President Biden, the most interview-averse president since cable news launched in the early ’80s, taped an appearance Tuesday with CNN host Jake Tapper for his new primetime show.
Biden’s sit-down, set to air Tuesday on Tapper’s first show in the 9 p.m. slot, will be his 43rd interview since moving to the White House and could be the toughest to date.
Biden has given far fewer interviews than his six most recent predecessors, including fewer than half as many as Ronald Reagan — who was shot two months into his term of office.
Biden’s paltry tally compares to Reagan’s 92, George H.W. Bush’s 90, Bill Clinton’s 86, George W. Bush’s 80, Barack Obama’s 231 and Donald Trump’s 143 as of Sept. 30 of their second year in office, according to records kept by Martha Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project.
Reagan vastly outpaced Biden despite the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt that also broke the former movie star’s rib and caused internal bleeding. Reagan gave his first post-shooting interview less than a month later.
Some of Biden’s interviews were off the record, others were with non-journalists and a couple were fleeting moments when he passed a reporter in the West Wing.
Biden says he plans to seek re-election in 2024 despite turning 80 next month and can expect to face questions from Tapper on a range of topics in the run-up to the Nov. 8 midterm elections for Congress. Four-decade-high inflation and rising gas prices are dragging on Democrats, but the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade in June added an unpredictable issue to the race.
Biden could also face questions on a variety of other issues of political concern that are rarely addressed in interviews — such as questions about his role in Biden family influence-peddling overseas, as the US attorney in Delaware weighs charges against his son Hunter, and about his mental fitness for office after he recently searched for a dead lawmaker at an event eight weeks after publicly mourning her.
Republicans are expected to investigate Biden family businesses and the president’s mental fitness if they retake one or both chambers of Congress.
Biden’s most recent interview, with Scott Pelley of CBS’ “60 Minutes” last month featured the president’s insistence that he had no conflicts of interest with Hunter’s foreign consulting businesses — without Pelley pointing out that records indicate the first son still co-owns an investment fund called BHR Partners with the Chinese government or the fact that billionaire Yelena Baturina, one of the few Russian oligarchs not to face US sanctions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, allegedly gave $3.5 million in 2014 to a Hunter Biden-linked company.
Joe Biden regularly met with his son’s business associates, including BHR CEO Jonathan Li and possibly Baturina, while he was vice president and even allowed his son to hitch rides aboard Air Force Two as he sought out business in China and Mexico. Two former Hunter Biden associates have identified the president as the “big guy” due a 10% cut from a proposed 2017 business deal with Chinese energy company CEFC.
Biden has spent roughly one-fourth of his days as president at one of his two Delaware residences, where his activities are largely unknown to the public. The Secret Service says it doesn’t keep logs of the president’s visitors in Delaware.
The president increasingly has bristled at reporters asking questions.
“They’re among the only press in the world that does this. Seriously. Seriously,” Biden said in a disbelieving tone last week as the small rotating White House press pool attempted to ask him questions at an event. Last month, Biden told Philippines President Bongbong Marcos during a meeting in New York that “I wouldn’t bother answering” as reporters shouted inquiries.
But it’s often unclear whether it’s Biden or his staff who are responsible for his sparing interactions with journalists.
At this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll, director of message planning Meghan Hays — dressed as the Easter Bunny — interrupted Biden’s attempt to answer a reporter’s question about Afghanistan. And the White House press office has since last year mysteriously pre-screened journalists let within earshot of Biden at events in the East Room and the White House-adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building — when comparable events were open to all journalists in prior administrations.
At points, Biden has appeared eager to counter the notion that he’s unavailable to the press — and his aides point out that he’s exceeded Trump’s tally for informal question-and-answer sessions, with 326 as of Sept. 30 versus Trump’s 255, even though Biden’s exchanges are generally much shorter.
After sustained coverage of Biden’s relative lack of press conferences, the president in January gave a 1 hour, 52-minute press conference that was longer than any hosted by Trump or Obama, according to former CBS News reporter Mark Knoller. Biden continued to take questions long after his staff signaled it was time to go. But Biden hasn’t given a solo White House press conference since then.
Some of Biden’s relatively rare interviews, meanwhile, have not been with professional journalists, or take place in keeping with the common understanding of the word. For example, one interview featured Biden giving a two-word reply to CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins on March 18, saying as he passed her in the West Wing that his call that day with Chinese President Xi Jinping “went well.“
On March 1, Biden hosted a traditional off-the-record lunch with TV anchors ahead of his first State of the Union address to Congress — but allowed attendees to report only his remarks on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Biden also has leaned into giving interviews to less conventional questioners. On Feb. 25, he taped a roughly 13-minute podcast with Democratic activist Brian Cohen and a nearly 30-minute conversation with left-leaning Boston College professor Heather Richardson. Cohen acknowledged afterward that “I’m not a journalist … I have my agenda and I think this White House is doing a good job trying to enact some of it. Our goals are aligned.”