'You Never Ask a Positive Question': Biden's Bad Day With The Press!

Published June 17th, 2021 - 07:46 GMT
Joe Biden lashes out at a Journalist
US President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021. PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP
Highlights
President Joe Biden said he stressed the importance of free speech during his summit with Vladimir Putin

Joe Biden was condemned for taking pre-approved questions from journalists during his Geneva summit with Vladimir Putin - then moaning at a journalist for 'never asking a positive question.' 

'To be a good reporter you gotta be negative. You gotta have a negative view of life, ok, it seems to me - the way you all - you never ask a positive question,' Biden told one of the reporters on the tarmac at the airport in Geneva Wednesday before boarding Air Force One for a flight back home to Washington.

Biden made his complaint after being asked to provide 'concrete evidence' that 'suggests any movement has been made' with the Russian leader. 

'We’ll find out,' the combative president said. 'We have an agreement to work on a major arms control agreement.

'I started working on arms control agreements all the way back during the Cold War. If we can do one during the Cold War, why couldn’t we do one now?

'We’ll see. We will see whether or not it happens.'

Biden then added that he apologized 'for having been short.'

On Twitter, Biden was slammed for complaining about questions from the press. 

'You never do anything to elicit positive questions,' wrote one Twitter user in response to Biden's criticism of the media.

'We voted for you to create change, but you must have forgotten that, too. Just another lying politician.'

Another Twitter user, Dave Cunningham, wrote: '"Positive Questions" prove sycophancy.

'Biden has had quite enough of that wondrous elixir from an adoring "press".'

Jennifer Jacobs, a White House reporter for Bloomberg, wrote that Biden was 'griping' about not getting positive questions.

CNN's Abby Phillip tweeted: 'It's always amazing to me that many politicians think it's a reporter's job to ask them nice, positive questions.

'What would be the point of that?'

Former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway also got in on the action, tweeting: '@kaitlancollins is a victim of sexist mansplaining by angry President.

'Biden snaps at reporter about Putin; whines that press never ask "positive questions"' Conway was referring to an earlier clash between Biden and CNN White House correspondent Collins after she grilled him about holding Putin to account.  

Another Twitter user observed that Biden's complaints about the media echoed those of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

'Trump honestly had the same complaints lol,' tweeted one Twitter user.

'Both are wrong. The press should be critical and ask tough questions.'

In his description of their sit down, Biden emphasized the American commitment to human rights and said: 'I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty to operate, and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech'. 

'I'll take your questions and as usual, folks, they gave me a list of the people I'm going to call on,' he then said at his press conference after finishing talks with the Russian president. In a separate press conference, Putin picked which reporters he would be taking questions from.

Biden also mistakenly referred to Putin as Trump, before quickly correcting himself, and ended the series of  questions by shouting at CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins. 

She yelled out a question asking why he was so confident the Russian strongman would change his behavior, given his denials and his history. 

'I’m not confident I’ll change his behavior. What do you do all the time?' he sneered.  

'Biden has had quite enough of that wondrous elixir from an adoring "press".'

Jennifer Jacobs, a White House reporter for Bloomberg, wrote that Biden was 'griping' about not getting positive questions.

CNN's Abby Phillip tweeted: 'It's always amazing to me that many politicians think it's a reporter's job to ask them nice, positive questions.

'What would be the point of that?'

Former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway also got in on the action, tweeting: '@kaitlancollins is a victim of sexist mansplaining by angry President.

'Biden snaps at reporter about Putin; whines that press never ask "positive questions"' Conway was referring to an earlier clash between Biden and CNN White House correspondent Collins after she grilled him about holding Putin to account.  

Another Twitter user observed that Biden's complaints about the media echoed those of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

'Trump honestly had the same complaints lol,' tweeted one Twitter user.

'Both are wrong. The press should be critical and ask tough questions.'

In his description of their sit down, Biden emphasized the American commitment to human rights and said: 'I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty to operate, and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech'. 

'I'll take your questions and as usual, folks, they gave me a list of the people I'm going to call on,' he then said at his press conference after finishing talks with the Russian president. In a separate press conference, Putin picked which reporters he would be taking questions from.

Biden also mistakenly referred to Putin as Trump, before quickly correcting himself, and ended the series of  questions by shouting at CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins. 

She yelled out a question asking why he was so confident the Russian strongman would change his behavior, given his denials and his history. 

'I’m not confident I’ll change his behavior. What do you do all the time?' he sneered.  

Biden walked up to the reporter, with his suit jacket off on an unusually hot day, and accused her of not knowing her business.  

'When did I say I was confident? I said … What I said was – let’s get it straight,' Biden said. 

'I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I’m not confident of anything. I’m just stating the facts.'

The latest remarks come days after he said he would 'get in trouble' with his staff if he didn't take questions from certain reporters.  

During his stern comments on Wednesday, Biden says he warned Putin that Russian cyber attacks on 'critical' U.S. infrastructure would draw a serious American response – and told his counterpart just how harmful a cyber attack might be on an oil pipeline that is the lifeline of the Russian economy.  

Biden threatened retaliation and made his comment publicly even he denied making any kind of a 'threat' in his meetings with the Russian President as they discussed ransomware attacks that shut down Colonial pipeline and has other U.S. and multinational businesses on edge.  

In separate, back-to-back press conferences after their sit down, both leaders expressed satisfaction with the outcome of their meeting and described their conversations in positive terms.  

But there were areas where they disagreed, including human rights and cyber attacks. 

Biden said he had 'told President Putin we need some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by', adding that 'I did what I came to do.'  

He said he gave the Russian president a list of 16 specific entities that should 'be off limits to attack, period, by cyber or any other means,' He didn't name the items on the list but described them as 'critical infrastructure.'

'He knows I will take action,' Biden said. 'I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but it’s significant.'

In his press conference, Putin said the leaders agreed to begin consultations on cyber security. He did not mention Biden threatened him on the issue. 

American companies have been victim to a series of ransomware attacks carried out by actors based in Russia. Putin continued to deny US allegations that the Russian government was responsible for the spate of hacks.

Both presidents got a little snippy with reporters in their press conferences. Putin when he was questioned about human rights violations and opposition leader Alexei Navalny. And Biden when he was questioned on China. 

And Putin took questions for twice as long as Biden: his press conference clocked in at nearly an hour while Biden spoke for 33 minutes.  

'The tone of the entire meeting … was good, positive,' Biden said.

Putin complimented Biden's long record in public life and the American president's experience on the world stage.  

'President Biden is an experienced statesman. He is very different from President Trump,' Putin said.

At one point, Biden mistakenly referred to Putin as Trump. 'I caught part of President Trump, Putin’s, press conference,' he said, quickly correcting himself.

Biden arrived for his outdoor press conference wearing his signature aviator sunglasses - he gifted Putin with a custom pair. He took off his suit jacket half way through, citing the hot, sunny day.  

Putin spoke first after he and Biden concluded their three hour meeting at an historic 18th century villa by Lake Geneva, giving his early spin on their meeting. He walked over to the room he held his press conference, a contrast to Biden who rode over to the building in his presidential car. 

Putin took questions from both Russian state media and American news outlets. He spoke in Russian and was translated. 

Putin turned many of the questions posed to him into criticism of the United States, including the high levels of gun violence in America. 

'You don't have time to open your mouth and you're shot dead,' he said, referring to mass shootings in the United States.

'Look at American streets. People are getting killed there,' he said. 'You can get a bullet in the neck.' 

And, when asked about human rights violations in Russia, he argued in return the US had 'secret CIA prisons.' 

'Is this how you protect human rights?,' he said.

'Guantanamo is still working. Nothing to do with human rights there,' Putin said.

Human rights group given Russia a low rating on the issue. Human Rights Watch noted 'the human rights situation in Russia continued to deteriorate in 2019. With few exceptions, authorities responded to rising civic activism with bans, repressive laws, and showcase prosecutions.' 

Putin also shrugged off questions on Navalny and referred to him as 'the man' and not by name. 

'This man knew that he was breaking the law of Russia,' Putin said.

'He is somebody who has been twice, convicted, and he consciously ignored the requirements of the law,' he said. 

Putin described Navalny a 'repeat offender' who 'deliberately wanted to be arrested.'

Navalny was convicted multiple times in Russian for embezzlement but his criminal cases were widely considered to be politically motivated and intended to bar him from running in future elections. 

Biden was asked what would happen if Navalny died while in Russian custody. 

'I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia,' he said.  

Putin also turned the question into criticism of the United States, referring to the January 6th MAGA riot when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try and stop the certification of Biden's election victory.

Putin pointed out those protesters were being arrested by American officials.

'Many people are facing the same things that we do,' he said. 

'On the question of who is murdering whom, people rioted and went into the Congress in the U.S. with political demands and many people were declared as criminals and they are threatened with imprisonment for 20 to 25 years. And these people were immediately arrested after those events. On what grounds we don't know, always,' he said. 

Biden called Putin's comparison of Russian protesters to Black Lives Matter protests and the January 6th MAGA riot 'ridiculous.' 

'It's one thing for literally criminals to break through the window of the capital, kill a police officer, and be held accountable. And then there's four people objecting marching on the Capitol, saying, You are not allowing me to speak for you. You're not allowing me to do A, B, C or D. And so they're very different kinds,' he said. 

Putin started off his post-summit presser with being complementary of Biden, saying the two sides were determined to understand one another.

'I don't think there was any kind of hostility,' he said.

'Both sides maintained a determination to understand each other,' Putin noted, adding the talks were 'constructive.'  

But he revealed Biden did not invite him to visit the White House and that Biden, who is famous for quoting his mom and dad in speeches, spoke of his family during their sit down.

'He did not invite me to the White House and no invitation of that kind was given. I think we really have to have the right conditions before we can get to that stage,' he said.

He also said he didn't remember saying he and Biden looked into each other's eyes and saw their respective souls when they met in 2011 when Biden was vice president. 

'As far as looking in eyes and finding souls are concerned, well, I actually don't remember that, but this is not the first time I've heard that statement. But if you ask me what kind of partner or interlocutor President Biden is, I would say that he is very balanced, professional and it's obviously clear he's very experienced. He talked a bit about his family, what his mother told him, they are important things - maybe they are not quite relevant - but it does talk about the level of his moral values, which is very attractive and it seems to me that we did speak the same language. It certainly doesn't imply that we must look into each other's eyes and find a soul or swear our affection but essentially our talks were pragmatic.'

He shrugged off a question on the next steps in US-Russian relations.

'Difficult to say, I think everything to do with the deterioration of our mutual relations was initiated not by us but by the U.S. and I don't know what they're thinking about,' he said. 

But, he offered: 'There is no happiness in life, there is only a mirage on the horizon, so cherish that.'

He also said the two nations agreed their ambassadors would return to their posts, likely in the next few days. Russia's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled as tensions simmered between the two nations and the US envoy to Russia, John Sullivan, left Moscow in response.


Putin acknowledged the two leaders discussed the situation in the Ukraine, where Russia has been acting aggressively in the Crimea, but he didn't offer any details.

'I don't think there is anything to discuss there,' he said when asked about the Ukraine joining NATO, which it wants to do.

He also said Biden agreed to begin negotiations on nuclear talks to potentially replace the New START treaty limiting nuclear weapons after it expires in 2026.

Washington broke off talks with Moscow in 2014 in response to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea and its military intervention in support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

Talks resumed in 2017 but gained little traction and failed to produce an agreement on extending the New START treaty during the Trump administration.

Wednesday's summit concluded with the dueling press conferences after the White House refused to hold a joint one with the Russian leader. 

The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together. 

Their summit consisted of one meeting of the two leaders with their top aides and a second meeting with a bigger delegation on both sides. 

Republicans acted with expected criticism of the summit. 

'Giving Putin a meeting is just the latest win that Joe Biden has handed Russia,' said Republican Nation Committee communications director Danielle Alvarez. 

'Biden's foreign policy failures have strengthened Russia at the expense of our country.'  

Biden and Putin arrived to the Villa de la Grange, an 18th century mansion overlooking Lake Geneva, within a few minutes of each other earlier that day: Putin, after a last-minute arrival by air and motorcade; Biden by driving from his nearby hotel, having arrived Tuesday. 

Biden extended his hand first and the pair shook hands - a marked contrast to the elbow bumps Biden exchanged with several allies at the G7 - and they smiled for the cameras outside the doors before heading inside.

Their first meeting appeared to be uncomfortable for the leaders as they avoided eye contact while reporters jostled at the back of the book-lined room and yelled questions.   

'Do you trust Putin? Do you trust each other,' a reporter shouted at them. Biden nodded in the affirmative. 

But the White House quickly batted down any assumptions that the president had agreed that he 'trusted' Putin. 

'It was a chaotic scrum with reporters shouting over each other,' said White House communications director Kate Bedingfield on Twitter.  'POTUS was very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally. He said just two days ago in his presser: 'Verify, then trust.''

The pair faced each other in chairs, Biden crossing his legs, sitting up and tucking a note card into his jacket, while Putin leaned back, tapping his hand against the armrest, looking bored.  

'It's always better to meet face to face,' Biden said, flashing a big smile, though the event was set up to have no public comments by either man. 

Putin ignored shouted questions from reporters, including if he feared jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. 

Their second meeting, behind closed doors, ended at roughly 5pm local time - four hours after the summit began. When it was done, Biden walked out of the luxurious villa and rode off in the presidential motorcade, putting on his sunglasses before departing. 

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was seated to Biden's right, taking notes. To Biden's left was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seated with his hands between his legs. 

Amid commotion among the press pack, Biden looked toward Blinken, and the diplomat scribbled notes in a notebook. 

Then a minder cajoled the journalists, telling photographers: 'Go away please,' and they were ushered out of the room so the first substantive meeting could begin.  

Things got tense inside the room as Swiss officials running the event in the cramped room sought to herd a phalanx of reporters in and out of the library – with some pushing and shoving during the scrum.

The seated officials, all wearing dark suits, were treated to a chaotic scene while international media tried to make its way to capture the event.

Security officials jostled and shoved pools of reporters and photographers inside a room that was packed with cords and equipment.

'As I said outside, I think it's always better to meet face to face and try to determine our mutual interests and cooperation,' Biden said.

Putin, who speaks English but refrains from using it publicly, said via a translator: 'Mr. President I'd like to thank you for your initiative to meet today. I know that you've been on a long tour. Still, the U.S. and Russia relations have a lot of issues accumulated that require the highest-level meeting. And I hope that our meeting will be productive.' 

Members of the media could be heard pleading with officials to get out of the way, while the leaders made their brief statements and a translator spoke.

'Can you please move?' one asked. 'This guy's gotta move,' said someone.

Biden could be heard offering his own brief remarks. He mentioned 'mutual interests' and 'cooperation' and relations that were 'predictable and rational' – in keeping with his public comments.

He also appeared to call the U.S. and Russia 'two great powers' – after former President Barack Obama once called Russia a 'regional power.'     

Reporters were pushed and shoved by security officials and Russian media, according to a U.S. pool report. 

The highly-anticipated first presidential summit is a Cold War throwback to Ronald Reagan's meeting with the Soviet strongman Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva in 1985. 

Relations between the two sides are similarly cool - at their lowest ebb in decades after the Kremlin's cyber offensives, election meddling, threats to invade Ukraine, poisonings of dissidents both at home and abroad, and its increased intervention in the Middle East, where it is accused of shadowy mercenary deployments.    

Washington has been seeking to lower expectations amid the fanfare and buildup, which saw Moscow rocking the boat over the weekend with naval drills staged 300 miles off the coast of Hawaii - its largest military exercise in the Pacific since the Cold War.

'We have a 20+ year track record of seeing exactly who Putin is - no summit is going to change that, and I'm sure Biden and his team know that,' tweeted former Obama deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes.   

The event has been both choreographed in its broad outlines and adjusted on the fly, some areas left entirely open – including the food.  

'No breaking of bread,' quipped a senior official when asked about the lack of a set meal. 

But the official allowed, 'I presume that the principals and the participants can ask for some water or coffee or tea.'

The summit format also allowed for breaks to be determined during the five hours of discussions.

Biden is expected to hold a press conference after the summit with the Swiss President Paremelin - but Putin will not appear alongside them. 

The Russian President will also be certain to put his own spin on the events, but hasn't said how he will do it when, or where.

He has kept up a busy schedule of interviews in the days leading up to the summit. 

The relationship has featured intense comments, and Biden agreed with Putin's assessment that national relations were at a 'low point.'

Biden says he once told Putin he had 'no soul.' He caused an uproar when he agreed Putin was a 'killer.'

But this week he also called him 'bright' and 'tough,' as well as a 'worthy adversary.'

He wants to see if there is a way to at least establish 'stability and predictability' in U.S.-Russia relations.

'We should decide where it's in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that,' Biden said this week. 'And the areas where we don't agree, make it clear what the red lines are.'

Putin described Biden with the double-edged 'career man' label, saying he 'spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics.' 

Putin said the remark this week by way of contrast with former President Donald Trump, who he met at the infamous Helsinki summit – presenting Trump with a soccer ball and standing alongside Trump while he accepted Putin's denials of election interference in 2016.  

Biden has limited his comments on the issues he would raise. But he and his aides have said he will bring up ransomware, hacking, election interference, Ukraine, press freedoms, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and human rights.

The Navalny issue is a particularly thorny one.  To the U.S. it is a core rule of law issue. Biden wants to send a message to dissidents and other opposition figures, but it is an area where it will be challenging to make progress.

'Navalny's death would be another indication of Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy,' Biden said this week when asked what it would mean should he die in prison.

'We should not lose sight of the fact that Navalny is the most famous of several hundred political prisoners,' said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute in Washington. He said Biden may want to raise the question of Russia's political prisoners more broadly. 

He said the U.S. should hold Putin to international standards and its own commitments as well as Russia's own constitution. 'We should try to hold them to those standards. The problem is the regime views these behaviors as essential to its survival. They're not things we can convince them that they should reverse,' he noted.'

If Biden didn't already know it, he should be prepared for Putin trying to turn the tables on him by bringing up domestic U.S. politics.

In recent days he has spoken about the prosecution of Capitol rioters while discoursing on Black Lives Matter protests, a go-to tactics when outsiders seek to call attention to stifling of internal dissent or lack of press freedoms. 

Biden also must decide how direct he wants to be when he warns Russia about ransomware attacks the U.S. believes come from its soil, even if not government-run operations. 

Biden said this week: 'I'm going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses. 

And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.' 

The two men are meeting at the Villa de la Grange, a building dating back to the 18th century just a short distance away from the luxury hotel where Biden is staying.

With its stocked Empire bookcases, Trompe l'oeil ceiling details, and colorful rose garden, the building and grounds offers bountiful opportunities for photo-ops and small talk. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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