Lost Opportunities in Joe Biden News Conference
By Ralph Nader
January 21, 2022
President Joe Biden broke the record for the longest presidential press conference ever – going nearly two hours fielding question after question. He stood that long to prove his stamina and dispel bigoted charges of ageism.
How did he do by his own standards? First, his opening remarks naturally touted 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-vision media on the serious legislation he wants to advance.
For example, early on Biden proposed reversing some of the tax cuts for giant corporations and the super-wealthy that Trump rammed through Congress in 2017. Biden did not say why it is urgent for Congress to act on this matter or explain that these taxes are necessary not just for fairness, but to pay for the major proposals he has on Capitol Hill. Therefore, the media will not pay attention and assume he has given up.
Calling himself a “union guy” for decades, Biden inexplicably did not give a shout-out for a higher federal minimum wage, now frozen at $7.25 an hour. The House Democrats passed a bill increasing the minimum wage in stages to $15 but the bill is stuck in the Senate and threatened by an anti-worker GOP filibuster. He also could have brought national attention to the House-passed “Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” that makes it less difficult to form unions. This legislation is also mired in the Senate. The President’s failure to mention these proposals signals to the press that these bills are off the table for this election year. Consequently, reporters don’t write about these important measures.
Biden portrayed his Republican enemies in the Senate with weak language, asking thrice whether there was anything the GOP was for. That criticism could have been far more penetrating had he enumerated ten proposals, passed in the House, that the corporate-indentured Republicans in both the House and Senate were against big time. Imagine the impact, for example, of noting the GOP blocking the renewal of $300 or $250 monthly checks to over 65 million children (both liberal and conservative families in need) in a mid-winter pandemic. 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 concise contrasts by Biden would have sent the cruel duo, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy reeling.
Biden spoke of infrastructure, to be sure, but didn’t highlight the appeal to specific local interests and the overwhelming public support. He should have also warned big business to stop grabbing and corrupting the safety net assistance for deprived small business, under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He could have referred to the Inspector General’s exposés at the Small Business Administration (SBA), which have gone almost unnoticed.
Biden marveled at the fact that not one Republican senator has dissented from draconian do-nothing Republican leaders. Unfortunately, the Democrats assured the Republican lock-step by not trying months ago to intensely spin-off some GOP Senators starting with the five not running for re-election and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). Romney says he hasn’t received one call from the White House.
Presidential remarks at press conferences needn’t devote more than two or three sentences to alert the country and the media to an administration’s priorities. Biden’s omissions were puzzling indeed by comparison to his own previous policy stands.
As a long-time corporate Democrat, it was not surprising that Biden did not mention law and order for the corporate crooks that have hugely ripped off government programs, as well as exploiting consumers and workers. But then he doesn’t exactly have the strong support from the Democratic Party or the Democratic National Committee (DNC) down to the state committees whose hands are out 24/7 for corporate campaign contributions.
Equally disappointing were the reporters’ questions narrowly ranging over a small number of issues – voting rights, the votes in Congress, his declining poll numbers, and Ukraine. The White House Press Corps, as the legendary pioneer Helen Thomas would politely point out, censors itself when it isn’t fearful of its bosses or being sycophantic. There were no questions on what Biden wants, but omitted. There were no questions on the corporate domination of just about every sector of our government and its political economy. And there were no questions about the bloated, unauditable, draining military budget to which was added $24 billion more than Biden and the Pentagon requested.
Consumers are hurt by gouging prices, deceptive practices, and blocked remedies. Many workers have widespread occupational hazards, low pay, and few benefits, yet they are taking more opportunities in a period of temporary labor shortages to form unions among some big-box chains and retailers (Starbucks, Amazon). The White House Press Corps repeatedly fails to ask questions that ordinary people would want answered about their conditions.
When Biden signals his acceptance of only pieces of his proposals being passed, he pre-signals defeat and weakens his negotiating leverage in advance. Presidents who appear weak diminish per se their influence with Congress.
Perhaps the media’s worst performance last Wednesday was their war-inciting, history-forgetting questions about Ukraine – goading a properly cautious Biden. After all, dictator Putin knows how deep Russian memories are of losing about 50 million people from western frontier invasions in 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 membership to adjacent Ukraine. Nonetheless, the reporters chose war-inciting, not peace-inciting (diplomacy), questions, other than asking about what happened to his campaign promise to end the war in Yemen.
Biden, his advisers, and the Press Corps need to review their performances to avoid future ditto heading. We need to make them care enough to engage in such introspections.