White House staff have made a habit of clarifying or outright rolling back President Joe Biden’s statements, leaving many critics questioning who is really in charge of the administration.
Few events have illustrated the White House’s propensity to edit the president’s comments than Biden’s performance at CNN’s town hall on Thursday. There, the president vowed that the U.S. had a “commitment” to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression, and said he was considering a mobilization of the National Guard to alleviate supply chain chaos across the country. White House press secretary Jen Psaki nullified those statements the following day. (RELATED: US Military Says Chinese Attack On Taiwan Accelerating As Taiwan Threatens War ‘To The Very Last Day’)
“There has been no shift,” Psaki said Friday of U.S. relations with Taiwan. “The president was not announcing a change in our policy, nor has he made a decision to change our policy. There is no change in our policy. Our defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act.”
Psaki brushed away Biden’s comments on the National Guard in a similar fashion.
“Any President has the ability to use the National Guard from the federal level,” she said in a response to questions. “Requesting the use of the National Guard at the state level, which is often how it’s done, is under the purview of governors. And we’re not actively asking them to do that, and we’re not actively pursuing the use of the National Guard on a federal level.”
While the president’s critics were quick to highlight the White House’s apparent editing of the president’s comments, it not the first time the president’s public comments have received such treatment from his administration.
Biden received the same treatment from his military generals in late September, when Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, testified to Congress that he had, in fact, advised Biden to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. The testimony contradicted Biden’s public comments on his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, when he claimed his military advisers made no such recommendation.
Biden has been at odds with his staff when comes to the administration’s response to COVID-19 as well. Biden contradicted Psaki on school reopening policy during another CNN town hall in February, during which he stated that Psaki’s assertion that schools would be considered “open” if they had in-person learning one day per week was a “mistake in communication.”
The White House has kept Biden’s unscripted interactions with the media to a minimum since he gained office. The press has been allowed to interview Biden in an extended one-on-one setting 10 times since Inauguration Day, compared to President Donald Trump Trump’s 57 times and President Barack Obama’s 131 times at the same point in their administrations.
It has been nearly 100 days since Biden held a formal press conference, a fact the Republican Party has pointed out on Twitter. He also has yet to sit down with a reporter from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, or Reuters.
White House staff members have admitted they worry any time Biden appears before the press on camera, fearing he will make another gaffe or abandon his prepared remarks and go off on tangents–tangents that might require a clarification or outright rollback from Psaki the following day.
“I know people who habitually don’t watch it live for that reason,” one White House official told Politico in September.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated a similar sentiment earlier this year.
“A lot of times we say, ‘Don’t take questions,’” Psaki told Democratic strategist David Axelrod on his podcast in May. “But he’s going to do what he wants to do because he’s the president of the United States.”