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Back foot Biden: White House seen as slow to respond as controversies pile up

A A consistent pattern has emerged within the Biden administration, as the White House is often slow to release information and slow to react when news breaks.

Not everyone agrees that this is a bad thing, but there seems to be a broad consensus that President Joe Biden and company like to take their time when communicating with the public.

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“Should the Biden administration be more aggressive in responding to events? The answer is yes,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “Should the president respond to every signal that pops up on the radar and shoot from the hip like Trump? No.”

Bannon favorably compares this administration’s low-key strategy to that of his predecessor, adding that “the White House is a bully pulpit, not a soapbox,” and points to Biden’s relatively cautious stance as a net positive.

However, among critics, this precaution has led to excessively slow delays in everything from responding to crises to distributing basic information.

For example, the Chinese balloon that has dominated news cycles for the past few weeks first appeared in the press on February 1st. But Biden didn’t speak at length about the situation until February 16, more than two weeks later, and even then. he did not take any questions after his prepared remarks.

In another example, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg drew bipartisan fire and even calls for his resignation when he took 10 days to make public statements about the toxic Ohio train derailment.

These two cases follow the classified documents scandal that consumed Washington for most of January. In this case, the administration deliberately chose to respond only to information that was publicly known, waiting until the media broke revelations and then reacting to them.

Even routine questions often come up.

Last weekend, the White House and Fox News went back and forth for several days on whether or not Biden would do an interview at the Super Bowl, only for it to be revealed just hours before kickoff that he would not.

And this week, Biden underwent an annual physical that was delayed by three months, leaving reporters to hound White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about what was going on in between.

“Grandpa Joe can’t make a decision, and apparently they do everything by committee, so there’s no one in charge of making decisions when something happens,” said Republican strategist David Carney.

Carney argues that Biden’s advanced age is behind the delays, with aides hesitant to share information with him and hesitant to put him on camera.

Along with the Super Bowl interview, the president also shied away from the traditional year-end press conference and often creates confusion when fielding questions.

The day after it was announced that the public health emergency due to COVID-19 would end on May 11, Biden responded to a reporter’s question by saying that the emergency would end “when the Supreme Court ends it” , seeming to contradict his own administration.

On the other hand, what some call a slow reaction, others call strategy, argues George Mason University professor Jeremy Mayer.

“Part of it is deliberate,” he said. “They say, ‘We’ll commit wherever we want and we won’t be pressured by artificial deadlines.'”

It’s a stark contrast to former President Donald Trump, who dominated daily headlines and tweeted throughout the night. Biden’s approach has always been low-key by comparison, which worked for him to secure the White House in 2020 and outperform in the 2022 midterm elections.

“We just ended up with a White House that leaked like a ’57 Chevy,” Mayer said. “Joe Biden’s team has that passion for anonymity that all presidents want in a White House staff.”

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The idea that the president wouldn’t be all over the news or making rambling statements may be part of what helped him topple Trump 27 months ago. But even Mayer acknowledges that Biden’s staff is likely wary of when, where and how often he speaks without a script.

“Biden is not shy, but his team is being very careful about exposing him to the glare of the TV lights,” he said. “It’s a recognition that he’s not the man he was 10 years ago or five years ago and that he’s likely to say something stupid. Whether it’s actual cognitive decline or just the possibility that it might be interpreted as that way, it’s not going to lead to a cycle of good news for this White House.”

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