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Biden must hold more press conferences

That’s particularly true if he chooses to run for reelection.

President Biden responded to a question from a reporter during a press conference in the State Dining Room of the White House a day after the midterm elections on Nov. 9.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden, who just turned 80, has a big decision to make in the next few months: whether to run for reelection in 2024, against prevailing public opinion but after two years that have seen impressive accomplishments and an expectations-beating performance for his party in the midterms.

Stories, speculation, and commentary about that impending decision will expend a googol of pixels. But whatever Biden decides, he owes Americans at least one improvement on his current performance: more press conferences.

Calvin Coolidge, the laconic Republican known as “Silent Cal,” averaged 74 press conferences annually during his 5 ½-year presidency. Those meetings with reporters weren’t press conferences as we understand them today, however. Not only were they off-the-record events, but the questions had to be submitted in writing and the information Coolidge supplied couldn’t be attributed to him, at least not without specific permission.

The fully on-the-record press conference took hold during President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration. Ike also held the first televised press conference, in 1955. “Beginning with President Kennedy’s daytime and early evening press conferences … people could tune in approximately twice a month and watch live press conferences,” political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar noted in a 2011 lecture.


By her count, George H.W. Bush held 56 solo press conferences — that is, an extended session where the president takes question from reporters, without the presence of, say, another world leader — during his first two years, compared to 29 for Bill Clinton, 7 for George W. Bush, 21 for Barack Obama, and 6 for Donald Trump.

Biden’s two-year total so far? Just 11. He held six full press conferences in 2021, the first year of his presidency. Well, that was during the pandemic, an apologist may say. But in 2022, a year in which the president himself has declared the pandemic over, he has so far held only five.


By way of more extended comparison, Eisenhower averaged 24 press conferences a year, while Kennedy held an average of 23, according to the University of California at Santa Barbara’s The American Presidency Project. For Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the pace was about one solo press conference every two months.

Now, preparing for a lengthy press conference is no doubt a pain in the presidential posterior. The president and his team must anticipate questions and formulate answers on a wide range of issues, including sensitive matters of international diplomacy. Such a back-and-forth also means addressing topics where the administration’s record is weak.

There are other reasons why this incumbent may be reluctant. By his own admission, Biden is a gaffe machine. As a former stutterer, he still occasionally glitches up verbally, creating awkward moments. He occasionally mangles words. And like most anyone over 60, he sometimes seems to have trouble with the quick recall of names.

There, Biden’s performance is somewhat reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s, with this exception: The media didn’t seize upon the Gipper’s every verbal miscue to try to portray him as deep in his dotage, as several of Fox News’s prime-time entertainers regularly do with Biden.

Still, whatever unpleasantries it may entail, taking extended queries from reporters should be a fundamental obligation of this, or any, president. As Coolidge put it, “I regard it as rather necessary to the carrying on of our republican institution that the people should have a fairly accurate report of what the president is trying to do, and it is for that purpose, of course, that those intimate conferences are held.”


Hearing from the president in a press-conference format lets citizens make a judgment not just about his policies but about his capabilities. That’s particularly important given that the leader of our democracy is in his 80s.

But Biden should also have a political motivation for doing so. Even allowing for the mistakes that have to be cleaned up subsequently, he is actually reasonably good at explaining and defending his policies. We saw that in his post-midterm press conference on Nov. 9, when he answered a wide array of queries with considerable facility and depth. Biden came away from the 53-minute exchange with the press looking like a president with a good grasp of the issues and a ready answer to the concerns of the day.

As he approaches the final two years of his first term, Biden should make a concrete commitment to hold one full press conference each month except for July and August, when the nation’s attention is elsewhere, and during the Thanksgiving to Christmas period, a time when Americans are similarly family focused.

The country would be better for it. And so would the octogenarian occupant of the Oval Office.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.