Someone definitely flubbed President Biden’s first press conference, but it wasn’t Biden

Biden provided opening remarks at the event that might seemed to have a few items worth a follow-up question from the assembled press. Those remarks including doubling his original goals to a target of reaching 200 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, sending $10 billion to the hardest hit communities, and reporting on the results of the American Rescue Plan.

None of that resulted in a single question. As Chuck Todd noted after the event, in a rare moment of either wisdom or plain honesty, there were no questions about COVID, because the press corps couldn’t think of a negative thing to say about Biden’s handling of COVID. And the press corps only asks questions that it can frame in a negative way.

Multiple reporters asked about the “crisis on the border,” which Biden was willing to discuss in detail. In fact, Biden discussed immigration policy in so much detail that several minutes in to a detailed response, he paused to see if the people in front of him were still listening. As PressRun put it, “Biden wanted to know if he was giving too many details and providing too much factual information.” It appeared to be a valid concern, because at least two other reporters went on to ask essentially the same question Biden had just answered. Either they really had been tuned out during Biden’s response, or they had come to the press conference with a grand total of one question prepared, and were not about to be dissuaded from asking that question, even though it had already been answered.

The reason all those reporters asked about immigration doesn’t seem to have been out of any interest in immigration policy, and certainly not out of concern for children crossing the border. It came, as The Washington Post reports, because reporters were following a right-wing frame that pretends that Biden has thrown open the border, allowing in a flood of new immigrants. And no set of statistics showing that the current increase is less than the seasonal increase of past years is allowed to get in the way of that frame.

Again and again reporters asked questions that boiled down to claims that because Biden was seen as a decent person who wouldn’t treat children with callous brutality, it’s encouraging children to seek something better than the lives they have. Written into this script was an apparent expectation that Biden would either spurn the idea of being decent to children (he didn’t) and that children hoping to enter the United States is a bad thing (it’s not). Instead, Biden made it clear that if an unaccompanied child shows up at the border, America will, shockingly, take them in and provide decent food and shelter while looking for the appropriate next step.

But soon enough reporters did prove they were actually listening, because a question about the 2024 election to which Biden replied, “My plan is to run for reelection. That’s my expectation.” generated multiple follow-ups of … the same question. Though one reporter did elaborate on this far enough to ask Biden if Kamala Harris would be on the 2024 ticket — a question so thoughtless, demonstrating such disinterest in the issues facing the nation,  it genuinely left Biden slack-jawed for a moment.

There were at least two big moments in the press conference that were genuinely worth serious follow-ups. One of those came when Biden made it clear that he will be announcing a major proposal on improving the nation’s infrastructure next week. No one was interested.

There was another big moment when Biden actually did get a question concerning voting rights and Republican efforts to lock voters out of the polls. Biden responded strongly, calling what Republicans were doing both “un-American” and “sick.”

Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote; deciding that you’re going to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work; deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances. … I’m going to spend my time doing three things: One, trying to figure out how to pass the legislation passed by the House, number one. Number two, educating the American public. The Republican voters I know find this despicable. Republican voters, the folks out in—outside this White House. I’m not talking about the elected officials; I’m talking about voters. Voters.
And so I am convinced that we’ll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic what they’re trying to do, and it cannot be sustained.

It was the most powerful statement of the press conference, and the most emotional response by Biden to any question asked. Related to getting legislation on voting rights asked, Biden also got asked about his position on the filibuster. Biden made it clear that he thought the filibuster is being abused and supported going back to a talking filibuster. But he also made it clear that he had an “open mind” when it came to things like moving voting rights forward and noted that “We’ve amended the filibuster in the past.”

Putting those last wo things together, it seems clear that Biden will support pushing HR1 forward, even if that requires pressing Democrats to modify the filibuster to exclude bills on voting rights. Which seems like it should be big news.

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