The media gave President Joe Biden so much credit when he selected an all-female senior communications team. Of course, this was not new, since President Trump had women serving at the top of his communications team after the departure of his first Press Secretary, Sean Spicer. The Washington Post claimed that Trump’s women-led team didn’t count because men often appeared on behalf of the administration as subject matter experts on news shows. That’s a ridiculous qualification since Biden also has men speak on his administration’s behalf as subject matter experts, as well.
Now, one of the more communications senior positions — yes, we are assuming gender here — has gone to a man. Andrew Bates, who served Biden as spokesperson during the 2020 campaign, will be joining the shop as deputy press secretary. His official title was rapid response director. He often functioned as a primary point of contact for the media. Perhaps, his most memorable move was asking America to sit down and have a beer with him while he glossed over the attacks on the Biden family’s shady business dealings in Ukraine:
In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, Bates spent a lot of time on social media and appeared to think quickly on his feet. Bates also seemed to keep his wits about him and had a pithy style of responding, trending more toward President Trump’s last press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, than the buttoned-up Biden version, Jen Psaki.
Bates says he is “thrilled and humbled” to be joining the team, and he is not the only male to sit in the press secretary’s office under Biden. Deputy Press Secretary T.J. Ducklo had to resign after he threatened a Politico reporter who asked about his romantic relationship with an Axios reporter. Chris Meagher, the spokesperson for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg after serving on his primary campaign, replaced Ducklo at the White House. And a woman, Karine Jean-Pierre, is the principal deputy press secretary. But the team is 50-50 now and that represents a strange move after President Biden’s comment yesterday:
“I’ve told my daughters, granddaughters, from the time they would all not understand what I was saying, and I mean it – there’s not a single thing a man can do that a woman can’t do as well or better.”
It would be fair to hazard a guess that you may see more of Bates than you do of the other deputies. Psaki has adopted her boss’s droning and even-toned style when he’s not challenging voters to push-up contests. She often seems unprepared or surprised by the questions of the day and has to Psircle Back™. That habit has become a joke among some commentators. If you need something to do, transcribe an answer or two given by Psaki and work through all the “umms.” Getting rid of those is usually accomplished in Public Speaking 101.
Bates is an alumnus of the Obama administration and he worked directly for Dan Pfeiffer, who recalls:
“He had the hardest — the worst — job, which was transcribing cable news. He had a real innate sense of what is going to matter and what isn’t — and how to respond to it very quickly.”
He took a state communications director position in the Clinton campaign, and staffers who worked with him recall him as an effective mentor with an aggressive style. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both had lead communications staff who could spin effectively. Rober Gibbs, Jay Carney, and Josh Ernest were all very glib. After working for Attorney General Eric Holder, Brian Fallon served Hillary Clinton well in 2016. If you are reading this, they may have made you want to scream, but they were effective in their roles.
Bates’s most memorable video from 2020 on Ukraine shows he can spin. Recently, Psaki slipped on something as critical as referring to the situation on the border as a crisis. Not one other member of the administration has granted that premise. The White House communications team definitely needs a shot in the arm. I’d hate to tell the president, but in his current shop, there just may be a boy who can represent him better than the girl in the job today. Bates could make press conferences lively again.