Biden’s softball presser falls far short for all involved

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump made you feel something when he spoke. His battles with reporters who covered him remain some of the most combative sparring that Americans have ever witnessed, heard and read. 

Contrast that with what you probably didn’t bother to watch Thursday afternoon, when President Joe Biden free-wheeled it with the media for the first time in his tenure – 64 days after it began. 

Spoiler alert: The longest gap between a presidency and his first open-dialog news conference wasn’t worth the wait.

Biden was Biden. Plenty of pregnant pauses. He tailed off from his own thoughts several times. C’mon, man. He did manage to announce an ambitious new goal for COVID-19 vaccines, saying his administration was prepared to distribute more than 200 million doses before his 100th day in office.

And the media was the media. Embarrassingly polite, they participated in the conversation with the president as if it were a Socratic seminar with the longest tenured professor on campus. Their questions (and we will get them in a moment) were asked as if it were a cordial visit with a “moral, decent man” on the lenai rather than a news conference with the leader of the free world.

The media present (rather, the reporters whom Biden called upon with the help of headshots) never asked a single question about the 200 million doses of vaccine. Literally, it went unquestioned. Its context never was explored. The consequences, presumably positive, was not explained in terms of what it could mean to reopening the country.

Every question the president fielded was either about immigration or teed up the idea that the filibuster was a tool of racism. Three-ring binder at the ready, the questions all had answers. Not great answers, mind you. Oddly, in answering the question of the vibrancy of the filibuster, Biden said it was something that he encountered when he came to the senate “120 years ago.”

When asked questions, he consulted his pocket-sized cue cards that may or may not have been organized within Dewey Decimal System standards. Can you imagine Trump, Barack Obama – or even George W. Bush, for that matter – pausing to look down at a crib sheet to prompt anything they might say to the press?

Never mind that Biden has been in and around the federal government for more than 50 years (not quite 120) and spent all of that time in Washington, D.C., on Thursday he called on reporters in order, as a substitute teacher might take roll.

The president’s performance earlier this week did not inspire confidence in his grasp of the issues or the policies that might address the issues.

If there wasn’t contempt for the hush of the alleged keepers of the free press that hadn’t called for Biden to come forward sooner and address the American people through an open Q&A, there must be now.

Or perhaps the mistrust for the national press corps has weakened so much that there won’t be. Maybe the center of the country has simply written off the possibility that this administration might stand for something – anything – beneficial to all Americans.

Look, one would have to be a blithering idiot to not see the difference in the comportment of the national press corps in free-form conversations with Trump versus their first conversation with Biden.

Not a single member of the media asked a question about COVID-19. That would lead a rational person watching this to think that COVID-19 is off-limits subject matter, or that we have simply moved on to other things. 

It is not possible that immigration somehow is a more important issue than the health and well-being of the American people. It’s beyond understanding that the handful of newsrooms that drive the public discussion could think that immigration is more important than the pace at which we vaccinate Americans and restore the still-shuttered parts and pieces of the American economy. 

This simply was an awfully long time to wait for nothing relevant from a president or the media that supposedly is in place to question policies that would impact the nation.

Americans deserved better than a dog and pony show that didn’t bother to whistle for the dog nor saddle the pony.

* * * *

Elsewhere in America… 


The Georgia General Assembly passed an omnibus voting reform bill Thursday that Gov. Brian Kemp promptly signed into law. Republicans filed a spate of election reform bills this legislative session in response to November’s election. Georgia’s election process drew criticism from former President Donald Trump and his supporters after the Republican president lost the historically Republican state to Joe Biden. The 95-page bill encompassed several of the other bills that cleared either the House or Senate. The measure led to lengthy debate Thursday in both chambers of the Georgia Legislature as dozens of protestors gathered outside. It passed the House, 100-75, before the Senate approved the changes, 34-20. Kemp signed it into law Thursday evening.

Also in Georgia, lawmakers are closing in on passing a state budget for fiscal year 2022, which starts July 1. The $27.2 billion budget passed last week by the Georgia Senate increases spending by 5% over this fiscal year’s initial budget and differs from the budget passed by the House. The Senate and House plans allocate $9.6 billion in state funding for K-12 schools, restoring a 60% cut in the state funding in K-12 education. Both chambers must agree on a budget before it can be sent to Kemp.


The Equity in Opportunity Act is working its way through the North Carolina House after earning approval from the House Committee on Education – K-12 last week. The bill would increase funding for school-choice vouchers and allow more students to apply for scholarships. “What this does is rationally peg the state’s per pupil expenditure to these opportunities scholarships that allow these low-wealth and challenged students to participate in what was otherwise only attainable for other wealthy citizens in North Carolina,” Republican state Rep. Dean Arp said.


Legislation has been introduced in the South Carolina Legislature to eliminate Prohibition Era regulations that are holding back the state’s brewery and distillery industry. The legislation would increase the tasting limit from 3 ounces to 4.5 ounces, remove the requirement that tastings be accompanied by tours and allow distilleries to serve food and other kinds of alcohol, among other reforms. “These laws are antiquated,” Burnt Church Distillery co-owner Billy Watterson said. “They’re part of an old system. It’s just time to modernize and stop holding back the economy.”


Legislative Republicans on Tuesday took the first step toward an official investigation into claims of voter fraud or voter malfeasance in the 2020 election. Republican lawmakers have been demanding answers since news broke about questions over what outside political activists in Green Bay did for the city’s election office. One day after Republican lawmakers in Madison said they expected everyone invited to their hearings into last year’s elections would willingly answer questions, the head of that panel said they have their first refusal. Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich has refused to tell lawmakers what happened in his city’s election office leading up to the April and November elections.


Michigan poll released last week concluded Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s job approval rating dropped five percentage points since September. At that time, 58% approved of the governor’s performance. Forty-seven percent of surveyed respondents believe Michigan is on the wrong track, compared with 44% who believe Michigan is headed in the right direction. Likely reasons contributing to the poll results are the governor’s handling of the resignation of former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Robert Gordon in January, and the revelation he signed a confidentiality agreement with the governor’s administration while receiving a taxpayer-funded buyout of $155,506. Only 11% of those polled said they agreed with the governor, while 72.4% said they disagreed with the deal. The governor’s approval rating also was impacted negatively by her decision to place COVID-19 positive patients in the state’s long-term residential facilities. The governor has not released complete data on nursing home fatalities from COVID-19, but more than 5,500 deaths attributed to COVID-19 occurred in nursing homes. Of those polled, 61.3% disapproved of Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 patients in nursing homes, and only 21.8% approved.


A 92-year-old is fighting in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for $25,000 of lost equity in her former Minneapolis condo after Hennepin County seized and sold it to settle a $15,000 tax debt and kept the difference. Geraldine Tyler moved out of her Minneapolis condo in 2010 because of rising crime but couldn’t pay her condo’s property taxes and rent on her new apartment. Her initial $2,300 debt ballooned to $15,000, counting penalties, interest and fees. Hennepin County sold Tyler’s condo in 2015 for $40,000 to settle the tax debt but pocketed Tyler’s $25,000 in equity.


A fourth front in the ever-widening series of scandals engulfing the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged this week as reports indicated his family members received exceptional access to COVID-19 testing in the early days of the pandemic last year, a time when tests still were in short supply. The allegation, reported by the Albany Times Union, compounds Cuomo’s political and legal jeopardy in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, accusations of an attempt to cover up the true scale of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, and questions about the construction and safety of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.


After an error in the Pennsylvania Department of State led to the resignation of former Secretary Kathy Boockvar, lawmakers’ efforts to rescue a constitutional amendment ballot question so it could appear before voters in May have fallen short. The amendment aims to open a legal window for survivors of sexual abuse tied to the Catholic Church to file lawsuits that currently aren’t permitted by the statute of limitations. The Department of State failed to properly notify voters that the amendment had passed during the 2019-20 legislative session, an oversight that resets the clock on Pennsylvania’s laborious process for altering the state constitution. Some legislators believed the amendment could be salvaged via emergency provisions, but Senate Republican leaders ultimately decided against such a move, saying it could open the door to legal jeopardy for the entire effort.


A national education think tank believes a bill in the Ohio Legislature that would change how school evaluations are presented to parents and communities would make those school report cards useless and move education back centuries. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute said Ohio House Bill 200 goes in the wrong direction, allows schools to hide performance with confusing ratings and eliminates key measures. The legislation removes the current A through F letter-grade system that schools receive, replacing it with school designations such as “significantly exceeds expectations,” “exceeds expectations.” “meets expectations,” “significantly approaching expectations,” “moderately approaching expectations,” or “in need of support.”


The Indiana Senate heard two election bills last week that would make several changes to how elections are conducted in the state. Both bills have passed the House and are expected to pass the Senate and be sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature. One of the bills, House Bill 1365, would prohibit voting machines in the state from being connected to the Internet – a hot topic after cybersecurity experts testified at hearings in several states that voting machines were connected to the internet on Election Day in November even though election officials believed they were not.


In a ceremony Wednesday afternoon, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in the commonwealth. With the signing of Senate Bill 1165 and House Bill 2263, the death penalty has been fully removed from the Virginia code for every possible crime. Republican leadership staunchly opposed a full repeal of the death penalty, arguing it provides closure for victims and that convictions for such crimes are certain with access to modern technology. Some Republican lawmakers offered unsuccessful amendments to the bill that would have reduced the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty, while not repealing it entirely.


A new bill in the Tennessee Legislature takes aim at local governments considering raising property taxes. The bill, a result of last year’s 34% property tax increase in Nashville and unsuccessful attempt to repeal it, directs Tennessee’s Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to conduct a study on the use of a voter referendum to approve significant tax increases. The measure has the support of Americans for Prosperity of Tennessee. “When a city or county has a reckless spending and debt problem, like Nashville, they will be required to give detailed notice to citizens in advance of a tax increase,” AFP State Director Tori Venable said.


Supporters of a bill that would give Kentucky families more choices for their children’s education lashed out at Gov. Andy Beshear after he vetoed a school choice bill. House Bill 563 would create “education opportunity accounts” for families, with that money being raised by private organizations. Qualifying families would then be able to use the money for a slew of educational reasons, including purchasing uniforms and supplies, securing tutoring and paying for tuition in nondistrict public schools. The bill also would have allowed families to use those funds for private schools in counties with a population greater than 90,000. 


Gov. Jim Justice sat down with members of the business community to discuss his plan to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate the income tax in West Virginia. The members invited to the panel applauded the plan as a way to grow businesses and increase the population of the state. West Virginia is the only state to have seen a population reduction in the past 70 years. Steve Farmer, who owns two businesses, encouraged state lawmakers to support the plan, which he said could be game changing. He said the plan would benefit both of his businesses, which combine to employ about 100 people. This plan, Farmer told the panel, should bring all of the state’s business interests together.


Illinois has 852 school districts, twice as many as the national average. A bill moving through the statehouse would change that. The Classrooms First Act aims to free up school district administrative dollars and target the money to schools. The bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Rita Mayfield, said the spending habits of the state’s school boards are out of control. “It is just really ridiculous when you look at that tax bill and you just see all of this money that is going out the door,” Mayfield said. “They are greedy and they are constantly asking for more.”


House Speaker Clay Schexnayder filed legislation last week to streamline the state’s sales tax collection process. Louisiana is one of only three states without a single state sales tax collector, which business advocates say leads to difficulty in navigating the system. Schexnayder’s bill proposes an eight-member board evenly divided between state and local government that would oversee state and local sales tax collections. Louisiana is one of only three states without a single state sales tax collector.


Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to President Joe Biden last week demanding answers to the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Since January, more than 11,000 unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors have been apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas. “We have a duty to investigate these border crossings so we can protect the victims of human trafficking that have already crossed our borders, crack down on the perpetrators of this heinous crime, and ensure federal policies do not allow – or even incentivize – such behavior,” Abbott wrote to Biden.


California already has effectively banned the sale of gasoline-powered cars in the state beginning in 2035 by requiring all new cars and trucks being sold to be zero-emission by then. The state’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats, want President Joe Biden to follow California’s lead. In a letter to the president, Sens. Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla urged him to “set a date by which all new cars and passenger trucks sold be zero-emission vehicles.” Critics point out that electric vehicles are much more expensive than gas-powered cars and such efforts will hurt lower-income families the most.


Colorado Democrats’ latest proposal to offer a public health option could come at a loss of up to $1 billion in payments to health care providers, resulting in between 3,900 to 4,900 health care jobs lost, according to a report from the Common Sense Institute, a free enterprise think tank. “While the newest version of the public option proposal has some updates, it does not avoid the economic impacts and unintended consequences of earlier proposals,” the report concluded.


A massive revision and expansion of Florida’s school-choice programs has been idling in the Senate since it secured its third chamber committee endorsement March 4. Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz, would merge five voucher plans that pay for nearly 190,000 K-12 students to attend private schools into two state trust funds while creating education savings accounts (ESAs) averaging $7,400 per student for participating families. SB 48 advanced in relatively narrow partisan votes and was introduced for a first reading on the Senate floor March 10 but has not appeared on the docket since as supporters awaited a House proposal to emerge.


The Missouri Senate approved a controversial public safety bill last month that would impose felony criminal penalties on demonstrators who block traffic and deface monuments. But since Senate Bill 26, filed by Republican state Sen. Bill Eigel, was moved to the House, the measure has idled for nearly a month. On Monday, after a coalition of lawmakers, civil rights groups and religious leaders demonstrated in Jefferson City against SB 26, the House Crime Prevention Committee opted not to vote on it, citing too many unresolved issues with the proposal.


Oregon’s beer and wine costs could soar by as much as 2,800% and 1,700%, respectively, under proposed tax hikes that industry representatives said could not have come at a worse time. House Bill 3296 would raise the beer tax from $2.60 to $72.60 and the wine tax from 65 cents to $10 per gallon. “Closures due to COVID-19, coupled with the unprecedented wildfires this fall, have had a devastating impact on Oregon’s breweries, wineries, cideries, distilleries, restaurants, bars, and hospitality sector,” the Oregon Brewers Guild said. “The last thing these local businesses need are the unprecedented tax increases proposed in the House Bill 3296.”


Washington is the latest state to ease capacity limits for businesses, opening all of its 39 counties last week as vaccination rates increase and fears over another case surge linger. Now businesses such as bars and gyms can allow double capacity, from 25% to 50%, or 400 people maximum. Sports stadiums with established outdoor seating may welcome up to 9,000 spectators, a prospect the Seattle Mariners and Sounders FC are already selling tickets for in April.


Biden called on Congress to pass gun control measures just one day after 10 people were killed in a mass shooting that took place at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. He signaled his support for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as a pair of a pair of bills he said would close loopholes in background checks.

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