, it’s no surprise that Biden didn’t mention law and order for the corporate crooks who have hugely ripped off government programs, as well as the exploitation of consumers and workers. But he doesn’t exactly have the strong support of the Democratic Party or the Democratic National Committee (DNC) all the way to state committees whose hands are open 24/7 for corporate campaign contributions. .
Equally disappointing were questions from reporters on a small number of topics – voting rights, votes in Congress, declining poll numbers and Ukraine. The White House Press Corps, as legendary trailblazer Helen Thomas would politely point out, self-censors when they are not afraid of their bosses or sycophant. There were no questions about what Biden wants, but omitted. There was no question about corporate dominance over just about every sector of our government and its political economy. And there was no question about the bloated, unauditable, exhausting military budget to which was added $24 billion more than Biden and the Pentagon had asked for.
Consumers are penalized by price gouging, deceptive practices and blocked remedies. Many workers have widespread occupational hazards, low wages, and few benefits, but they are taking more opportunities in times of temporary labor shortages to form unions among some chain and big-box retailers ( Starbucks, Amazon). The White House Press Corps repeatedly fails to ask questions ordinary people would want answered about their conditions.
When Biden signals his acceptance of adopting only parts of his proposals, he is signaling defeat in advance and weakening his bargaining power in advance. Presidents who appear weak inherently diminish their influence with Congress.
Perhaps the media’s worst performance last Wednesday was their war-inciting and story-forgetting questions about Ukraine — goading a properly cautious Biden. After all, dictator Putin knows how deep Russian memories are of the loss of an estimated 50 million people in the invasions of the western frontier during World War I and World War II. They know that any Russian leader would oppose NATO, a military alliance against the Soviet Union – bringing weapons and members to neighboring Ukraine. Nevertheless, the journalists chose questions inciting war, not peace (diplomacy), other than asking what happened to his campaign promise to end the war in Yemen.
Biden, his advisers and the press corps must review their performance to avoid future ditto headlines. We need to make them care enough for them to engage in such introspection.