President Joe Biden’s aides refused to let him answer questions from reporters as he visited a hardware store in Washington, DC, on his 48th day in office without holding a solo press conference.
Biden visited W.S. Jenks & Son, a hardware store which used Paycheck Protection Program money to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, on Tuesday to tout his extension of the program.
The president gave brief remarks and toured the store with its owners for about 10 minutes before members of the press corp began shouting questions in his direction – including several about whether there is a crisis at the Mexico border.
But Biden didn’t acknowledge any of the questions before his aides stepped in to escort the reporters away, telling them: ‘Come on, press, you gotta go.’
It came as Vice President Kamala Harris took her latest solo call with a foreign leader, speaking to Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg without Biden on the line.
Harris has previously spoken to Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and French president Emmanuel Macron in vice-presidential calls which were less common under the Trump/Pence administration.
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President Joe Biden’s aides refused to let him answer questions from reporters as he visited the W.S. Jenks & Son hardware store in Washington, DC, on Tuesday (pictured)
Biden didn’t acknowledge any questions before his aides stepped in to escort the reporters away, telling them: ‘Come on, press, you gotta go’
Out of every president in the past 100 years, Biden has waited the longest to hold his first solo press conference, according to CNN.
All 15 prior presidents held their first within 33 days of taking office, while Biden has waited nearly seven weeks – and counting.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said that Biden’s first solo appearance before reporters will take place by the end of the month.
‘We look forward to holding a full press conference in the coming weeks before the end of the month,’ she said. ‘And we’re working on setting a final date for that and as soon as we do we will let you all know.’
It came after Psaki was asked why Biden had delayed a full Q&A with journalists, bucking a tradition to do one in the early weeks of an administration, which has been around since the Reagan years.
‘He’s answered questions. I believe that count is almost 40 times,’ Psaki replied. ‘And I would say that his focus, again, is on getting recovery and relief to the American people and he looks forward to continuing to engage with all of you and to members of the — other members of the media who aren’t here today, and we’ll look forward to letting you know as soon as the press conference is set.’
During what’s called a ‘spray,’ when reporters pop into a meeting with Biden for several minutes to take his photo and observe what he’s doing, he’s often answered a question or two, though often strains to hear what’s being asked over the calls from his aides telling journalists to leave the room.
Psaki also pointed to the current crises the president is tackling – the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout.
‘I think the American people would certainly understand if his focus, his energy and his attention has been on ensuring we secure enough vaccines to vaccinate all Americans, which we will do by the end of May and then pushing for a rescue plan that will provide direct checks to almost 160 million Americans,’ she said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said that Biden’s first solo appearance before reporters will take place by the end of the month
Biden used his visit to W.S. Jenks & Son on Tuesday to knock former President Donald Trump’s administration for doling out PPP loans to ‘people who shouldn’t have gotten the help’.
‘We found out an awful lot of that went to bigger businesses that, in fact, weren’t supposed to qualify for this,’ he said of the PPP loans.
‘Because there used to be a thing called an inspector general, to see where the money went, and the last administration fired the inspector general.’
In April, just weeks after the first $2trillion coronavirus relief package passed, Trump removed Glenn Fine, the acting inspector general for the Defense Department, who had been tapped to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which the law created to watch over how funds were being used.
One notable PPP loan, for nearly $1million, was given in April 2020 to TB12, a sports health company that is owned by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who’s friendly with Trump.
Restaurant chains including TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s that signed up for PPP loans were criticized for taking money that was designed to go to mom-and-pop stores and other small businesses.
‘So a lot of money went to people who shouldn’t have gotten the help,’ Biden explained.
The president said that’s why he put some temporary restrictions on the PPP program.
Starting on February 24, only businesses with fewer than 20 employees could apply for PPP loans for a 14-day period.
‘And the reason for that was, 400,000 small businesses went out of business,’ Biden said. ‘They got in line and couldn’t get the help.’
He added that often minority and women-owned businesses fit into this category.
Biden used his visit to W.S. Jenks & Son on Tuesday to knock former President Donald Trump ‘s administration for doling out PPP loans to ‘people who shouldn’t have gotten the help’. He is seen speaking to co-owner Mike Siegel (right) and Mary Anna Ackley (left), who owns one of the two urban farms in the building
‘Don’t jump, we need you,’ Biden said to staff watching him from a balcony at the store
Biden asked Mike Siegel, one of the co-owners of the hardware store: ‘What hit you the hardest when the pandemic hit?’
‘We took all of our at-risk employees and sent them home,’ Siegel replied, explaining that a PPP loan allowed them to continue to pay their employees.
The business owner said: ‘We’re still struggling.
‘While our retail business actually increased over the course of the pandemic – I think people know there’s a little bit of a hardware boom – a big portion of our business is actually government sales and commercial sales and for the first four or five months that was completely gone. And honestly, it’s about 60 per cent of our annual revenue.’
Siegel said that W.S. Jenks & Son was the oldest hardware store in Washington, D.C., adding that it’s also ‘the greenest hardware store in America,’ as two urban farms – Little Wild Things and Cultivate the City – are also in the building.
Some of the employees were on a balcony overlooking the presidential visit, with Biden giving them a wave.
‘I see them!’ he said. ‘Don’t jump, we need you,’ he told the staff – a Biden-ism he also used on a rooftop heckler during a visit to Pittsburgh while on the campaign trail in August.
After Biden’s visit, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Bharat Ramamurti said during the daily briefing there has been an uptick in PPP applicants who have fewer than five employees, who are minorities and who are women during the special two-week period.
Since February 24, the Small Business Administration received around 300,000 new applications from businesses with fewer than five employees, a 15 per cent increase, and 200,000 first-time applicants, a 25 per cent increase.
The special period saw a 20 per cent increase of applicants from minority-owned businesses, a 14 per cent increase from women-owned businesses and a 12 per cent bump from businesses located in rural areas, Ramamurti said.
The Biden administration also allowed around 30,000 loan applications to go foward, which were previously held up because applicants were delinquent on student loan debt, Ramamurti said.