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After 9 Weeks In Office, Biden To Hold 1st News Conference


President Biden will face a lot of questions today from reporters. He's holding his first formal solo news conference as president. There are a lot of issues to cover, the pandemic, obviously, the economy, the surge of unaccompanied minors to the southern border, the two mass shootings recently. The list is long. We've got NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with us for a preview. Good morning, Tam.


MARTIN: So before we talk about all those questions the president's likely to get, let's just establish this. Is it really unusual for a president to wait this long to take questions in this setting?

KEITH: I went back to Truman. And every president had held their solo press conference, their first solo press conference, earlier than this. Biden has taken an approach to his presidency - following former President Trump, who was quite voluble, Biden is trying to be more boring and not a president that the American people have to think about every hour of every day. But he did also promise transparency. And holding a formal press conference, being pressed on questions that are pressing to the nation and the press corps, has traditionally been part of that.

You know, presidential press conferences have a fair bit of downside and not necessarily a lot of upside for any president. You know, they can't control what they're going to be asked. The White House press corps will inevitably key in on things that the president would rather not discuss. And up until this point, the Biden White House was very focused on passing that $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. They did not have any room for error and wanted to stay very on message. A press conference can get you off message. Now they want to promote it and also sell the next thing, his so-called build back better plan. But they were also just under a lot of pressure because it had been so long to go ahead and do a formal press conference.

MARTIN: But we've seen Biden take questions, one-offs, from the press, right? I mean, has he actually been quieter or less available than President Trump?

KEITH: Yeah. He has not been unavailable by any stretch. He does a lot of scripted speeches and regularly responds to, as you say, a shouted question or two. Yesterday, when reporters shouted, asking if he was ready for the press conference, he joked and said, what press conference? He's been preparing.

MARTIN: Right.

KEITH: You know, he delivers remarks almost every workday, either remarks or holds an event. But, you know, coming off of Trump, who in his final years was especially verbose, it just feels like a lot less. I checked with the folks at Factbase, who track all the words spoken by the president. And compared to this period in Trump's presidency, Biden has only spoken or been on camera about 30% less than Trump. But it's still a lot. As of earlier this week, he had spoken more than 121,000 words as president and had been on camera for nearly 13 hours.

MARTIN: So let's talk about some of the issues likely to come up. Yesterday, administration officials went to this shelter that's housing unaccompanied minors at the border. And they finally let a press camera in to see what was going on. Is that the White House trying to get ahead of this press conference and questions likely?

KEITH: Well, it was certainly something that they're going to be asked about. And President Biden will still be asked about it. Yesterday, he also announced that he was putting Vice President Harris in charge of working with Mexico and some Central American countries to stem the tide of unaccompanied minors. Someone is inevitably going to ask President Biden if this is a crisis, which is a question that's come up frequently. And the White House has been loath to call it that. You know, they've been struggling with their message on this. And today will be a test of how they deliver that message.

MARTIN: Other issues - obviously, the pandemic - Tam?

KEITH: Absolutely - and the delivery of vaccines and his July Fourth goal and whether that is under-promising and over-delivering, also about masks and foreign policy. There was a North Korean missile test...

MARTIN: Right.

KEITH: ...The war of words with Russia and China. Heck, he may even get asked about his dogs...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

KEITH: ...Who had to leave the White House and are back after some training in Delaware.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.