NEW YORK – Joe Biden's first presidential news conference was notable for what was missing after predecessor Donald Trump: no contentious exchanges with reporters, no Fox News and no questions about COVID-19.
The last omission was probably the least expected, considering the pandemic has killed more than half a million Americans and kept much of the country home for the past year.
Many in the news media had been impatient since Biden had not submitted to a formal question-and-answer session with reporters until his 65th day in the office. When he finally did Thursday, it was carried live on the major broadcast and cable news networks.
Before taking a question, Biden announced he was setting a new goal of having 200 million vaccine doses for the coronavirus administered during his first 100 days in office.
And that was it. None of the 10 reporters who questioned him, some on multiple topics, brought the topic up. Noting that in a tweet, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times said the questions “suggest that coronavirus is no longer Topic A.”
“Pretty sure it is for the American people and the Biden White House,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain tweeted in response.
Four questioners brought up immigration and the Mexican border, while three asked about the filibuster, the arcane Senate rule that will be key to getting legislation passed. Not quite three months into office, Biden was asked whether he would run for reelection and if Vice President Kamala Harris would be on his ticket.
Biden was occasionally direct, occasionally windy and occasionally cagey in response to questions. When a Bloomberg reporter asked specific questions about economic policy and China, Biden instead embarked on a lengthy verbal treatise on relations between the two countries.
A question about gun control devolved into a long discussion of the president's infrastructure plans.
Some reporters, noting the unlikelihood of being called on again as Biden consulted a list for reporters to take questions from, made queries on multiple topics.
While former President Trump's sessions with reporters sometimes included nasty exchanges, there was none of that with Biden. While he was sometimes pressed, like when NBC's Kristen Welker tried unsuccessfully to pin Biden down on media access at the Mexican border, there was nothing notably harsh.
Trump on Thursday accused the White House reporters of throwing “softballs” to Biden. “It’s very sad to watch, actually,” he told Fox News Channel's Laura Ingraham, adding, "Look, the whole thing is ridiculous.”
With only 10 reporters called upon, some were left out, including anyone from The New York Times. So were reporters from outlets popular with conservatives, and favorites of Trump when he took questions as president.
Newsmax's Emerald Robinson wasn't called upon, and no reporter from One American News Network was in the room. Fox News Channel's Peter Doocy, who had some memorable exchanges with Biden on the campaign trail, wasn't called upon.
That quickly became an issue at Fox, where the chyron “Biden Snubs Fox News during First News Conf” was put onscreen.
“I definitely would have told the president to call on Peter Doocy,” said Fox's Dana Perino, a White House press secretary in George W. Bush's administration. “Why make Peter Doocy a story? Just take his question and move on.”
Doocy, for his part, said later from the White House lawn that he had a binder full of questions ready to ask.
“Maybe next time,” he said.