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Joe Biden holds court with newspaper columnists in ‘old-fashioned’ approach

The contrast between President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden was a daily story in 2020 — and Wednesday was an excellent example.

Trump ignored the White House press corps when he left what Wolf Blitzer called a “self-imposed bunker” in Washington and flew to Mar-a-Lago. Trump vetoed the defense spending bill, pushed election conspiracies on Twitter and pardoned more of his allies.

And then there was Biden, at home in Wilmington, working the phones. He held a call with a select group of columnists from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

“Biden going old-school and meeting with newspaper columnists,” Politico’s Alex Thompson commented.

Thompson meant “old-school” in the best sense of the word. Wednesday’s call was in keeping with Biden’s personal media habits — he reads print papers and relies on traditional outlets — and his moderate positioning.

The journalist participants were Gerald Seib of the Journal; Karen Tumulty, Jonathan Capehart, Gene Robinson, and Jennifer Rubin of the Post; and David Leonhardt and David Brooks of The Times.

Several of the columnists wrote about the call right afterward. Here was Seib’s takeaway:

“Biden delivered a resounding declaration that the political center is alive and well, that he resides there, that he’s always been there, and that he’s going to govern from there.” Moreover, Biden “insisted that there are enough Republican lawmakers prepared to meet him in the middle that he can get things done in an evenly divided Congress where he won’t have the kinds of Democratic majorities some of his predecessors enjoyed.”

That is Biden’s grand bet. He told the columnists that “Republicans are beginning to realize that there is a center that has to be responded to.”

Really? Is that what a year consumed by an election — an election that still hasn’t ended in some desperate pro-Trump corners — really showed? Biden says so, and it is one of his biggest contrasts to Trump.

Rubin, in her recap of the call, put it this way: “For Biden, there is a popular consensus moving toward the center, where he has always championed the needs of working people.”

Journalists are a pretty hardened bunch, as Rubin acknowledged. She wrote that “progressives and a good deal of the cynical media world scoff” at some of Biden’s thinking and call him “naive.”

‘But he has no choice, at least initially,” she wrote. “He must begin with an all-out effort to win over just enough Republicans to get parts of his agenda through.”

Wednesday’s call might have been part of Biden’s persuasion campaign.

‘I beat the hell out of everybody’

Another participant on the call, Capehart, invoked the famous Mike Tyson quote, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” and asked Biden “what he would say to Democrats and others who are afraid he doesn’t see the punch in the mouth coming or that he won’t have the will to use all the power available to him to get his agenda through Congress.” Capehart wrote that “Biden pushed back — forcefully, as if I was the one who punched him in the mouth.”

Biden’s response in part was: “You guys have been saying that about me since the day I ever got into office. You said that when I announced, that I was a nice enough guy but didn’t get it, didn’t know what was going on. I respectfully suggest that I beat the hell out of everybody else.”

Biden argued that he’s “ready to fight” if necessary, but nothing gets done in “those kind of blood matches.”

The clean-up

Tumulty’s column contains some further details about his thinking: “Biden noted that he has taken some criticism for stocking his administration with many familiar figures, rather than bringing in more fresh faces.

As Biden put it: ‘One reason you need old hands is the old hands know where the old bodies might be buried.’ He also said his team is having quiet consultations with ‘former Republican appointees, former Republican personnel telling us what they know and don’t know about how the system is rotten,’ as well as GOP senators ‘worried about things being left untethered.'”

So that’s the Biden approach. Now back to Trump…

Trump claims he is busy

On Wednesday night CNN’s Nikki Carvajal flagged what she called “very unusual daily guidance advisory” for Trump’s Christmas Eve schedule. “Typically, the Daily Guidance says ‘THE PRESIDENT has no public events scheduled,’ when none are listed. Instead, the White House says this: ‘As the Holiday season approaches, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls.'” Other reporters said they had never seen “guidance” like that before…

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

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