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White House in damage-control mode after Biden fumbles cringe-worthy Putin summit
President Biden watched in apparent amusement Wednesday as Russian security officials shoved US reporters at his high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.
The scuffle drowned out most of Biden’s opening remarks, including his declaration that both Russia and the United States are “great powers,” and it continued as Biden nodded in response to a question about whether he trusts Putin, which Biden aides promptly walked back.
The chaos broke out just before reporters entered the Villa de la Grange to observe the only scheduled joint public remarks from Biden and Putin. Russian officials reportedly joined the melee indoors as reporters jostled for the best spot.
“Journalists pushed and shoved, yelling at each other to move but no one did. After just a minute or two, Russian security pulled the red rope separating the media from the leaders back to try to keep them away from the presidents,” journalist Antia Kumar of Politico wrote in a White House pool report.
“Russian security yelled at journalists to get out and began pushing journalists. Journalists and White House officials screamed back that the Russian security should stop touching us. Your pooler was pushed multiple times, nearly to the ground, as many poolers tripped over the red rope, which was now almost to the ground.”
Kumar wrote that “[b]oth presidents watched and listened to the media scuffle in front of them. They appeared amused by the scene. At one point, Biden leaned over and spoke to the interpreter and smiled.”
AP reporter Jonathan Lemire posted a photo of the scene, writing, “Scene from the fracas earlier at the Biden-Putin summit here in Geneva, with Russian security forces pushing me out while President Biden looks on.”
The White House did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment on Biden’s reaction.
US officials generally advocate for greater press access on foreign trips, but Biden’s inaugural trip abroad to three European countries has seen severe limits on press access.
On Monday, the White House scrapped a similar “pool spray” at the start of Biden’s meeting with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the NATO summit in Belgium. Frustrated US reporters, waiting in a hallway for 112 minutes, were left dependent on Turkey’s government, which regularly imprisons journalists, for information.
The treatment drew widespread concern from reporters. Ashley Parker, the White House bureau chief at the Washington Post, tweeted, “Biden is abroad doing a big push on democracy v autocracy. BUT the U.S. press — a key part of any functioning democracy — has gotten less access than under previous administrations. And is now forced to resort to updates on from…the Turkish government Twitter account.”
Later on Monday, Biden was more than two hours late to a press conference in Belgium, then took questions for only 16 minutes.
And last week, US reporters covering Biden’s trip to England, including for the G-7 summit, faced strict rules banning them from leaving their hotels except for official functions, ostensibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and received little access to Biden at official events with world leaders including Queen Elizabeth II.
In England, Biden stayed at a castle-themed hotel on the Cornish coast that was far from less glamorous press pool quarters selected by the White House, which required a commute that eliminated the possibility of chance encounters. British reporters instead lucked out when Biden unexpectedly visited a hotel patio wearing sneakers.
On Twitter, the Biden White House’s treatment of the press drew unflattering comparisons to the Trump administration. Although President Donald Trump often railed against the media, he was known for extensive and unfettered Q&As and his then-press secretary Stephanie Grisham got into a physical altercation with North Korean agents in 2019 at Korea’s Demilitarized Zone to ensure US media access.
Steve Guest, an aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), tweeted, “The difference between the Trump administration and the Biden administration:” with a screenshot of an article headline describing how Grisham “literally pushes for press access.”
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