The 2020 Democratic field has settled on a position that is sure to please journalists.
Nearly everyone in the race is pledging to restore daily press briefings in 2021 at the White House, State Department and Pentagon, which hasn’t held an on-camera question-and-answer session with a spokesperson in more than a year.
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Former Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech last week that, if elected president, he would bring back the traditional briefings for all three press corps, reversing a trend throughout President Donald Trump’s administration of eschewing such on-camera events.
Twenty-one Democratic campaigns, including those of Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, said this week in response to a survey by POLITICO that they would do the same.
Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Fla., and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard didn’t respond.
The vow from Democrats to bring back on-camera briefings comes as the current White House hasn’t held one since March 11, a historic drought that started during the tenure of former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who began his one-year term as White House Correspondents’ Association president this week, told POLITICO that he has encouraged new press secretary Stephanie Grisham to resume the daily practice, saying “the briefing room has been dormant for too long.”
“My sense is that Grisham would like to bring them back in some form once she gets settled into the job,” Karl said.
Grisham declined to comment on her plans.
Once a common occurrence, on-camera press briefings with spokespeople have been scaled back throughout the Trump administration. The State Department recently resumed the practice after a hiatus, while the Pentagon hasn’t held one with the department’s spokesperson since May 2018. The Pentagon has held a few on-camera briefings this year with other officials, including on Wednesday.
White House briefings became more sporadic and shorter under Sanders, whose tenure was also marked by hostile interactions with reporters. In August 2018, she refused to say whether she agreed with the president that the media was the “enemy of the people.” Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report also revealed that Sanders lied to reporters in the briefing room about the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
A Trump campaign veteran and spokesperson for Melania Trump, Grisham made headlines last month after being appointed both White House press secretary and communications director. She was bruised in a scuffle with North Korean security officers while pushing for press access to the president’s meeting with Kim Jong Un, an incident that drew some praise from reporters.
While that seemed like an early sign of better White House relations with the press, Grisham has taken jabs at the media too. On Monday, she tried to shift the controversy over the president’s racist swipe at four congresswomen of color into an indictment of the news media. “So typical to watch the mainstream media and Dems attack @realDonaldTrump for speaking directly to the American people,” she tweeted.
Trump will surely have the final say in whether briefings return. The president has already cycled through five communications directors while effectively serving as his own, setting the day’s agenda on Twitter and regularly taking impromptu questions from reporters.
While the formal, on-camera briefings have been curtailed, officials have taken questions in other formats, which the administration argues should be sufficient to satisfy the press.
Sanders and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway fielded questions in a less formal manner on the White House grounds. (Conway stunned journalists Tuesday in one of these Q&A’s by asking about a reporter’s ethnicity).
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin used the briefing room Monday to discuss cryptocurrency, though Grisham did not join him in taking questions.
Reporters generally see value in having a chance to question press secretaries on a variety of topics on camera, and the White House Correspondents’ Association has advocated for more such opportunities.
Democratic candidates who vowed to resume them if they win in 2020 include Sens. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet; South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former HUD Secretary Julian Castro; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Reps. Seth Moulton and Tim Ryan; former Reps. Beto O’Rourke, John Delaney and Joe Sestak; author Marianne Williamson; entrepreneur Andrew Yang and businessman Tom Steyer.
Ryan additionally pledged to hold a press conference every two weeks if elected. And several of the campaigns told POLITICO they understood the need for more transparency in government.
“Donald Trump does not believe in the freedom of the press and has failed to stand up for this core American institution time and again — whether it’s his inadequate response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi or the lack of transparency in his administration,” Bennet said in a statement. “A strong free press is vital to a strong democracy.”