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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Here are some questions and rules for Biden’s first news conference of 2022

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

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The big idea

Here are some questions and rules for Biden’s first news conference of 2022

One of the difficult lessons any White House reporter learns about news conferences is the questions regularly get judged based on the president’s response, not on how important the topics were, or how relevant they were to people’s lives, or how cleverly they were asked.

Don’t believe me? What if President George W. Bush had delivered a self-deprecating, thoughtful answer when my friend John Dickerson asked him in April 2004 what his biggest post-9/11 mistake had been, instead of saying he couldn’t think of any?

You still have to try to ask about important things, or relevant things, and try not to sound like too much of a mush-mouthed incompetent while doing it (I regularly failed at one or all of these, and once got scolded by a French president at one news conference — but that’s for another day.)

As President Biden prepares for his first formal question-and-answer session of 2022, The Daily 202 is sharing some possible topics, and possible questions, as well as some of the classic ways the most powerful person in American politics can try to sidestep a question.

Let's start with the “what would you do if…?” question, because politicians are taught not to answer hypotheticals, even though they use them all the time. The current Biden posture toward new Russian aggression toward Ukraine is built on a “if Russia does this, they’ll suffer severe consequences” model. Still, try a “what’s your plan for…?” and stay away from the “if.”

Another way to invite a no comment is to ask about ongoing legal matters: court cases or investigations. Presidents aren’t supposed to bring their considerable influence to bear before the ruling, or the outcome of the probe. (They often do, of course, which is why asking can be tempting.)

Finally, be wary of asking about what a president is prepared to accept as they haggle with Congress. You risk a “I’m not going to negotiate through the press.” (As an aside: Search White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s briefings for the phrase “I’m not going to.”) 

Now to the questions …

With those in mind, here is a sampling of possible questions for Biden’s solo news conference, just his second on U.S. soil, as my colleague Cleve R. Wootson Jr. points out. Remember that I'm a print guy, and don't need the theater of a news conference.

Escalating Russian antagonism toward Ukraine, and the possibility a massive Russian troop buildup could spill into a shooting war “at any point,” according to the White House, is an urgent foreign policy development, the subject of frenetic minute-by-minute American diplomacy.

“Mr. President, how worried should Americans be that Russia will further invade Ukraine? And how worried should they be that the ensuing military confrontation escalates and ultimately pits Moscow against NATO?”

Because Thursday marks one year since Biden took office, he’s likely to face retrospective questions about how he handled certain things, chief among them the pandemic.

“Mr. President, you came into office promising to tame a pandemic we already knew was complex, unpredictable, evolving and deadly. But the death toll on your watch exceeds that under your predecessor. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?"

(My runner up covid question is whether there’s anything the federal government can do to remedy what a lot of education experts are calling a “lost year” for kids in elementary and high school, but I suspect he’d simply point out education is chiefly a state/local job.)

Let’s get the obvious politics question out of the way next: “Mr. President, will you make any changes either to your key personnel or to your overall approach to the presidency, which some have suggested you approach more as a senator than as commander in chief?”

Slightly less obvious: “Mr. President, what are your thoughts on the proper role of parents in deciding what their children learn in the classroom until they’re 18?”

This one is a little out of left field, but I’ve been watching NFL games (come on, Dallas, go, Cowbo — oh, right.) and the ads are everywhere: “Mr. President, what do you make of the rise of cryptocurrencies? And do you think that gambling on sports should be regulated at the federal level?

On the economy, regularly the top issue on voters’ minds: “Mr. President, last year, inflation swamped wage increases for millions of families. What specific, concrete steps will you take in 2022 to improve Americans’ bottom line?”

On climate: “Mr. President, what are some of the options you’re considering for significant executive action on climate?” (You don’t have to say “ … if your Build Back Better legislation stalls dead.”)

There are obviously many, many more topics worth exploring. He has described the current state of American democracy in apocalyptic terms, so what happens next on voting rights? Is police reform impossible? What happens to his economic Band-Aids on evictions and college debt? What’s his personal reaction to the comments from a partial owner of the NBA’s Warriors that “nobody cares” about the Uyghurs? What will he change about his border/immigration policies, notably the ones he kept from former president Donald Trump? Is it a problem that Americans have been quitting jobs in record numbers? And many more.

Tune in this afternoon at 4 p.m. Eastern!

What's happening now

Democrats brace for likely defeat of voting rights push due to GOP filibuster

“A year-long Democratic push for federal voting rights legislation is set to come to a head on the Senate floor Wednesday evening, with party leaders bracing for disappointment after key senators insisted they would not change the chamber’s rules to overcome persistent Republican opposition,” Mike DeBonis reports.

  • On Wednesday, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) became the latest Democrat to back a rules change after keeping mum for months on the question. Kelly, who faces reelection later this year, said his constituents “deserve a Senate that is more responsive to the challenges facing our country.”

Supreme Court to hear arguments on Ted Cruz’s campaign finance challenge today

“The latest conservative attack on a major campaign finance law goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in Senator Ted Cruz’s bid to undo a provision limiting the amount of money candidates can be reimbursed for personal loans to their own campaigns — a cap proponents call an anti-corruption measure,” Reuters’s Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung report.

Britain’s scandal-hit Boris Johnson lifts coronavirus restrictions, battles to save premiership

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced an easing of coronavirus restrictions in England amid growing calls from outside — and inside — his party for him to resign over repeated revelations of rule-flouting parties held at his residence and office,” Karla Adam reports.

Family of Otto Warmbier, American who died after detention in North Korea, awarded $240,000 in seized assets

“Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was 21 years old when he traveled with a tourism group to Pyongyang at the end of 2015 on his way to a study-abroad program in Hong Kong. He was arrested at Pyongyang’s airport at the end of his trip and later convicted on charges stemming from pulling down a propaganda poster in a hotel in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2016 — considered a ‘hostile act against the state’ by North Korea,” Adela Suliman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

The long slide: Inside Biden’s declining popularity as he struggles with multiple crises

President Biden’s approval rating and his position within the Democratic party are in a tough spot after his first year in office and ahead of the midterms. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

“Biden’s staffers and other defenders say he took office facing unprecedented calamity — from a historic pandemic to a struggling economy — and note that despite a thin congressional majority, he managed to pass two major pieces of legislation in his first year: an economic stimulus plan designed to help rescue the country from the pandemic and a massive infrastructure package,” Ashley Parker, Tyler Pager and Sean Sullivan report.

But the administration has also repeatedly underestimated the magnitude of the nation’s challenges, including failing to anticipate the delta and omicron coronavirus variants, and has struggled to unite the liberal base and the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party. The president and his team have also stumbled in offering a clear and reassuring message, unable to convince many Americans that they understand their travails or that better days are ahead.”

Scoop: Power struggle among Biden appointees gets personal over race

“A clash over race and social status has roiled a panel of Biden administration appointees entrusted with overseeing military cemeteries and war monuments, after a former U.S. ambassador and retired Marine who is Black was replaced as the group’s chairman by a White retired general, according to internal correspondence obtained by The Washington Post and interviews with nine people familiar with the matter,” Dan Lamothe reports.

… and beyond

Despite Republican opposition, Democrats focus voting rights blame on Sinema and Manchin

“The remarkable vitriol being trained by Democratic activists on two members of their own party has largely given Republicans a pass for blocking the bill and standing by new state laws designed to limit access to the ballot box and empower partisan actors to administer elections and count votes,” the New York Times’s Jonathan Weisman reports.

  • “The spectacle of Democrats going after Democrats may not help longer term ambitions. President Biden needs Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin to come around if he is to win passage of any version of the climate change and social welfare bill that is stalled in the Senate.”

New details emerge on Oath Keepers Jan. 6 weapons cache

“Oath Keepers planning to violently subvert the 2020 election stockpiled 30 days of supplies and a cache of rifles and ammunition just outside of Washington, D.C., prosecutors alleged in a late-night court filing,” Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports.

Omicron

Free N95 masks are coming

“The Biden administration plans to distribute 400 million high-quality N95 masks for adults free of charge at thousands of pharmacies and other locations starting next week, a White House official said,” Lena H. Sun and Dan Diamond report.

In the meantime, here's a handy guide from the NYT's Tara Parker-Pope on how to find a good quality mask and avoid the fakes.

The Biden agenda

A year ago, Biden unveiled a 200-page plan to defeat covid. He has struggled to deliver on some key promises.

“As he prepared to take office, Biden oversaw a 200-page pandemic plan that promised to restore trust in the federal government, protect essential workers and slow the coronavirus’s spread. But, as president, he has struggled to execute key parts of it,” Dan Diamond reports.

  • “Page 59 promised ‘predictable and robust’ federal purchasing of coronavirus tests — a pledge that industry leaders say fell far short, as Americans continue to line up to get tested while complaining they can’t find home test kits.”
  • “Page 81 pledged to ‘support schools in implementing COVID-19 screening testing,’ but many parents, teachers and staff say that schools have largely been left to fend for themselves.”
  • “And Page 103 vowed ‘to ensure patient safety’ in nursing homes by boosting staffing and vaccinations, yet worker shortages persist and elderly residents lag behind on getting booster shots.”

The tale of two presidencies: Biden’s first year in office

Politico’s Jonathan Lemire reports that inside the White House, there’s still optimism. But “the president ends his first year undeniably weaker than he began it, with his poll numbers having plummeted and his party in danger of being swept out of power on Capitol Hill.”

“It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. You can divide his year pretty evenly, with the president starting by doing some important things to get the country back on track,” said Robert Gibbs, former press secretary to President Barack Obama. “But what started in August with Afghanistan, to me, is that since then this is a White House that has been shaped by external events, it isn’t doing the shaping of those events.”

Biden’s nominees confirmations, visualized

“One year into Biden’s presidency, hundreds of key federal government positions remain unfilled as Senate Republicans have delayed confirming his nominees.” The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service are tracking Biden's appointees including Cabinet secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions.

Hot on the left

Major U.S. companies slam voter suppression laws, then donate to their sponsors

“In April 2021, as Republican-controlled states began passing bills that will restrict voting in upcoming elections, cable and media giant Comcast put out a statement declaring its opposition to the measures,” Donald Shaw writes for the American Prospect.

“'We believe that all Americans should enjoy equitable access to secure elections and we have long supported and promoted voter education, registration and participation campaigns across the country to achieve that goal,' the company said in a statement it provided to Deadline. ‘Efforts to limit or impede access to this vital constitutional right for any citizen are not consistent with our values.’”

In the following months, however, Comcast and its political action committees made donations to several Republican lawmakers who authored voter suppression bills that were signed into law last year. At least 19 states enacted 33 laws that further restrict access to voting in 2021, according to a recent analysis by the nonpartisan institute Brennan Center for Justice.”

Hot on the right

Bret Stephens: There’s still time for Biden to rescue his presidency

“The view that the Biden presidency is flailing — and failing — has now moved from the opinion pages to the news pages, from right-wing criticism to Beltway conventional wisdom,” Stephens writes for the NYT. Here are the basics of what he says Biden needs to do to turn it around:

  1. Form a new team, starting with a new chief of staff
  2. Focus on American needs, not liberal wishes
  3. Remember that he won as a moderate and a unifier
  4. Also remember that he won office as a trusted steward of American power
  5. Announce he isn’t running for reelection

Today in Washington

Biden’s news conference is scheduled for 4 p.m. Follow along with The Post's live updates here.

In closing

The good news: The Girl Scouts rolled out a new cookie. The bad news: Not even the Girl Scouts are safe from supply chain woes.

“The Girl Scouts’ newest cookie, a brownie-adjacent confection dubbed Adventurefuls that scouts are selling this cookie season alongside stalwarts like Thin Mints and Samoas, is in short supply in the Washington area,” Emily Heil reports.

(For the curious: Adventurefuls are described as “indulgent brownie-inspired cookies with caramel-flavored crème and a hint of sea salt.”)

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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