Q&A: Talking shop with White House communications director Kate Bedingfield

Q&A: Talking shop with White House communications director Kate Bedingfield
© Courtesy of Joe Biden YouTube

Kate BedingfieldKate BedingfieldBiden's misinformation crackdown spotlights partisan divide on content reform White House uses Trump's words praising China to slam McCarthy's Biden criticism Biden, Putin begin high-stakes summit in Geneva MORE, Joe BidenJoe BidenFirst lady leaves Walter Reed after foot procedure Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package MyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News MORE’s White House communications director, has had a long history with the president, having managed communications when he was vice president and during the 2020 campaign.

As the Biden administration passes 40 days in office, The Hill spoke with Bedingfield about the job, relationships with the press, and if Biden will hold a presidential press conference any time soon.

The following has been edited for space.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Q. The relationship between the press and the Trump administration was so contentious. How would you characterize the Biden administration’s relationship with the press?

A. I think communication between the White House and the press has been effective in our first 40 days. I think you can see that in a few ways. One is through the civility of the tone in the briefing room. You watch [White House press secretary] Jen PsakiJen PsakiOn The Money: Biden asks Congress to extend eviction ban with days until expiration | Economic growth rose to 6.5 percent annual rate in second quarter Biden calls on Congress to extend eviction ban with days until expiration Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE work with the press day in and day out at the briefing. I think there is a civil and respectful tone even when the questions are pointed or when reporters are pushing the administration, as they should. That’s their role.

I think the tone there is dramatically different, and I think it sets a great standard for the administration across the board.

 

Q. When will the president hold a press conference and take questions? Will it be within months or weeks?

A. I can’t put a timeline on it right now. It is something he will do in the future. But I would also note that he frequently takes questions from the press pool who is covering him each day. He takes questions as he’s moving from event to event, or as an event is starting, or when he’s getting on the helicopter. He is very accessible to the press. We’re here day in and day out, and he also does a number of interviews. So, he has been connecting directly with the American people through the press. But I would anticipate that you’ll see him at some point in the near future.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Q. Of the following issues — the minimum wage debate, schools and lockdowns, the Neera TandenNeera TandenThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Schumer back down on his deadline? Biden's budget vacancy raises eyebrows White House releases staff salaries showing narrowed gender pay gap MORE Office of Management and Budget director nomination and the decision not to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi — which has taken most of your attention?

A. I can’t really rank them. On any given day, that’s the challenge of communications from the White House: You can be facing one crisis, one situation, and the next day you’ve pivoted to the next one. So, I don’t know that I could really put a timeframe or amount of bandwidth that any of those in particular has taken up, except to say that one of the unique challenges of doing communication from the White House is dealing with the rapid-fire pace.

 

Q. What is the latest on the issue of asking the press to pay for their own COVID-19 tests before visiting the White House?

A. Obviously, our priority is accessibility, and we are working to ensure that we are covering tests for reporters who are in the briefing room [and] for reporters who are directly covering the president and the vice president.

The reporters who are in the president pool and the vice president pool every day, we are continuing to cover those costs. And we want to make sure that those opportunities for coverage are as accessible to the press as possible.

What we’re doing is asking the press who are on campus for other purposes [to pay]. So perhaps they are doing their stand-ups out on what we call pebble beach, where [TV reporters] have a stand-up in front of the White House. We’re asking them to cover their testing costs to be there.

What we’re trying to do is strike a balance between the budgetary challenge that we have in the testing and our desire and our obligation to ensure that there is still accessibility to cover the president and to cover the press secretary briefing.

 

Q. You managed Biden’s comms when he was vice president and when he was campaigning. Can you compare the roles?

A. There’s certainly a quantitative difference. No question about it. I think there’s actually a lot of similarity between the vice president’s office and this role, obviously, where your priority is to communicate the president’s or the vice president’s policy positions.

I think a big difference between campaign communications and government communications is just the amount of policy resources that you have available to you. [When] you’re tasked with communicating the campaign, the volume is really high, and you’re communicating around the clock basically. But in some ways, [it] is more sort of targeted and focused.

The biggest difference [is] the scope of what you’re tasked with communicating every day from the White House is much broader.

You have all of the work that the government agencies are doing every day, you have all of the work that’s happening at the different councils that are housed within the White House: the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the National Economic Council.

There is an entire universe of work going on in each of those places every day. So, prioritizing what you’re going to be focused on and talking about and communicating about each day is a huge piece of the White House comms role. And I think that is more expansive than the campaign comms work. 

 

Q. The initial theme of the Biden administration seemed to be unity. What impression are you trying to convey now?

A. A sense of competence. That he’s working hard to get this virus under control and get the economy back on track. One of the things that we really try to communicate is his understanding of what people are going through day in and day out. I think he has a really powerful connection with ordinary working people all across the country.

And so, as we’re communicating the policy specifics of what he’s focused on, we’re also broadly working to communicate that connection, that sense of understanding of what people are going through, and then the competent, urgent response that he is leading as president. I would say that’s probably the big overarching piece. And then unity, as you mentioned. Unity is important, too.

Those are sort of our twin messages. An empathetic, competent president is tackling the crisis with urgency but also doing it in a way that is designed to generate unity, that’s designed to be inclusive, reaching out to people on both sides of the aisle [and] speaking to every American.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Q. Do you think you’ve succeeded?

A. Well, we’ll let the American public decide that. I hope so. But we’ll let the American public decide that.