Timing Is Everything, Biden Says, and ‘Politics Is the Art of the Possible’

During the news conference, a limited number of journalists were allowed in the room. Those who attended wore masks and sat six feet apart to comply with social-distancing rules. Mr. Biden called on reporters by their first names, from a list drawn up beforehand by his staff.

In that sense, it was another return to normalcy, after four years of Mr. Trump’s free-for-all, fact-challenged news conferences. At one, Mr. Trump mocked a reporter for wearing what he called “the largest mask I think I’ve ever seen” and at another claimed that injecting disinfectants into the human body could help combat the coronavirus. Reporters shouted to be heard, and Mr. Trump appeared to relish the chaos.

Mr. Biden’s performance, in contrast, was relatively sedate.

“It’s a really big relief after four years, when every presidential news conference was a cataclysmic event,” said Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist. She said Mr. Biden had stayed on message and “has woven in empathy into everything he does.”

“Biden did what he needed to do,” said David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Mr. Obama. “He drove the progress on the virus at the top, parried difficult questions on the border and filibuster, and generally refrained from making unwelcome news.”

It is unclear where Mr. Biden will fall in terms of regularly addressing the news media in a formal setting. Mr. Trump gave 44 formal news conferences during his presidency, though he regularly had lengthy question-and-answer sessions with reporters during Oval Office events or before crossing the White House lawn to board Marine One. Mr. Obama held 65 news conferences, according to data compiled by The American Presidency Project, which tracks such solo appearances.

Mr. Biden also left a series of open questions about some of the most politically contentious problems facing his administration. He would not say how soon he planned to allow reporters to see the conditions at migrant detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border. He did not commit to a timeline for pulling American troops out of Afghanistan. And he declined multiple times to say whether he would try to change how the Senate functions.

In those moments, Mr. Biden, a politician who has only recently embraced the art of restraint, seemed aware of the perils of making promises to a room full of reporters.

“I’m not going to lay out a strategy in front of the whole world,” he said, “and you, now.”

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