Trump, Biden and the contrast in debut press address

Washington, United States: Sporting a red tie, Donald Trump -- combative, goading, sometimes angry and insulting.

Wearing a blue tie with stripes, Joe Biden -- calm, amiable, sometimes stumbling and hesitant.

From February 16, 2017, to March 25, 2021: two debut press conferences at the White House by two presidents of the same generation but with radically different styles.

After nearly four weeks in power, Donald Trump, a political novice, frustrated by characterizations of the start of his presidency as chaotic, let loose on the media in a torrent of words.

After nine weeks in the White House, Joe Biden, a veteran of Washington politics, struck a different note, providing reassurances but no real surprises in a genial tone aimed at seeking a kind of complicity with his interrogators.

The setting was the same: the East Room of the White House with its imposing picture of George Washington and elaborate drapes.

American flags were on display behind the lectern adorned with the presidential seal but the atmosphere was notably different amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of social distancing, only about 30 journalists were allowed in the room.

Four years ago the East Room was overflowing and it took some gymnastics to type on a keyboard delicately balanced on one's knees to avoid disturbing your neighbor.

Trump was both the center of attention and producer of his press conferences. He set the rules, the tone, the tempo.

He took up the entire room, gesticulating constantly with his hands, movements which gave rise to parody videos of him as if playing the accordion.

He shifted constantly from surprise to disappointment to amusement to mockery. He chose which journalists asked the questions and met them with compliments or insults.

"Here's the deal" 

Biden provided a much more "presidential" spectacle, a description which Trump frequently derided.

Like Barack Obama, Biden chose the questioners from a list that had been prepared ahead of time by the White House press team.

He stayed behind the lectern and appeared only once to flash his temper when asked about Republican attempts to restrict voting rights of minorities.

"The Republican voters I know find this despicable," he said.

At one point, Biden stopped himself when a journalist looked like they wanted to ask a follow-up question.

"Am I giving you too long an answer?" he said obligingly. "I don't know how much detail you want."

To a questioner who asked about China, he injected a personal note.

"I predict to you that your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy because that is what is at stake," he said.

As he often does, Biden occasionally started sentences that trailed off in entirely different directions.

He trotted out his familiar phrases: "God willing," "Here's the deal" and "Folks."

He poked fun at his own age -- 78 -- with a reference to first arriving in the US Senate "120 years" ago.

It was all markedly different from four years ago when Trump's main target was the press itself.

The then-president lashed out at a "dishonest" media which he said is "out of control" and not telling the truth about the "incredible progress" made since he'd taken office.

"Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, DC, along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system," Trump said.

"Sit down!" Trump told one reporter who tried to ask a follow-up question. "The public doesn't believe you people anymore."

While no longer at the podium, Trump did make an appearance of sorts at Biden's press conference with the Democratic president asked if he expected to face the Republican again in 2024.

"My predecessor. Oh God, I miss him," Biden said, laughing.

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