Facing massive backlash, President Joe Biden had to eat his words threatening to veto a popular, bipartisan infrastructure bill unless Congress also passes a large government-spending bill “in tandem.” Rather than report this as the embarrassing faux pas that it was, the media claimed that Biden merely “clarified” his remarks, said he never intended to threaten a veto, and even blamed the breakdown on Republicans.
Last week, Joe Biden did something he rarely does: speak clearly, forcefully, and without any wiggle room. Biden, who had just announced a bipartisan infrastructure plan costing $1.2 trillion over eight years, said that he would veto the bill if legislators didn’t also pass a separate “anti-poverty” bill. Biden’s comments could hardly have been clearer: He instructed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to pass both bills “promptly and in tandem. Let me emphasize that: and in tandem.”
Biden’s actual “clarification” came just minutes later, when two reporters asked what he meant by “in tandem.” Biden said, “I expect that in the coming months this summer, before the fiscal year is over, that we will have voted on this bill, the infrastructure bill, as well as voted on the budget resolution. But if only one comes to me, this is the only one that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem.”
The comments had Republicans, who had just crossed the aisle at great political risk, seeing red.
“No deal by extortion!” tweeted Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “It was never suggested to me during these negotiations that President Biden was holding hostage the bipartisan infrastructure proposal unless a liberal reconciliation package was also passed.”
No deal by extortion!
It was never suggested to me during these negotiations that President Biden was holding hostage the bipartisan infrastructure proposal unless a liberal reconciliation package was also passed. https://t.co/JgYFma6oI0
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 25, 2021
Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) made similar statements that President Biden had never said the two bills’ fates were intertwined.
Biden couldn’t stand the backlash and reversed himself over the weekend.
“At a press conference after announcing the bipartisan agreement, I indicated that I would refuse to sign the infrastructure bill if it was sent to me without my Families Plan and other priorities, including clean energy,” wrote Biden in a press statement Saturday. He added that his comments “created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent.”
The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson was practically alone in calling the statement the problem it was. “When the explanation is that much longer than what you originally said, you’ve got a problem,” he said on Tuesday’s “Morning Joe.” The problem, he said, was that Biden was “saying the quiet part out loud.” That is, Biden had hoodwinked moderate Republicans for his own purposes and gotten in trouble for giving up the game.
But few had his honesty. The Associated Press reported Biden’s statement thus: “Aiming to preserve fragile infrastructure deal, Biden says he didn’t intend to suggest veto unless Dem bill passes, too.” Axios ran with the headline, “Biden walks back implied veto threat on infrastructure deal.”
Suggest? Implied? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “imply” as a phrase used “to express indirectly.” Biden threatened Congress undeniably, unequivocally, and with a creepy grin plastered on his face. Yet the media let Biden’s strange explanation stand.
Several news outlets claimed the whole thing was just a misunderstanding: Biden never threatened to veto the bill. NBC News further gaslighted its audience by headlining the AP story, “Biden: Remark on infrastructure measure was not intended to be veto threat.” The Voice of America claimed, “President Joe Biden said Saturday that he didn’t mean to suggest he would veto the bill unless Congress also passed a larger package to expand” the welfare state.
Yes, Joe Biden said that — but the fact that the government says something does not mean it is true; readers count on journalists to give them the truth. Yet many of the stories did not even quote Biden’s clear veto threat.
Other news outlets at NBC tried to blame the backlash on Republicans. On the “Today” show Monday, White House correspondent Monica Alba said that Biden walked back his remarks “after Republicans threatened to derail the deal with senators of both parties just hours after it was struck Thursday”; meanwhile, the screen showed b-roll footage of Biden speaking as President Abraham Lincoln looked on thoughtfully from a painting. Alba then proceeded to accuse President Trump of “lashing out” and “repeating recycled lies about the election he lost” during his “revenge tour.”
Still others minimized the importance of Biden’s statements. The New York Times said Biden’s “stray comments” may “not seem like much,” but lamented that they “upended a political win.”
Most legacy media outlets simply said that Biden had to tidy up his remarks — not that he flip-flopped, retracted, or retreated, all of which would have been more accurate. The Hill informed its readers that “President Biden on Saturday sought to clarify remarks.” CBS News said, “The White House is having to clarify its position,” in a video that said Biden would “honor $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal.”
To her credit, Weija Jiang of “CBS This Morning” said somewhat sarcastically that “the president clarified he didn’t actually mean what he said” and that Biden “reversed his comments.” That is the most critical reporting Biden endured during his ongoing honeymoon with the media.
Compare that to President Donald Trump. Trump regularly went off-script during his massive 2016 campaign rallies and, when his handlers sent out messages “clarifying” his remarks, Trump doubled down on his version of his remarks. The media interpreted each iteration as a new flip-flop from the Trump campaign, and they interpreted every word that came out of Trump’s mouth in the most damning way possible — literally if that sounded most discrediting, figuratively if that worked better.
Eleven days after the 2016 election, NBC News ran a story titled “Tracking President Trump’s Flip-Flops” — many of which were not in any way reversals or even in conflict with his previous statements. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that President Trump implied that Kirsten Gillibrand traded sexual favors for campaign contributions — an interpretation not obvious from the quotation in question — The Washington Post wrote, “White House again denies what many think Trump meant.”
No one asked about President Trump’s “intent.” His remarks never “clarified” those of his campaign workers. The media portrayed any conflicting nuance as an erratic change in policy emanating flow-of-consciousness style from an unhinged man-child.
In the legacy media: Democrats “clarify,” Republicans “contradict themselves.”
Reporters’ lazy PR coverage of Biden’s craven about-face is a textbook example of media bias.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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