White House staffers mute or turn off the TV when Biden is speaking to reporters out of fear that he’ll gaffe or veer off message, report says

President Joe Biden talks with reporters after landing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, after returning from a trip to New York and New Jersey to survey damage from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
President Joe Biden talks with reporters after landing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, after returning from a trip to New York and New Jersey to survey damage from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Susan Walsh/AP
  • Some White House staffers mute or turn off their TVs when Biden talks to reporters, according to Politico.
  • Staffers do so out of fear that Biden will veer off course or commit a verbal gaffe.
  • “I know people who habitually don’t watch it live for that reason,” one White House official said.
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White House staffers have taken to muting the television or turning it off altogether when President Joe Biden speaks to reporters out of nervousness that their boss will commit a gaffe or veer off message, Politico reports.

“I know people who habitually don’t watch it live for that reason,” one White House official told Politico’s West Wing Playbook newsletter.

Biden, a self-proclaimed “gaffe machine,” has tripped over his words and put his foot in his mouth many a time over his lengthy political career, including as Barack Obama’s running mate and the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.

Biden’s stumbles have ranged from describing Obama as “articulate” and “bright and clean” in 2007, when he got ahead of the then-president by coming out in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage before him. And in his 2020 campaign, he frequently mixed up places within the US and even said, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids” and “We choose facts over truth.”

This year, Biden misspoke in saying he’d come to the Senate 120 years ago. More recently, he claimed that 90% of Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan had gotten out, with the White House later clarifying that the figure was 98%.

But Biden’s verbal stumbles, especially those related to Afghanistan, are coming under particular scrutiny as his administration faces multiple converging foreign and domestic crises, contending with the first-year summer slump that’s befallen many administrations before.

Biden had his roughest month yet in August between the US’s chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan, surging COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant, natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, and a disappointing August jobs report.

Some White House staffers are urging Biden to take fewer questions after speeches and public appearances altogether, Politico reported.

Indeed, Biden said, “I’m not supposed to take any questions, but go ahead,” after an August 29 public appearance at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, where he spoke about hurricanes.

But, at the end of the day, taking questions from the press is a crucial component of the presidency.

“As the President has shown over and over since he announced his candidacy more than two years ago, he’s the most effective communicator for his vision and his agenda,” rapid response director Michael Gwin told Politico’s West Wing Playbook. “The President deeply values the role of the press – that’s why he regularly takes time to answer their questions in interviews, press conferences, and the dozens of media availabilities he’s done since taking office.”