WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden rarely gives network interviews, and when he sat down in the MSNBC studio Thursday, it came at a particularly busy time, as the Supreme Court had just repeal the use of affirmative action in college admissions and after a riot in Russia.
The nearly 20-minute conversation focused on these questions. But it also hit hard on topics such as criticism of the media and light-hearted discussions of the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who was a friend of Biden.
When Donald Trump was president, he was criticized for giving interviews to sympathetic media where the questions were often soft and even flattering. Meanwhile, Biden has given far fewer formal interviews than his immediate predecessors. His last network interview was in early May and also on MSNBC.
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This time, interviewer Nicole Wallace, who was White House communications director under President George W. Bush and worked on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, kicked things off by noting how unusual it was for a sitting president to appear in a network studio.
“The President of the United States is here. Really. At the table,” Wallace began, before telling Biden, “It’s very exciting for us.” Biden replied, “It’s exciting for me.”
The president said the Supreme Court has “done more to enshrine fundamental rights and fundamental decisions than any court in recent history,” pointing to its Thursday ruling on affirmative action and repeal of the constitutional right to abortion last summer.
“I just find it so inconsistent with the core value system of the American people,” Biden said.
He said he does not support expanding the number of Supreme Court justices, as a number of progressives have urged him to do.
He also spoke about his re-election campaign, admitting: “I know the election results are not good.” He noted that many polls suggested that he would not win the 2020 Democratic presidential primary or defeat Trump in the general election that year, and they did not show that Democrats would have stronger than expected display in last year’s mid-term exams.
The president then spoke at length about the media, saying, “This is not a criticism of the press. This is an observation. There’s a lot of concern around the world, and in talking to a lot of reporters, they’ve told me — I’m going to be careful what I say here — a number of reporters have indicated that there are no longer editors for what he’s done.”
“Huh,” Wallace replied, as Biden went on to say that some reporters have told him they’re under pressure to build their personal brands, concluding: “I just think there’s a lot of change.”
Wallace asked about the Russian insurgency and what the US knew. Biden responded, “We knew things beforehand,” but said he couldn’t say what. Wallace continued: “Were you concerned that Trump might have hinted at it if he was still president?” She was apparently asking if Trump would have warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about the mercenary leader plans for the rebellion against Russian military leaders.
“Oh my God,” Biden said. “I don’t know. I don’t think about it very often.”
The president talked a little more about Russia’s war in Ukraine. Wallace eventually brought up McCain and asked, “What do you think he would think of his Republican Party?”
“I don’t think he’s going to think much of it,” Biden said, but quickly added, “I don’t know that.”
Wallace concluded by again noting Biden’s rare appearance in the studio, adding, “Consider him your chair. Consider it an open invitation. There’s going to be a lot on people’s minds and I hope you’ll see this as a place where you can come and talk about whatever’s on your mind.”
“Well, I will,” Biden said.
MSNBC declined to comment on the interview afterward.
Later Thursday, Biden attended a fundraiser in New York is collecting donations for his re-election campaign. But the visit to New York, where MSNBC’s studios are located, was official — meaning taxpayers funded at least parts of it.
“It’s a mixed — mixed trip with official and political — political parts,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to New York.
Asked what the official part of the trip was, Jean-Pierre replied: “You all always criticize the president for not giving enough interviews – right?”
“He’s going to New York and we jumped at the chance to go to the studio,” Jean-Pierre said. “This is his first studio interview.”