That’s what you call a “short question-and-answer" session. Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, uses that very term as part of a matrix comparing accessibility from president-to-president. Thus far, President Biden has held 38such sessions through as of Wednesday, according to Kumar.
Even taken together, those fragmentary interactions don’t equal a formal, solo news conference, something for which Biden is now overdue. As reported by CNN, Biden’s 15 most recent predecessors all held solo news conferences within 33 days of taking office. Biden has been in office for 43 days.
“We look forward to holding a full formal news conference, but in the meantime the President takes questions from the reporters covering the White House regularly, including this morning,” noted White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “And his focus day in and day out is on getting the pandemic under control and putting people back to work. That’s what people elected him to do.”
The people who elected him might also appreciate seeing him defend his policies in the crucible of a formal press event. These are generally revealing affairs, big moments for which journalists hone their inquiries and their follow-ups. The first such event for Trump, for instance, took place on Feb. 16, 2017, and it presented everything you needed to know about the 45th president, who showed that he knew more about cable news than just about anything else. In response to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, Trump complained, “The tone, Jim … The hatred, I mean sometimes … You look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn’t have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump and the hatred and venom coming from his mouth... the hatred coming from other people on your network.”
He also asked April Ryan, a Black reporter, if she would set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus.
So it’s impossible to establish any meaningful comparison between Biden’s press access/transparency and that of his predecessor. Trump, for example, established himself as a top POTUS in terms of short question-and-answer sessions, tallying hundreds upon hundreds of those huddles. Yet what good were they? The guy lied his way through his answers to reporters’ questions, and when he wasn’t lying, he was leveling attacks on the media or otherwise wasting the country’s time. For Trump*, “communications have always been central to who is because, after all, he’s the showman and he wanted to run the show, and he did,” says Kumar, who notes that Biden relies on his communications staff.
Psaki, thus far, has done 28 press briefings, according to Kumar. Her sessions have ditched the defensiveness and skittishness of predecessors such as Kayleigh McEnany and Sarah Sanders, both of whose goals always appeared to be to attack as many reporters as possible within a brief window — and then bolt. In Thursday’s briefing, by contrast, Psaki took on questions about covid, vaccinations, gas prices, trade with the U.K., Trump’s tax returns, leadership of the Office of Management and Budget, troop levels in Iraq and Syria, immigration and other topics.
It was a fine example of transparency. Now it’s time to hear her boss take on the same topical load.
*Correction: A previous version of this post attributed this trait to Biden.