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Carl P. Leubsdorf: Biden administration lowers the tone, uses disciplined messaging
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Carl P. Leubsdorf: Biden administration lowers the tone, uses disciplined messaging

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President Joe Biden’s first 100 days have seen their highs (progress in the battle against COVID-19, capped by passage of the massive bill to fund the fight) and lows (an uncertain approach to the perennial problem of illegal immigration). And when Biden makes his first major speech on Wednesday to Congress and the nation, he’ll be able to celebrate a number of substantive successes while making an appeal for his even broader agenda for the next 100 days.

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Carl Leubsdorf

But even more important than the administration’s progress in tackling the country’s major issues has been the presidency’s return to normalcy in Biden’s first three months in office. From his conduct of daily business to his administration’s reduced decibel level in communicating with the American people, Biden has set a tone that is a welcome contrast with the persistent, often self-induced chaos of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Gone are the days when late night or early morning presidential tweets signified new policy directions and political dialogue was shaped by Trump’s latest attacks on his political enemies.

Instead, the hallmarks of the Biden presidency include:

Regular schedules. Most White House business is planned and takes place between Monday and Friday with weekends off. Daily presidential schedules generally end in mid- or late afternoon.

Bipartisan outreach. Biden has met periodically with lawmakers from both parties to discuss current and upcoming legislation. Whether he’ll incorporate their advice remains to be seen. Trump rarely spoke with anyone but Republican leaders and his strong supporters.

Daily briefings. Press secretary Jen Psaki briefs reporters every weekday at midday, often accompanied by officials who are announcing initiatives or updating the status of ongoing problems, like COVID-19 vaccinations or the immigration situation. Briefings have returned to the pre-Trump combination of both providing information on administration actions and defending them, rather than mainly the latter.

Congressional testimony. Cabinet officials are appearing regularly before congressional committees. Though Democrats control the congressional agenda, such sessions also allow GOP lawmakers to press their points.

Controlled news management. The Biden White House has ended the flood of leaks that marked the Trump White House. The president has mainly given prepared statements and brief responses to shouted questions at the start of meetings. Biden waited 64 days before his first formal news conference, the longest of any modern president, and has given few interviews. Lower-level officials such as Psaki are answering frequent questions, but have been effective at sticking to their prepared scripts.

Administration advocacy. Cabinet members are making regular appearances on network and cable television shows. Presidential tweets are mainly factual, rare and, as Politico recently put it, “unimaginably conventional.”

This conscious lowering of the presidential profile has prompted comments from administration critics questioning the extent to which Biden himself is running his own administration.

Biden’s conduct of the presidency has hardly been flawless. He is still trying to get a grasp on the immigration problem. His comments have included occasional misstatements and exaggerations like the claim his recovery plan would create 19 million new jobs or his likening of Georgia’s new voter restrictions to the racist “Jim Crow” era.

His reputation as a gaffe machine is probably one reason White House officials have limited his opportunities for off-the-cuff comments. But like Ronald Reagan, who often told some whoppers, Biden seems to have the kind of Teflon protective coating that Trump’s proclivity for making misleading statements never earned. Independent fact-checkers are finding fewer misstatements than with Trump, though that is a low bar.

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