White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted on Thursday that she advises President Joe Biden not to take questions from reporters outside the formal setting of a White House press conference.
“A lot of times, we say, ‘Don’t take questions,’” Psaki told Democratic strategist David Axelrod in the latest episode of his “The Axe Files” podcast.
“But he’s going to do what he wants to do,” she added. “He’s the president of the United States.”
Biden, 78, has notably gone along with his handlers’ demands most of the time, only granting media access under heavily scripted and manipulable situations.
He often is seen asking permission or seeking guidance from lower-ranking officials on how to proceed, or else exclaiming that he is “gonna get in trouble” for candid moments in which he goes off script.
At other times, some have speculated that what appear to be like spontaneous moments from the president were later believed to have been green-screened.
In one notorious example, Biden appeared to be approaching a group of reporters whose microphones were visible in the foreground. Defying the laws of physics, as he began talking, Biden passed his hand in front of the reporters’ microphones.
The White House denied that Biden was standing before a green-screen, as many suspected.
Biden’s first press conference also appeared to be a highly scripted—but still disastrous—affair, with the president alternating between dull, recited statistics and bizarre nonsequitors that was borderline hostile to the obsequious media who had been pre-arranged to attend.
During her conversation with Axelrod—himself a former top Obama campaign official—Psaki recalled how nervous she was at one point when Biden took questions from the press pool multiple times.
“The first time I traveled with him, he took questions from the pool three times that day, and I thought, ‘Am I going to be fired when I get back?’” Psaki said. “So he does do that, and he likes doing that. I mean, the thing is, he likes the press corps and likes that back-and-forth and that engagement.”
At one point, Axelrod praised Psaki for doing “a good job of managing” the blunder-prone Biden.
“His strength is that he says what’s on his mind, and his weakness is he says what’s on his mind, and sometimes that’s not helpful,” Axelrod explained.
Psaki agreed and said taking impromptu questions from reporters is “not something we recommend.”
Instead, she will prepare him for topics the administration thinks the public will care about.
“The public cares about the pandemic, the economy—you know, we’re often asked, ‘Why doesn’t he go to the border?’ Important issue, we’re focused on it,” she said.
“What percentage of the public is focused on the border? A much smaller percentage than is focused on the pandemic and the economy. So, that may be maddening, but that’s what we try to do.”
Contrary to Psaki’s claim, recent Gallup polling indicates that 8% see immigration as the country’s top problem.
That is the same number who regard the economy in general as the top problem. A quarter of respondents see the coronavirus as the top problem, and 20% see it as poor leadership.
The top concern over immigration jumped by 5% between February and March, after having fallen to 1% during the Trump administration.
During her interview with Axelrod, Psaki also announced she plans to leave her position sometime next year.
“I think it’s going to be time for somebody else to have this job in a year from now, or about a year from now,” she said. “I have little kids and I don’t want to miss time with them.”
Headline USA’s Ben Sellers contributed to this report.