Reaction from Republican strategist Holly Turner and Democratic strategist Robert Patillo.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has held more than two dozen fundraisers, but just three press conferences, since he all but locked up the nomination on Super Tuesday.
Biden has held 25 fundraisers since March 3, participating in three virtual fundraisers this month so far, including two just this week. On Wednesday, a virtual fundraiser for 100 donors saw questions on Supreme Court cases, the relationship between the Trump White House and the Justice Department, and how he would reverse cuts to foreign aid programs.
“First of all, I’d repopulate the State Department as a start … you know I’m not joking,” he said about the aid programs.
He has more coming this month, as well. On Friday, he is participating in a virtual reception alongside former Obama adviser David Plouffe and Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom. On May 19, he is hosting a virtual fundraiser with Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez.
That’s a stark contrast with the number of press conferences — where he might face more challenging questions — Biden has held. The former vice president held an in-person press conference the day after Super Tuesday on March 4, and then a virtual press conference on March 25 as coronavirus restrictions essentially halted in-person campaigning. He followed up with another on April 2, but since then has not held another.
Those were not his only media appearances, however. In that time he has participated in six campaign town halls and 20 national media interviews. In March he also participated in a town hall and a Democratic debate.
In his most publicized interview in recent weeks, Biden sat down with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski last week to address sexual assault accusations against him made by former Senate staffer Tara Reade. Biden denied Reade’s claims, and while Brzezinski was praised for going harder on Biden than most expected, she did not ask about particular elements of the story.
Over the past month, the former vice president has hit the TV circuit, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” “NBC’s “Today,” CBS’s “Late Late Show with James Cordon” and speaking with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. Biden also appeared on CBS’s local Miami affiliate and talked to soccer star Megan Rapinoe on Instagram. But none of the appearances offered the impromptu scrutiny that Biden would face if he were on the campaign trail, where reporters can approach him on a regular basis.
As any political candidate will concede, there’s a significant difference between a carefully selected media appearance — often with a friendly or sympathetic TV host — and a full-blown press briefing where they are open to questions and follow-ups from reporters.
The Republican National Committee compared Biden’s handful of press conferences, and more than 30-day gap between pressers, with President Trump — who throughout April and until recently was holding lengthy daily press briefings via the coronavirus task force.
“While Joe Biden continues to dodge scrutiny in the wake of a corroborated sexual assault allegation by hiding from the press and the American people, President Trump regularly briefs the American people, like a real leader does,” RNC spokesman Steve Guest told Fox News. “It’s no wonder the American people say President Trump is better suited to lead America’s coronavirus response and create jobs than Sleepy Joe.”
Some have speculated that the freeze on press conferences is part of an effort by the campaign to shield the candidate — who has a history of gaffes when speaking off-the-cuff — from facing difficult questions, including about the recent sexual assault allegation against him.
It’s not an uncommon strategy. Back in 2016, then-candidate Trump went 168 days without a formal press conference, and took heat for it, although he was taking questions from smaller gatherings. The coronavirus pandemic also essentially moved the presidential race online, with both sides holding virtual events.
Trump has paid the price as well for what some would argue was overexposure.
Trump regularly gets himself into trouble by speaking off the cuff. At a recent press conference, Trump riffed on possible treatments involving UV light and disinfectants, leading to news coverage alleging that he suggested people inject or ingest bleach. The controversy, which reverberated around the globe, allowed Biden to sit back and take pot shots at the embattled president. Trump later wound down those briefings.
“I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t drink bleach,” Biden tweeted.
Trump made the remarks on April 23, the same day as Biden was holding an afternoon fundraiser with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and an evening fundraiser with celebrities including Kristin Chenoweth, Melissa Etheridge and Billy Porter that raised $1.1 million.
But the more cautious approach has raised concern from some former Obama staffers. Former Obama adviser David Axelrod said in an NYT opinion piece that “while President’s Trump’s well-watched White House briefings have been, for him, a decidedly mixed bag, video of the president in action has been a striking contrast to the image of his solitary challenger, consigned to his basement.”
But with the 2020 campaign moving into summer season and questions about Biden increasing, media analysts say that such an approach can only last so long for the Democrat, and sooner or later he will have to face the press.
“At some point, Biden just has to show he can take on the press in an uncontrolled setting and is nimble enough to respond to whatever questions a press conference or spray might bring,” DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News.“Failure to take this challenge at some point makes even his supporters curious about why he is not available to the press and opens him up to criticism from the Trump campaign that Biden is afraid or incapable of putting on a polished performance.”
Fox News’ Allie Raffa and Remy Numa contributed to this report.