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Biden’s press conference: reassuring, if not inspiring

My basic reaction to Joe Biden’s first formal press conference as president was that he did fine, came across as decent, coherent, reasonably progressive, and someone who knows his own mind and values.

President Joe Biden shown at his first formal news conference in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
President Joe Biden shown at his first formal news conference in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

My basic reaction to Joe Biden’s first formal press conference as president was that he did fine, came across as decent, coherent, reasonably progressive, and someone who knows his own mind and values. Anyone worried that Biden, the oldest ever new president, might be losing the mental acuity necessary for his job could reasonably be encouraged by his ability to coherently reply, with a high degree of factual accuracy, to a long list of questions. Biden didn’t make a whole lot of news but, unlike a certain unnamed immediate predecessor, he didn’t make a jerk of himself.

While that may sound like faint praise — given concerns about whether Biden, the oldest president ever at the time of assuming the office, is fully up to his demanding new job — I would call his performance calm, steady, reassuring and solidly liberal, even if he came across during the primary campaign as a moderate compared to some of those he defeated for the Democratic nomination.

Especially after Donald Trump, Biden yesterday seemed to personify that quality we sometimes call “presidential.” He maintained a dignity consistent with the office, and issued no cheap shots. Shortly after the broadcast, an old friend emailed me:

“I’ll take knowledgeable and sincere, if somewhat plodding, over glib, dishonest and cynical, any – and every – day of the week.”

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In addition, there were many moments during the presser when Biden’s long experience seemed to make him comfortable and sure-footed about how to proceed based on this general rule which Biden announced:

“When I took office, I decided that it was a fairly basic, simple proposition: I got elected to solve problems,” he said.

Of course, views can differ across partisan and ideological lines about the correctness of some policies Biden plans to pursue to solve problems, but it was clear that he can talk accurately and coherently about the problems and the range of solutions in way that Trump never could.

Since he’s president, everything he said was sorta newsworthy. He made few staggering breakthroughs news-wise, although he did call the various measures in Republican-controlled states to make it harder, especially for black voters, to vote “un-American” and “sick.”

He specified: “Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote? Deciding that you’re going to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work? Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances? … This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”

Those are strong words. If I was a Republican, I suppose I would take offense. But on substance the remark is totally defensible and accurate. I leave it to Republicans to defend their voter suppression strategies. The reality, that high voter participation, and especially high turnout among African Americans, is bad for Republicans, is for Republicans to explain, which I expect they will never do honestly.

There was some discussion, direct and indirect, about how Democrats can make progress against the apparent determination of Senate Republicans to employ the filibuster to block the Democrats’ agenda.

Biden first took a middle ground, suggesting that the Senate at least go back to the old tradition that required filibusterers have to stay on the floor and keep talking in order to sustain a filibuster. But then he acknowledged that that might not be enough, adding: “We’re going to have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” perhaps meaning some way to overcome a filibuster with a simple majority vote.

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Because of Biden’s age, I suppose, the question of his verbal and mental acuity was on the table. I would say he showed mastery of his material and made no major gaffes (at least that were immediately apparent to me).

Even better, he seemed confident and comfortable, determined and knowledgeable. Perhaps I entered with low expectations, but I found the whole performance reassuring, if not inspiring.

He was asked whether he expected to be a candidate for reelection in 2024, and he said yes. Personally, I attach no importance to that and assume it will be decided later. It’s reasonable that Biden would not want to unnecessarily declare himself a lame duck just as his presidency is getting launched.

On substance, the old question of whether Biden was too moderate for the lefties seemed strangely off-point yesterday. The further-left candidates might be pushing for some further-left things, including some things I support. But the question of what can be accomplished given the narrow Democratic majorities in Congress, will be determined – especially in the Senate and for the foreseeable future – by the most moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin and a few others.

(Over on Fox News, I noticed, the immediate reaction was that Biden didn’t call on a Fox correspondent and that he relied heavily on his notes. Give me a break. Did Fox ever complain when Donald Trump would reject questions from correspondents whose employers he disliked by saying: “You’re fake news.”?)

A full rush transcript of the event, which also includes a video of it, is available here.