Why Is the Biden Administration Forcing Foreign Leaders to Speak to the Press From the White House Driveway?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

We already know that the White House avoids putting Joe Biden in front of the press for unscripted opportunities. It must be unknowably challenging to shield the gaffe machine from every opportunity to say something stupid, but his people manage most of the time to keep him away from screw-ups.


In those rare moments when he does speak off the cuff, he eventually goes to his fail-safe method for getting out of the proceedings with some variation on “They say I can’t talk about [insert topic here].” Whoever “they” are, they sure do seem bossy.

Press conferences have become a precious rarity in the Biden era as well. Lunchbucket Joe has only held 24 press conferences thus far; compare that to 43 for Donald Trump, 52 for Barack Obama, and 46 for George W. Bush at this point in their respective presidencies.

A modern presidential tradition has been the joint press conference with visiting world leaders. Presidents host heads of state from other countries on a regular basis, but the Biden White House has eschewed the joint press conference for banishing international leaders to the White House driveway for press gaggles.

“So far this year, 10 heads of foreign governments have visited Mr. Biden at the White House, but only South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol got the honor of having a joint press conference for all the world to see,” reports Jeff Mordock at the Washington Times. “Without a formal press conference, those leaders were denied appearances with Mr. Biden in the White House’s ornate East Room or picturesque Rose Garden, where U.S. presidents typically host visiting heads of state to field reporters’ questions. Instead, the leaders were given a few minutes for a video clip of them giving brief statements with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office before reporters were ushered out of the room.”


Recent White House visitors who didn’t get the respect of a joint press conference included German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Biden blew off a scheduled presser with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to head to Delaware for the weekend back in January. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is due at the White House on Friday, and there’s no press conference scheduled.

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Not only does this practice fly in the face of the modern protocol for presidents, but it could also undermine the view of the U.S. as a world leader (you know, even more than what the administration is already doing) and damage diplomatic relations with our allies and those who we want to be allies.

“The joint press conferences are the feathers in the cap that foreign leaders want to take back home with them because it’s their chance to shine on the international stage,” Steven Groves, former deputy press secretary under Trump, told the Times. “I fail to see how they could not see it as a slight if they don’t get their moment in the sun with the president of the United States.”

“The Biden administration is missing an opportunity to have done a favor for a foreign ally or treat them in a manner that could be invaluable when you need them on a foreign policy issue,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, a political science professor at the University of North Texas.


What is the White House afraid of? After all, gaffes are a dime a dozen with this president. Is the administration afraid he’s going to make a racist comment? Been there, done that. The fears of Biden misspeaking in some way are high no matter the circumstances.

“Those risks could be magnified internationally if Mr. Biden misstates U.S. policy during a press conference with another world leader,” Mordock writes. “On three occasions, the White House has had to walk back Mr. Biden’s repeated suggestions that the U.S. would deploy troops to defend Taiwan from China, which contradicts the long-standing One China policy.”

There’s the rub. The White House doesn’t want to scramble into CYA mode, which begs the question: why did these people allow him to become president in the first place?


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