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An overdue presser: Biden set to take reporters’ questions in first formal news conference in months

By Oliver Darcy, CNN Business

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

When President Joe Biden walks out at 4pm ET to greet reporters assembled in the White House’s East Room, it will be the first formal press conference he has convened in months. Suffice to say, a lot has happened since then.

Omicron has surged across the country. Inflation is at a 40-year high. The Build Back Better Act is stalled. Democrats are pushing a doomed bid to enact voting rights legislation. And Russia appears to be on the precipice of executing a military invasion of Ukraine.

The White House, of course, knows things aren’t going swimmingly. “The President knows there’s more work to do, so he’s also going to level with the American people about the challenges we still face — especially when it comes to COVID-19 and higher prices — and the actions he’s taking to tackle them,” a White House official told me via email Tuesday.

But the administration does believe that it has a positive story to tell on different fronts. The official I emailed with Tuesday said he also expects Biden to “talk about the remarkable progress” he has made in other areas. The official pointed to vaccinating millions of Americans, low unemployment, and passage of infrastructure funding.

“I think what you’ll hear the president talk about tomorrow,” Jen Psaki separately summed up at the Tuesday briefing, “is how to build on the build on the foundation we laid in the the first year…”

Lagging behind predecessors

While Biden does often spontaneously take questions from reporters, he is lagging behind his predecessors in formal press conferences. On Tuesday, CNN’s John King described pressers as “rare” in this administration.

In fact, as Mark Knoller pointed out, “Biden’s event Wednesday will be his 2nd formal solo news conference at the White House.” The last solo presser was on March 25. “He has also had 5 solo news conferences while on foreign trips and two joint WH news conferences with foreign leaders,” Knoller tweeted, breaking down the numbers…

“We are still challenged by Covid restrictions”

White House Correspondents Association president Steven Portnoy emailed members last week to outline plans for the presser. “We are still challenged by covid restrictions and, per the White House, have to live under a 42-person cap,” Portnoy wrote, adding that all attendees must complete a rapid test. That means only about half of the 65 outlets on the WHCA’s seating chart will ultimately get a seat at the briefing, he said. The restrictions will serve as a visual reminder that the pandemic is still raging at the end of Biden’s first year in office…

High expectations

Brian Stelter writes: “The White House announced this press conference nearly a week ago. That’s a whole lot of time for the press corps to foreshadow the presser and sharpen questions. Biden’s team is definitely not interested in the Trump camp’s PR advice, but Trump WH comms aide Alyssa Farah Griffin made an interesting point on Sunday’s ‘Reliable Sources’ — she said ‘to announce it this far in advance kind of builds expectations. But, look,’ she added, ‘any time the president is talking to the American people and taking questions from the press is a good thing…'”

What will drive the post-presser convo?

While these press conferences always receive endless hype in the press, I often wonder how much new info they end up eliciting. It goes without saying that it’s a good thing when leaders take questions from the press and allow reporters to hold them accountable. But does anyone really expect Biden to offer groundbreaking, revelatory information on many of the subjects at hand? My suspicion is that we will hear a lot of familiar talking points from him and that much of the post-presser coverage will focus on how well — or not-so-well — he sold his message, not necessarily any new revelations disclosed…

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