Sen. James Risch tore into Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a hearing on the Afghanistan failure on Tuesday about who has been cutting off President Joe Biden’s microphone when he’s speaking publicly.
The Idaho Republican, who is the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, grilled Blinken on the matter during a line of questioning about who is actually in charge, whether it’s the president or somebody else who is making decisions for him.
“Look, we’ve all seen this. We saw it as recently as yesterday. Somebody in the White House has authority to press the button and stop the president, cut off the president’s speaking ability and sound. Who is that person?”
“Hah, I think anyone who knows the president including members of this committee knows that he speaks very clearly and very deliberately for himself. No one else does,” Blinken said, despite endless clips and reporting showing the Biden gaffe machine going off-script, making up false stories, touting embarrassingly incorrect figures, hiding from the news cycle at Camp David, declining to take questions from reporters, and undermining his own messaging.
“Are you saying that there’s no one in the White House that can cut him off? Because yesterday that happened, and it’s happened a number of times before that. It’s been widely reported that somebody has the ability to push the button and cut off his sound and stop him from speaking. Who is that person?” Risch demanded.
Blinken again claimed “there is no such person,” saying, “The president speaks for himself, makes all of the strategic decisions, informed by the best advice that he can get from the people around him.”
Risch wasn’t satisfied. “So are you unaware that this is actually happening because it happened yesterday at the Interagency Fire Center. It was widely reported. The media’s reported on it. And it’s not the first time it’s happened. It’s happened several times. Are you telling this committee that this does not happen? That there’s no one in the White House that pushes the button and cuts him off in mid-sentence?”
The back-and-forth continued, with Blinken repeatedly insisting that “the president very much speaks for himself.”
“He does speak for himself, but what happens when somebody doesn’t want him speaking?” Risch pushed back. “You’re telling us you don’t know anything about this? That somebody cuts him off in mid-sentence. Is that what you’re trying to tell this committee? Because everybody here has seen it.”
Risch was referring to this most recent clip of the White House feed being cut off in the middle of a question, right after Biden asked George Geissler of the National Association of State Foresters, “Can I ask you a question?” followed by “One of the things that I’ve been working on, with some others, is–.” That’s where the audio and video stops.
BIDEN: “Can I ask you a question?”
*White House feed cuts out” pic.twitter.com/YQ9I9u3r98
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) September 13, 2021
CNN reporter and so-called fact-checker Daniel Dale came to Blinken’s defense on Twitter, blaming “right-wing media” and dragging Risch for his “button” phrasing.
“No. There was a planned ‘pool spray,’ in which press/cam is allowed in for brief remarks at a meeting’s start; it ended as Biden began questioning officials,” Dale wrote. “[A]s you’re probably seen, it’s entirely normal for the press to be ushered out/the cam to be shut off mid-meeting.”
At length, Sen. Jim Risch absurdly said someone at the White House yesterday hit a “button” to stop Biden from talking.
No. There was a planned “pool spray,” in which press/cam is allowed in for brief remarks at a meeting’s start; it ended as Biden began questioning officials.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 14, 2021
Also, like, these are the words Biden said before the feed ended: “Can I ask you a question? One of the things that I’ve been working on, with some others, is…” It wasn’t like he started telling some crazy story. (Anyway this is all ridiculous.)
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 14, 2021
Despite the journo-speak retort from Dale, who offered condescending explanations for legitimate questions rather than real fact-checking over a camera being cut not just mid-meeting but mid-sentence, Risch was correct that this has happened a number of times — and not just when the press is “ushered out,” as Dale claimed.
Official White House audio was reportedly stopped last month just as Biden was about to answer a reporter’s question about the Afghanistan withdrawal. NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander later confirmed that Biden offered a joke in response and then took no questions.
I asked President Biden what he will do if Americans are still in Afghanistan after the 8/31 deadline.
His response: “You’ll be the first person I call.”
Took no questions. pic.twitter.com/MlyFIayrMZ
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) August 25, 2021
The same thing happened in March when Biden’s camera feed and microphone were cut off at a House Democratic Caucus event after he said he would be “happy to take questions.”
“When Biden gives public remarks, some White House staffers will either mute him or turn off his remarks,” Politico reported just last week citing White House officials, because “they’re filled with anxiety that he’s going to take questions from the press and veer off the West Wing’s carefully orchestrated messaging.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted on a podcast episode with David Axelrod in May that letting Biden field press questions is “not something we recommend.”
“In fact, a lot of times we say, ‘Don’t take questions,’” she added.
Biden — who didn’t hold his first solo press conference until March 25, 64 days after taking office — went longer without addressing reporters than at least the 15 most recent presidents before him, a list going back 100 years. They all held solo press conferences within the first 33 days of their presidencies.