During his ill-fated campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet told voters: “If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time”.
Mr Bennet would eventually drop out of the race long before voters handed the nomination to then-former Vice President Joe Biden, now the 46th President of the United States. But Mr Biden has largely managed to keep the Coloradan’s campaign promise over his first 100 days, even as his administration has made significant changes in an effort to consign his predecessor’s policies to the dustbin of history.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the transition from Donald Trump’s presidency to that of Mr Biden has been an end to the presidential omnipresence pioneered by his predecessor.
According to the presidential speech trackers at Factba.se, Mr Biden has spoken just 36 per cent of the word volume as Mr Trump did over his last 100 days in office and has only been on camera for 40 per cent of Mr Trump’s last 100-day total. And while the vast majority of Mr Trump’s camera time came from impromptu media availabilities, during which he frequently upended his own administration’s attempts at messaging, Mr Biden’s appearances have for the most part been carefully coordinated policy addresses, often timed to mark significant milestones or highlight policy roll-outs.
The low-key nature of the Biden presidency has also extended to the medium which perhaps defined Mr Trump more than any other – Twitter. While the now-former president was banned by his favourite social media platform 11 days before he left office, the remaining 89 of his last 100 saw him send 2,770 tweets via the former @realDonaldTrump account. By contrast, Mr Biden – who does not write or send his own tweets – has tweeted just 171 times since he was sworn in on 20 January.
But the relative lack of presidential noise during the first days of the Biden administration belies significant changes.
Among the most visible? The return of White House press briefings.
Under Mr Trump, who frequently undermined his own spokespeople with his erratic public pronouncements – often based on something he’d seen on television – Mr Biden has left much of the daily task of messaging to his top spokespeople. Unlike the last days of the Trump era when ex-White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s combative presence in the James Brady Briefing Room became less and less frequent, her successor, Jen Psaki, has briefed reporters nearly every weekday since Mr Biden’s inauguration. The White House has also held frequent briefings with its Covid-19 response team, but unlike those held by the Trump-era White House Coronavirus Task Force, they are always led by experts – not the president or vice president.
The advent of expert-led briefings is yet another significant departure from the Trump-era, during which top public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control were prohibited from conducting their own briefings after National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases director Dr Nancy Messonnier warned that “disruption to everyday life might be severe” from the coronavirus back in February of 2020.
Another big break from the Trump-era White House during the early Biden era has been the new administration’s implementation of coronavirus safety measures in the White House’s daily operations.
Under Mr Trump, the White House was frequently the site of so-called “super-spreader events,” after which multiple White House staffers, guests, and even the president, were diagnosed with Covid-19 despite a programme in place by which those in contact with Mr Trump were tested for the virus.
But at noon on 20 January, the incoming Biden administration implemented sweeping changes to White House operations. At present, every person who passes through the White House’s gates is either tested for the coronavirus by White House medical unit personnel or must provide proof of a self-administered negative test that day.
The number of staff working on-site has been drastically reduced as well, with many White House officials – and even some of Mr Biden’s most senior staff – working from home in the same manner as many other federal workers. Mr Biden also signed an order mandating masks on federal property, another break with his predecessor, who often mocked the very idea of covering one’s face to hinder the spread of the coronavirus.
Perhaps the most significant change in how Mr Biden and his advisers have conducted themselves lies in the area of personnel.
Under Mr Trump, just one member of the president’s cabinet – made up of the 15 executive department heads – was either non-white or female: Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
Mr Biden, by contrast, has a cabinet that is one-third female (the secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy), one-third non-white, and includes the first Native American interior secretary and first Black secretary of defence.
Of the 1,500 political appointments Mr Biden has made, a White House report revealed that 58 per cent went to women, 18 per cent are Black, 15 per cent Hispanic, 15 per cent Asian-American or Pacific Islander, with three and two per cent of appointments going to appointees of Middle Eastern and Native American ancestry, respectively.
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