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Biden takes on a rare challenge: a solo news conference

By Betsy Klein, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden will hold a closely watched news conference on Thursday, marking another high-stakes moment for the president to show off his skill in answering questions in an unscripted setting.

The appearance will come at the conclusion of a critical NATO summit where foreign diplomats will have a front row seat to observe his ability to lead on the global stage.

Biden has held a historically low number of news conferences compared to his most recent predecessors – and has been encouraged by his top allies to lean into more “off-the-cuff,” casual moments in the aftermath of last month’s debate performance.

When he takes the podium Thursday evening, it will be just the 15th time Biden has held a solo news conference, and the first time since November 2023 – an engagement that ran 21 minutes. His average solo news conference has been roughly 37 minutes long.

There is a possibility that the strategy telegraphed by his team to accelerate the president’s schedule and spontaneous engagements will not have its desired outcome. But in recent days, Biden’s team has leaned into their plans with stops at a church and campaign office in Philadelphia, a community event and a coffee shop in Harrisburg, a 22-minute interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and an 18-minute call-in to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Biden’s team is already looking ahead to the next unscripted engagement, teasing an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt set for Monday.

Despite the unscripted plans, Biden and his team have previously sought to control what he’s asked when.

At his most recent June 13 news conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when a reporter asked him a question about a Hamas-Israel ceasefire, Biden expressed frustration with the reporter for going off-topic.

“I wish you guys would play by the rules a little bit. I’m here to talk about a critical situation in Ukraine – you ask me on other subjects. I’ll be happy to answer in detail later,” he said, a response that received condemnation from the White House Correspondents Association.

The president is expected to give brief remarks at the beginning before taking questions from reporters, a White House official said.

Biden has held 36 news conferences to date, including 14 solo and 22 joint news conferences alongside other world leaders.

He has participated three joint news conferences so far this year: the June 13 presser with Zelensky in Italy, on May 23 alongside Kenya President William Ruto at the White House, and on April 10 with Japan Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, also at the White House.

Former President Donald Trump, by contrast, held 88 news conferences overall during his presidency, and at the same point in his presidency, he had held 64 news conferences, 16 of which were solo, according to an analysis of University of California at Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project data. Former President Barack Obama held 163 news conferences and had held 72 at this point in his presidency, 32 of which were solo. And former President George W. Bush held 210 news conferences during his presidency, and 82 at this point in his presidency, 15 of which were solo.

Recent presidents who had held fewer news conferences at this point include former President Ronald Reagan, at 25, and former President Richard Nixon, at 24.

Biden has been under intense scrutiny since the debate, with heightened attention on every verbal slip, diversion and moment of confusion.

Close observers of the president have noted that his speech and delivery have lost some pacing, crispness and focus in the years since he took office.

Biden has been largely insulated from potential signs of aging by his team, with strategies including short, tightly scripted events in which the president reads from a teleprompter; the use of shorter steps on Air Force One; and significantly pared-back engagement with reporters compared with his most recent predecessors.

But some Democrats are increasingly convinced that those efforts were less aimed at preventing spoken gaffes or freewheeling diversions and more focused on eliminating more alarming incidents showing a weakened, aging president in recent months.

Biden, who has a long history of verbal gaffes, further raised questions about the effectiveness of a strategy when he went off the cuff last week.

“I’m proud to be, as I said, the first vice president – first Black woman – to serve with a Black president, proud to have been involved with the first Black woman on the Supreme Court,” he said during a radio interview that aired July 4.

Reached for comment that night, a Biden campaign spokesperson slammed the “absurdity” of criticism of the president’s missteps. “It was clear what President Biden meant when he was talking about his historic record including a record number of appointments to the federal bench,” spokesperson Ammar Moussa said.

And the response to a question from Stephanopoulos about how he’d feel in January if Trump won did little to curb deepening concerns from Democrats.

“I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the good as job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about,” Biden said Friday. The quote was also transcribed by other outlets as Biden saying he “did the goodest job” he can do, which is how ABC originally transcribed the quote before changing it in a later version of their transcript.

Biden has remained dug in, emphatically dismissing any suggestion that he’s not the most qualified candidate to beat Trump in November and vowing to stay in the race.

“Who’s going to be able to hold NATO together like me? Who’s going to be able to be in a position where I’m able to keep the Pacific basin in a position where we’re at least check being in China now? Who’s going to – who’s going to do that? Who has that reach?” Biden asked during his interview with Stephanopoulos last week.

He added, “I guess a real good way to judge me is you’re going to have now the NATO Conference here in the United States next week. Come listen. See what they say.”

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