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It's Day 57 in the Joe Biden White House…and he still hasn’t held a press conference.
That’s the longest for a new president in nearly 100 years . Since Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge. Under increasing pressure, Mr Biden is finally going to submit to a live public grilling next week. On Day 64.
Why the reluctance, unprecedented in the modern era? Well, because he’s going to get roasted. Some of Mr Biden’s recent public appearances, at which he often refers to prompt cards, have not inspired confidence.
It's important not to exaggerate here. Mr Biden isn't completely flailing in office. His approval ratings are still relatively high [around 53 per cent].
He did a long TV interview the other day and didn't "gaffe" at all. You could almost hear the PR minders whooping with relief in the background.
However, that interview was pre-recorded, and conducted by Bill Clinton’s former communications director.
Viral videos in recent days have shown him floundering. There’s a particular one of him apparently forgetting his defence secretary’s name.
To be fair, if you watch the whole speech, it’s debatable whether he did or not. And one of Mr Biden looking flummoxed, which racked up over one million views, turned out to be fake.
But, while he is probably struggling in the role less than social media clips would have us believe, Mr Biden’s age is proving impossibly low hanging fruit for his opponents.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, has taken to calling the 78-year-old president “America’s Brezhnev” after the somnolent Soviet leader.
Even during the campaign last year friends said Mr Biden had “lost a step” from his heyday. Now, his refusal to take questions smacks of fear – among his advisers if not Mr Biden himself – that he’s going to fall down a giant gaffe hole.
When he does eventually face the press there will be an inquisition on the escalating immigration crisis at the Mexico border. He’s also going to get asked whether he can realistically run for a second term in his 80s. Mr Biden may have trouble sounding convincing.
There's something else. Mr Biden entered office with a burst of governmental action. There was a blizzard of early executive orders. A mammoth $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill was quickly pushed through. Now he's moving very quickly on to an infrastructure programme, which will have a price tag of up to $4 trillion.
He seems very much like a man in a hurry, not one contemplating an eight-year project. Mr Biden is using up his political capital in Congress quickly.
Also, witness the carefully staged operation already underway to raise Kamala Harris's profile . Before Mr Biden announced his relief plan to the nation last week, Ms Harris was given extended time to introduce him, with the White House as a backdrop.
Then she was off to Nevada, a key state in the 2022 Congressional elections. This week, she was also joining Mr Biden on trips to the key states of Pennsylvania and Georgia, which the Democrat nominee will need to win in 2024.
It all points to one conclusion. Mr Biden’s mission was to beat Donald Trump, then mentor a successor, who will almost certainly be Ms Harris. Regardless of how well, or not, he ends up doing the job, he is a transition president.
On Thursday Mr Biden appeared to let the cat out of the bag himself, referring to “President Harris” in a speech.
“Now when President Harris and I took a virtual tour of a vaccination centre in Arizona not long ago… ” he said. Mr Biden did not correct himself.
A transcript of Mr Biden’s remarks released by the White House showed them verbatim, although it did put Ms Harris’s current title of Vice President in brackets.
BIDEN: “When President Harris and I…” pic.twitter.com/TivsTVzcOd
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) March 18, 2021
For Mr Biden accountability is increasingly becoming an issue, and not just for conservatives. The Washington Post editorial board said it was “past time” for the president to hold a press conference, and that was nearly two weeks ago.
“Avoiding news conferences must not become a regular habit for Mr Biden,” it said.
On that score the rather thin sounding explanation from White House officials is that Mr Biden has been focusing on the job. They say he has made a series of speeches (from a teleprompter) and done several interviews (including for People magazine). It has been, as they say in the US, “softball” stuff.
Since the beginning, when he started running in 2019, getting a question to Mr Biden has been the journalistic equivalent of breaking into Fort Knox.
When I managed to ask him a few questions at a restaurant in New Hampshire last year he seemed genuinely keen to talk. I got the impression he would have been happy to chat all day if his handlers hadn’t bustled him away.
Next week, his guardians will finally have to set him loose, and let the gaffes fall where they may.
Do you think President Biden will run for a second term? Share your view in the comments section below
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