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President JOE BIDEN on Tuesday will fulfill one press-engagement tradition when he sits down for a White House lunch with a select group of network television anchors hours before he delivers the State of the Union address that night.
But the administration appears to still be weighing whether to carry out another customary presidential interview: the sit-down with the network broadcasting the Super Bowl.
Last year, Biden spoke with NBC’s LESTER HOLT for an interview that ran during the network’s hours-long pregame show. And in 2021, he gave one of his first major sit-downs after taking office to NORAH O’DONNELL, whose network, CBS, broadcast the big game that year.
This year is trickier for one simple reason: Fox is carrying the Super Bowl.
Since taking office, Biden hasn’t done a formal interview with Fox News, as much as he seems to enjoy sparring with its White House correspondent, PETER DOOCY. And aides are weighing the opportunity costs of a sit-down with someone like BRET BAIER or NEIL CAVUTO — the upside of a massive audience against the possibility that the back-and-forth could be rough.
“It’s a close call. It’s a big audience to let go,” said DAVID AXELROD, a former senior adviser to President BARACK OBAMA, who sat for pregame interviews with former Fox host BILL O’REILLY in 2011 and again in 2014, both of which aired live from the White House. Biden’s aides, Axelrod said, “have to assess the interviewer and how they think the president will react to the interviewer. [Biden] can be good at these, or he can get pretty ornery, as he has with Doocy at times, which isn’t a good look.”
Obama’s first go-round with O’Reilly began with questions about the instability in Egypt and, overall, was only mildly contentious. The second, which occurred amid the GOP outcry over Benghazi, saw more intense sparring, as Obama twice suggested that the host and his network were irresponsibly misleading their audience.
In both instances, the administration’s calculation to grant the interview, Axlerod said, centered on aides’ confidence in Obama’s skill as a communicator and, to a lesser extent, his love of sports. “With all the divisions we have in our politics and our culture, one of the few things that doesn’t divide us is sports, so it was a great platform,” he said. “We had reasonable confidence that if it went in a difficult direction, our guy could manage. And also there was a certain degree of confidence that, because we’d agreed to the interview, it wouldn’t, that there’d be a baseline of decorum.”
Biden’s considerations this go around may be a bit different. For starters, at least one of the hosts who would have been a natural interviewer — CHRIS WALLACE — long ago left the network. Progressives, meanwhile, have grown more vocal in their desire to see Democratic lawmakers completely shun Fox, as a way to punish it for what they believe is overt disregard for actual news broadcasting.
Several Biden aides, including Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG, communications director KATE BEDINGFIELD and economic adviser JARED BERNSTEIN, have appeared regularly on Fox News during the course of his presidency. And Biden himself at times has privately conveyed frustration over not having more supporters and aides appearing on television generally to speak on his behalf.
Still, the president did only seven network sit-downs himself last year. Even though Sunday’s audience could be significant – the last time Fox hosted the Super Bowl, in 2019, more than 21 million people tuned into the pregame show – circumstances may be such that the White House is disinclined to say yes to the usual gameday interview.
The game will come just days after Biden’s State of the Union, an opportunity for the president to address a massive audience on his own terms. Tough questions on subjects that animate Fox’s conservative audience — the persistent immigration issues at the southern border and the administration’s decision last week not to immediately shoot down a Chinese spy balloon discovered over the continental U.S. — could push Biden away from the economic themes he’s centering his speech around. And any missteps could curtail any positive polling bump from the speech or Biden’s travel Wednesday and Thursday to Madison, Wisc., and Tampa, Fla., respectively.
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This one is from Allie. Who was the first president to say the words, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” ahead of a Saturday Night Live episode?
(Answer at the bottom.)
NO SPOILERS, BIDEN!: The president just went and tweeted out the first part of his State of the Union speech today, posting a picture of the text in a black binder alongside a mug (coffee or tea, Joe???) and two chocolate chip cookies (one of which appears to have been bitten). And so now we know how the big speech will begin, with Biden welcoming the House speaker, vice president, first lady and second gentleman, members of Congress and his Cabinet, leaders of the military, and justices of the Supreme Court.
Is nothing sacred anymore?
Biden also took to Instagram to post more photos — a few of which included him and his advisers (in matching Patagonia outerwear) at Camp David over the weekend, preparing for the speech. Here’s a peek:
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER HARRIS STORY: Though this one from the New York Times hits a bit harder. It once again traces the frustrations Democrats have had with her tenure and the rockiness of her term, too. But it also contains a doozy of a quote from JOHN MORGAN, a Biden-allied donor. “I can’t think of one thing she’s done except stay out of the way and stand beside him at certain ceremonies,” he said. [Loosens shirt collar in discomfort.]
Harris’ office immediately responded by pointing out things she’s checked off her agenda. KIRSTEN ALLEN, the vice president’s press secretary, addressed the “people willing to anonymously or publicly tear down the vice president” in a lengthy Twitter thread, linking to more than a dozen articles covering Harris’ work on issues such as climate change and abortion access.
‘VOMIT COMETS’ GROUNDED?: Oh, no big deal, just some news that the Pentagon has grounded “a subset” of V-22 Osprey tiltrotor helicopters — ya know, the ones used to transport White House staff and traveling press alongside the president when he’s aboard Marine One — over safety concerns. According to JUSTIN KATZ with Breaking Defense, officials wouldn’t say how many Ospreys have been grounded, or whether they’re those being used by the Air Force during presidential movements. The same issue with the clutch that led to the current grounding has come up before. The fleet was grounded after fatal crashes last year in Norway and California but that order was lifted after less than a month.
OFF RAMP, CLOSED: The White House appears to be ruling out a proposal by House Republican committee and caucus chairs to set up a committee examining entitlements as part of a debt limit deal, Bloomberg’s JACK FITZPATRICK reports. White House spokesperson ANDREW BATES, in a statement to Bloomberg, said the “American people want more jobs and lower costs, not a death panel for Medicare and Social Security.”
DOUG HITS BOURBON STREET: The second gentleman is heading to New Orleans this Friday for a “political event.” It’s not clear what that event is or if it will involve beads or, ideally, a swing by Pêche.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: This piece by Bloomberg’s CARLY WANNA highlighting the increase in clean energy jobs. “Between last August, when Biden’s landmark climate bill became law, and the end of January, companies have announced more than 100,000 clean energy jobs in the U.S., according to an analysis released Monday by the nonprofit advocacy group Climate Power.” Outgoing White House chief of staff RON KLAIN tweeted out the story Monday.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: This story by AP’s JOSH BOAK and HANNAH FINGERHUT about a new poll that shows Democrats aren’t exactly thrilled about a Biden reelection campaign: “Research that shows just 37 percent of Democrats say they want him to seek a second term, down from 52 percent in the weeks before last year’s midterm elections. While Biden has trumpeted his legislative victories and ability to govern, the poll suggests relatively few U.S. adults give him high marks on either.”
IN THE CLEAR… FOR NOW: Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN said on Good Morning America that the economy is “strong and resilient,” ahead of the president’s State of the Union address. “You don’t have a recession when you have 500,000 jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years,” Yellen said Monday. GMA’s MAX ZAHN has more details.
PERSONNEL MOVES: YVANNA D. CANCELA is now special assistant to the president and senior adviser in the office of intergovernmental affairs at the White House. She most recently was the chief of staff for former Nevada Gov. STEVE SISOLAK and is an HHS alum.
KEEPING UP WITH KESSLER: Our ADAM CANCRYN sat down with DAVID KESSLER, the former chief science officer for the White House’s Covid response, to talk all things pandemic — vaccine distribution, the polarization of public health and how he sees the state of the pandemic now.
Kessler said that part of his work was “making sure if you wanted a vaccine, if you wanted an antiviral, it was there, it worked, you didn’t have to live in fear that you were going to die from this disease. I did very few public appearances; others did that. But very early on I said to someone I’m close with that I really wished I could go on Tucker Carlson and have that conversation.” We’ll let you read the full Q-and-A here.
A HELPING HAND: The Biden administration moved swiftly to provide aid to Turkey and Syria after a powerful earthquake hit the area, leaving more than 2,800 dead and thousands injured, our KELLY GARRITY reports.
The president said in a statement that the administration is “working closely with our NATO Ally Turkiye, and I authorized an immediate U.S. response. … Our teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake. U.S.-supported humanitarian partners are also responding to the destruction in Syria.”
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE: Former HUD Secretary JULIAN CASTRO rang some alarm bells this morning over an ABC/Washington Post poll showing DONALD TRUMP beating Biden, 48 to 45 percent, in a hypothetical matchup.
“It’s the general consensus that Dems are content with Biden in a Trump rematch. But this poll undermines Biden’s central argument for re-nomination,” Castro tweeted. “Two years is forever and it’s just one poll, but if he’s faring this poorly after a string of wins, that should be worrisome.”
These two have a wee bit of history, with Castro leveling some of the sharpest Biden criticism (including about his age) when he ran against him in the 2020 Democratic primary. (Later in the day, there was some pushback on that poll from a Biden campaign youth polling guru.)
Biden to push for universal insulin price cap in State of the Union (Our own Adam Cancryn)
If Trump and Biden are the nominees in 2024, look out for a third-party candidate (Vanity Fair’s Mark Mckinnon)
Veteran Affairs Secretary DENIS MCDONOUGH is known for his rather interesting sayings. Though he keeps an especially low profile, he was full of them when he served as Obama’s chief of staff.
Back in 2015, journalist ALI WATKINS overheard him in the Capital responding to the question of how he was doing. “Like a baby treats a diaper, man,” he said
Is that a good or a bad thing? We’ll take it as a bad thing.
GERALD FORD, in a pre-recorded video, introduced the sketch comedy show on April 17, 1976, when his press secretary RON NESSEN guest hosted, an effort to promote his presidential campaign, which he would go on to lose to JIMMY CARTER later that year.
“Nessen’s SNL sketch had unintended though lasting legacies for the office of the presidency,” according to TIME. “It further transformed entertainment forums into political battlefields and contributed to the growing perception that being entertaining was necessary to succeed politically. This belief has since become a reality of modern politics, a conviction further reinforced by the growing place of entertainers, consultants and ‘spin doctors’ in campaigns.”
A CALL OUT — Do you think you have a harder trivia question? Send us your best one about the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.