C’mon, Take (More) Questions, Barack Obama

President Barack Obama holds relatively few press conferences — and must answer fewer questions when he does than any other president.

At yesterday’s press conference he called on six reporters. Granted, some of the questions were two entirely separate parts, but at best it was maybe eight or nine questions.

Here’s a press conference from Ronald Reagan in which, if I’m counting correctly, he took 23 questions, although here’s a later one in which he took just 9. Counting question is sometimes pretty tricky; here’s one with George H.W. Bush, after the tax reversal, with over a dozen separate questions, but lots of follow-ups on top of that. Bill Clinton answered 10 here. And here’s one where George W. Bush took 19 question.

Now, if Obama was coming out once a week or more, the way that FDR did, or even regularly twice a month, as the next few presidents did more or less, then half a dozen questions would be fine. But the combination of few press conferences and few questions stinks. And the apparent trade-off — longer answers — doesn’t really make up for it, in my view.

By the way, I thought the questions were pretty good. Sure, Jonathan Karl’s “do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?” was phrased in a silly way, but of course after a presidential priority is defeated in the Senate, he’s going to get that type of question. They covered immigration, the hunger strikes at Gitmo, the Boston bombing, Obamacare implementation, Syria…all good topics; the only really misstep was a Benghazi question. But no North Korea, no Afghanistan corruption question, no question about any of his blocked nominees (or his failure to nominate anyone for many judicial and executive branch posts), and plenty more.

Anyway, I have no idea whether it’s a deliberate strategy to answer as few questions as possible, or he’s just naturally long-winded in this context. But while I don’t think he’s particularly good at the format — I’d say that Clinton and George H.W. Bush were solidly better, and I suppose I should toss JFK in there too — he’s also not someone that the staff needs to protect from doing it (as was the case with Reagan and George W. Bush). He should find a way to take more questions.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.