From his campaign to the White House, the common feature in Joe Biden’s administration has been that his advisers and Cabinet members are more busy hiding Biden from the public eye than they are being truthful. That’s what drove Biden to hold his first press conference later than 15 of his previous predecessors.
But while that is an overarching narrative suggesting Biden isn’t up to the job, the reality is something worse: no transparency about anything.
Biden’s first press conference plays into this, but isn’t everything. At that press conference, he answered questions from a pre-decided list of 10 reporters and read his answers off cheat sheets. On every topic, Biden read what he was given with little engagement.
The press conference was a symptom of a much larger issue with the Biden administration: they aren’t forthcoming on a single topic. And it’s hard to ignore how the press would react if Donald Trump or any Republican did the same thing.
Take the crisis at the southern border as an example. Axios published an exclusive story this past week revealing pictures of the squalid conditions in which the Biden administration is keeping children and migrants while processing everyone.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) provided the photos to Axios and said the facilities were designed for 260 people. However, some were crammed with as many as 400 male children. Axios also noted that “[b]ecause the Biden administration has restricted media coverage at housing facilities, images like these offer a rare window into conditions.”
NBC News reported that Border Patrol agents felt that the Biden White House had placed a “gag order” on them:
The officials say the restrictions are seen as an unofficial “gag order” and are often referred to that way among colleagues. The officials requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media about the topic.
Border Patrol officials have been told to deny all media requests for “ride-alongs” with agents along the southern land border; local press officers are instructed to send all information queries, even from local media, to the press office in Washington for approval; and those responsible for cultivating data about the number of migrants in custody have been reminded not to share the information with anyone to prevent leaks, the officials said.
And perhaps worst of all is the lack of access to these migrants to provide some legal oversight.
The Associated Press reported that the White House “barred nonprofit lawyers who conduct oversight from entering a Border Patrol tent where thousands of children and teenagers are detained. And federal agencies have refused or ignored dozens of requests from the media for access to detention sites. Such access was granted several times by the administration of President Donald Trump.”
The campaign, the sole press conference, and the southern border crisis are only part of the story. There’s more.
On the campaign trail, the Biden administration said it would be transparent and post things like visitor logs to the White House. That would tell the American people which lobbyists, politicians, and more are visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Because we’re in a pandemic, there are virtual visitor logs, which tell you who is talking with the president via video conference call.
But since entering the White House, the Biden administration has refused to allow any transparency on any of those issues.
The schedules for the president and vice president aren’t posted online. The White House comment line is shut down. There are no citizen petitions on the White House’s website. The White House has committed to releasing visitor logs. But it doesn’t plan to divulge the names of attendees of virtual meetings, which are the primary mode of interaction until the coronavirus pandemic eases.
At the time of that piece, critics were also displeased the president hadn’t held a press conference to answer questions from members of the press. Now that we’ve seen the Biden press conference in action, everything is pre-planned, and hard questioners get skipped.
All of this ignores other things, like the lies Biden has told about the border, and his refusal to work with any Republican to advance an agenda during a pandemic, despite having one of the most narrow first-term majorities in American history. The Senate is divided 50–50, and that requires working across the aisle.
For a man who ran a front porch campaign claiming themes of unity, building back together, and returning to normal, Biden is advancing a closed-off White House that refuses to answer for anything they do. If they wanted to, they could argue there’s too much transparency in government that prevents decision-making. But that’s not what’s happening here. The Biden administration is cloaked in mystery and incompetence.
It’s just the beginning for an administration that claimed to be a lot more than it is. As their failures pile up, the growing tendency is to deflect, hide, and answer no questions. And this is only March of the first year.