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Wake Up To Politics - March 15, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: What doesn’t Biden want to talk about?
Wake Up To Politics - March 15, 2021

Good morning! It’s Monday, March 15, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 603 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,331 days away. Welcome to another week: hopefully you all remembered to “spring forward” this weekend.  

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What doesn’t Biden want to talk about?

President Joe Biden wants to talk about the “American Rescue Plan.” He’ll be delivering another speech on the $1.9 trillion law this afternoon; later this week, he’ll join Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Jill Biden, and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff for a cross-country tour to sell the package to the public.

But as Biden launches this more public-facing phase of his presidency, one traditional element is conspicuously lacking: a presidential press conference. More than 50 days into his term, Biden has yet to hold a news conference since taking office, a glaring break with tradition.

“The seven-week stretch is the longest a new president has gone without meeting the press in the past 100 years,” according to the Washington Post. Donald Trump and Bill Clinton had each held five news conferences at this point in their terms, the Post noted; George W. Bush had held three and Barack Obama, two. (Many of those early press conferences were joint appearances with foreign leaders; Biden has not hosted any foreign dignitaries in-person due to the pandemic.)

As Biden shies away from taking queries from reporters in a formal session, the question must be considered: What doesn’t the president want to be talking about? Here are a few possibilities:

1. Andrew Cuomo. The fate of the once-powerful New York governor is growing more precarious by the day. Cuomo is facing accusations of sexual assault and workplace harassment, plus the allegation that his administration covered up the coronavirus death toll in New York nursing homes and a report this weekend that his vaccine czar has been calling county officials to gauge their loyalty to the governor.

On top of all that, Cuomo has been abandoned by most of New York’s political elite: the state’s two Democratic senators called for his resignation on Friday, as did 12 of the state’s 19 House Democrats. The governor has resisted their entreaties — which he dismissed as “cancel culture” — so far, leaving President Biden as possibly the only politician who might be able to persuade Cuomo to step aside.

The president has declined to weigh in much on the scandals surrounding his longtime friend; he did answer a shouted question on the matter for the first time Sunday, saying that he was waiting for the results of an independent investigation. But with Biden’s position out of step with a growing number of New York Democrats, he would likely be pressed to offer a more detailed response at his first full-length press conference.

Then-Vice President Joe Biden answers questions from reporters in 2010. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

2. The border crisis. According to CBS News, U.S. Border Patrol was holding more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children in short-term holding facilities as of Sunday morning. Nearly 3,000 of the children had been held longer than 72 hours — the legal limit — and some were being held in “jail-like stations unfit to house minors.” According to the network, the number of unaccompanied children in government custody had shot up 31% since last week, as border crossings surge to record heights.

The Biden administration is taking steps to mitigate the crisis, such as deploying FEMA to help care for the children and opening a new emergency intake center to house some of them. But the facilities, many of which had unhealthy conditions even before the pandemic, remain plagued by overcrowding.

Although his press secretary is routinely asked about the crisis — which a top official acknowledged could be linked to the administration’s policies — Biden has yet to address the situation in any significant way. In fact, one of his few comments on the matter came when a reporter asked him as he left an event if he believed the situation was even a crisis at all. “No, we will be able to handle it,” the president replied. “God willing.”

3. The filibuster. With the coronavirus relief package in the rearview mirror, Democrats are now grappling with which issues their narrow congressional majorities should take up next. One major dilemma hangs over these deliberations, as the party seeks to decide whether or not to seek bipartisan support for the next bills on its agenda or to push them through along party lines by blowing up the legislative filibuster.

Anti-filibuster progressives are focused squarely on centrist Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are among the party’s most ardent backers of the procedural tool. But they are forgetting one other prominent Democrat who still supports the filibuster: President Biden. “The president’s preference is not to get rid of the filibuster,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing last week. “His preference is not to make different changes to the rules, to the filibuster rules.”

Biden served for more than three decades in the Senate and is well-known as an “institutionalist” who cherishes the body’s arcane rules. But even as Democrats on Capitol Hill begin to engage in a fierce debate over the future of the Senate, Biden has mostly camped himself on the sidelines. When he finally appears before journalist for the time as president, Biden will almost certainly have to give an update on his thinking surrounding the filibuster — an answer that could do much to influence the ongoing debate, either by providing Senate moderates cover to protect the tactic or by pressuring them to modify their stances.


All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Then, at 1:45 p.m., Biden will deliver remarks on the implementation of the “American Rescue Plan,” the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package he signed into law last week.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, as part of the “Help is Here” tour to promote the relief package. Harris will visit a vaccination clinic at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, followed by a visit to the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas. Emhoff will tour a food relief organization in Las Vegas and participate in a listening session there.  

Harris and Emhoff will then travel to Los Angeles, California, where they will spend the night.

First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Burlington, New Jersey, as part of the “Help is Here” tour. She will tour Samuel Smith Elementary School at 12 p.m. and deliver remarks afterward.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Tokyo, Japan, for the first foreign trip either has embarked on since taking office.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m.

U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m. on COVID-19 response. Participants will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Biden; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC Director; and Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response.

The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Deb Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior, voting at 5:30 p.m. on her confirmation.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a closed hearing on “the police and legal rationale of U.S. airstrikes” at 6 p.m. Officials from the State Department, Office of the Director for National Intelligence, Defense Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The House is not in session.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

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