Joe Biden will beas president today at 1:15 p.m. Eastern. Though he has sometimes taken questions from reporters, he has not held a real press conference .
Here’s what I will be watching for.
First and foremost: mental acuity.
Will the president be able to remember the questions he was asked? At a CNN healthcare town hall last year, candidate Biden repeatedly forgot the numerous softball questions relayed by Anderson Cooper and babbled incoherently. The network purged this grim performance from its website so you can’t find it. While politicians routinely answer the questions they wish they were asked rather than the ones they actually were, forgetting softball questions seems to indicate that you are not all there.
Will he be spontaneous? One of the top signs of a politician’s mental acuity is the ability to roll with the punches, crack a joke when need be, deflect, turn on a dime. Joe Biden used to have this ability but it’s been a long time.
Why is this important? Throughout the campaign and since becoming president, Biden has not been subjected to the give-and-take of questioning in which he is not sure in advance what will be asked. That’s why, I suspect, he waited longer than any president in memory after taking office before holding his first presser. We know he can read a speech. But so could Reagan throughout his presidency, and we now know that he was probably suffering from Alzheimer’s by his second term.
Watch for flashes of anger. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia often, and understandably, feel frustrated by their inability to communicate clearly, and lash out with anger. We’ve seen that several times from the president.
Later during the campaign he was asked by a journalist whether he had taken a cognitive test, a subject also posed to then-President Donald Trump. “No, I haven’t taken a test. Why the hell would I take a test? Come on, man,” Biden yelled. “That’s like saying to you, before you got on this program if you had taken a test were you taking cocaine or not. What do you think, huh? Are you a junkie?”
Anger doesn’t equal dementia but these episodes raised eyebrows because remaining cool calm and collected is not only a requirement to be a successful politician in America, where the culture values a steady John Wayne form of masculinity, but also to govern successfully as president.
With much of the corporate media in the bag for Biden, I would expect reporters to act as usual, in other words not pushing for straightforward answers to their questions.
But this event isn’t about the journalists, it’s about the president and his ability to think on his feet.