Biden Needs To Speak

[ Posted Tuesday, January 17th, 2023 – 16:46 UTC ]

President Biden is a good politician in many ways, but there is one area where he can be rather weak at times -- reacting quickly to developing events. Something major happens, the news media makes a big deal out of it, and then the White House takes an interminable amount of time to react -- even when they were warned ahead of time. The most obvious example of this was the Dobbs Supreme Court decision which overturned Roe v. Wade. Not only was the decision expected, but it had been telegraphed a month earlier by a leaked opinion draft (a rarity for the Supreme Court). But even given this head-start, the Biden administration was slow to react and took days before even deciding upon any real course of action. Currently, Biden is slow-walking his reaction to the scandal of classified documents being found at his former workplace and home. And so far, the drip-drip-drip of news has been met with a very weak and inadequate response from the White House.

Biden needs to get out in front of this issue. He needs to address the nation and explain where things stand. If he doesn't, then he will remain captive to the "next shoe to drop" waiting that we're all currently going through. The big question everyone's got right now is: "Is that all of them? What else are we going to learn?"

Biden is listening to legal counsel, who are advising him to say nothing. This is standard behavior for any lawyer -- it is stock advice to any client, really: "Don't make any public statement because it could always come back to haunt you." The communication Biden's lawyers have made are all careful to point out that they are bending over backwards to preserve the investigation into what happened. His lawyers "have attempted to balance the importance of public transparency where appropriate with the established norms and limitations necessary to protect the investigation's integrity. These considerations require avoiding the public release of detail relevant to the investigation while it is ongoing."

This investigation has been ongoing since November, when the first classified documents were discovered. Now a special counsel has been appointed to further investigate -- which could take a long time. The American public should not have to wait until it is complete before hearing from Joe Biden about what exactly is going on. And he really should have been prepared for this story to break -- he's had over two months, and yet the White House still seems to be rather flat-footed in their response so far.

The president is not a normal legal client. He is the president of the United States. This means he can override his legal team because the public's right to know is at times more important than exercising legal cautiousness. Biden is even reportedly chafing at being told he can say nothing -- as he told the press last week: "I'm going to get a chance to speak on all this, God willing, soon."

Biden should give a short address to the people, sitting behind a desk or standing in one of those impressive White House rooms they use for such things. The media should not be present, not during this announcement -- Biden should eventually take questions about everything, but the first announcement should be a simple statement and not a press conference.

In it, he should explain the scope of what went on and what is going on. If mistakes were made, this should be explained (even if all the mistakes haven't been discovered yet). If things are still not known, Biden should admit this. At least the first batch of papers must have been taken right after he ended his term as vice president, which was six years ago, so reconstructing exactly what happened might be difficult as memories fade. If there truly are details which must still remain secret, Biden should at least broadly admit that, too. But even saying: "I can't talk about this aspect of it" is a lot better than saying nothing.

The basic information is already out there in the public domain. Biden needs to fill in some of the details to answer the questions which now exist, and explain what role (if any) he played in the events. How many documents total were involved? What level were they classified at? Where were they stored? Who had access to them? Again, Biden won't be able to disclose all of these details, but he can and should paint with a broad brush to let the American people know that he is taking everything as seriously as possible and that he is fully cooperating with the investigators and the National Archives.

Biden should admit some mistakes in how this all was handled, as well. What with the situation with Donald Trump, it is absolutely inconceivable that classified documents were found in early November and this didn't immediately trigger an intense and thorough search -- everywhere Biden had stored any paperwork -- to seek any others. Instead, what we hear is that such a search apparently only took place in the past few weeks. That was a mistake, obviously, and Biden should do the best he can to explain why it took so long to take what should have been the most painfully obvious next step.

Biden should explain what he knew about all of this and when he knew it, at least in a general way. He should say when he was informed about it and what has happened since. He was not personally involved in any of the searches for more documents, but he almost certainly had to at least sign off on them taking place. Which he should clearly state.

Republicans, of course, are having a field day, since they see all of this as some sort of "Get out of jail free" card for Donald Trump. Biden has always positioned himself as being a completely different kind of politician than Trump, which included a commitment to transparency. But transparency has been sorely lacking so far in Biden's response.

Biden needs to get out in front of all this. It is really "Politics 101" to do so -- strive at all costs to not look like you are covering anything up, by openly and publicly admitting what is going on. Even if Biden is constrained in revealing details (like the classification levels, and other sensitive subjects) he should at least say so -- "I can't discuss this aspect of the situation, to preserve the integrity of the investigation." But saying nothing should no longer be seen as a viable option.

President Biden needs to read a statement to the American people. It can be vetted by his lawyers, but he needs to make them understand that some sort of statement absolutely needs to be made. This isn't just a legal issue, it is also a political one. Biden needs to show the American people that he is doing the right thing and how different his response is to Trump's stonewalling and lying. Nobody can demonstrate this more adequately than Biden himself. We need to hear at least an overview of the situation, one that goes a lot further than the few details his lawyers have already revealed. If there are still things which aren't known, Biden should give an overview of this as well, without jeopardizing the investigation into it all.

Biden will not be able to move on from this scandal in any way until he does make some sort of public statement about it. He's going to get questions shouted at him about it by reporters no matter what he does, and the only way to get his side of the story out is to do so directly to the American people.

Mister President, we need to hear from you. We really should have heard from you before now, but it is not too late for some transparency. Tell us what is going on, and what is being done about it. There is no way you're going to get out in front of it until you do so.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Biden Needs To Speak”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    "It isn't just a legal issue, it's also a political issue."Actually, it goes even beyond that. It's an issue of patriotism and morality in the public sphere. The only good I can see coming from this is that it will perhaps persuade him not to run again for President.

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    On the plus side, nowadays you don’t hear a lot of bitching about inflation, right?

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    But seriously, I largely agree that addressing this forthrightly is necessary provided such an address isn’t immediately followed by some development that takes it to another level. Mind you, this appears at present to be miles away from Trump’s level of obvious malfeasance.

    I’d like the media to focus on what Joe knew and when he knew it and what responsibility IF ANY he bears under the law.

  4. [4] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    President Biden is a good politician in many ways, but there is one area where he can be rather weak at times -- reacting quickly to developing events. Something major happens, the news media makes a big deal out of it, and then the White House takes an interminable amount of time to react -- even when they were warned ahead of time.

    Most of the time this works to Joe’s political benefit. Joe has teflon qualities in good measure because he ignores a lot of the day to day noise and the news cycle marches on to the next shiny object.

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