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Week In Politics: Breaking Down President Biden's First Press Conference

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden held his first full press conference of his administration. Ron Elving joins us this morning, our senior editor - NPR's senior editor and correspondent for the Washington Desk. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And how do you assess President Biden's presentation?

ELVING: On balance, not bad. No one's going to see him as a master of this format. He's not Ronald Reagan. He's not JFK. And that helped the White House keep expectations rather low in anticipation. They got a big assist from Biden's critics, of course, who were suggesting he just wasn't up to the task. And that's why he wasn't having a big formal press conference, either because he physically couldn't or mentally couldn't.

But to the new president's credit, he handled the questions. He kept his cool. He shied away from some of the more hostile members of the White House press corps. But he hit his talking points, seemed in charge. And the coverage was predominantly substantive and positive.

SIMON: Ron, I will not use the word optics. I have sworn off the word optics. But what did you notice about the president's delivery of his answers and the product of preparation and staff work?

ELVING: The more he talks, the greater the chance of unforced errors. Everyone knows that. But this was by and large the better Biden. He kept it tight, kept the editing mechanism engaged.

SIMON: He was able to run the table, wasn't he? Talk about his agenda.

ELVING: He did. And that meant the stories that emerged were largely about the good news - the vaccination campaign, the improving economy and the promise of a big infrastructure plan. And it also meant less focus on those thousands of kids in overcrowded detention centers at the border or the emerging challenges in foreign policy in Korea and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

SIMON: The president also made some breaking news with his position on the filibuster. He said he agreed with former President Obama that the filibuster was a relic of the Jim Crow era. Does that signal it's a relic that's about to be toppled?

ELVING: It's premature to call it the end just yet. But a consensus could be forming around returning the filibuster to the way we saw it in the movies, the way it was done in the 20th century. That's when South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond once held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes to kill a civil rights bill.

That sort of tactic worked for a long time. But ultimately, it failed to stop the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That's when the public came to see these tactics for what they were. And that's when a bipartisan supermajority of senators came together to defeat those filibusters and pass those landmark measures.

Now, more recently, the Senate has shifted to what we call the virtual or a silent filibuster, essentially a threat to monopolize the floor rather than the reality of doing so. And that kind of low-profile roadblock has come to dominate life in the Senate, making it a legislative graveyard in recent years.

SIMON: Has the math changed on the filibuster?

ELVING: It has because the Democrats have at least a nominal majority, and they are coalescing in opposition to the filibuster, at least the virtual filibuster. But it's also changing because the abuse of the tactic has reached the point where the public is once again taking notice, once again assigning blame for the Senate's inaction. And that blame is not just on one party but on the filibuster itself as an institution, an institution that guarantees each individual senator a special kind of power. That is why it has persisted all these years, and that is why it suffers in the light of public awareness.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.