“I’m not confident. Where the hell — what do you do all the time?” Biden said as he changed course and began walking toward where the group of reporters were gathered.
In addition to disputing the premise of her question, Biden apparently took issue with Collins’ use of the word “confident.”
“When did I say I was confident?” Biden said, wagging his right index finger for emphasis. “What I said was — let’s get it straight — I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them, and it diminishes their standing in the world.”
The confrontation served as an odd coda to a weeklong overseas trip that was meant to portray the president as bringing in an era of stability and order after four years of Donald Trump.
Biden had just met with Putin, followed by a meeting between the two men and their respective aides. The press debrief was meant to highlight the gains from those meetings.
Such news conferences are typically highly stage-managed affairs, with countless hours of preparation beforehand. However, there were signs that Biden was somewhat uncomfortable with Wednesday’s set-up. Early in, he took off his suit jacket and noted how warm it was outside. Later, he commented on the sun’s glare on a reporter’s face.
In the past, Biden has labeled Putin a “killer” and claimed to have told the Russian president he didn’t believe he had a soul. On Wednesday, he declined to offer up such vivid descriptors. He also insisted that his meeting was fruitful in that the two got to better understand each other’s respective positions and red lines. Biden said he was “not confident of anything; I’m just stating a fact.”
Biden has a long history of off-the-cuff comments that catch his aides off guard and can complicate his preferred political messaging — a habit the White House has actively guarded against during his presidency.
Collins’ line of questioning continued to draw the president’s ire as she asked him why he considered his meeting with Putin “productive” after the Russian leader fended off questions of his government’s human rights record by pointing to problems in the U.S.
Biden snapped back, telling Collins she was “in the wrong business” if she could not grasp the usefulness of the summit.
Shortly before boarding Air Force One to begin the journey back across the Atlantic, the president said he apologized to Collins. However, he stood by his underlying message and bemoaned what he perceived as an overriding negativity bias in journalism.
“There’s a value to being realistic and putting on an optimistic front,” Biden said of being a world leader. “I’m going to drive you all crazy, because I know you want me to always put a negative thrust on things, particularly in public.”
Biden’s outburst came at the end of a dayslong trip to Europe that included meetings with leaders of the G-7 and NATO, as well as Putin and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. It was Biden’s first overseas trip since taking office in January and came at a particularly sensitive diplomatic time, as Covid-19 vaccines remain in short supply globally and the U.S. remains at odds with several of its allies on how to approach Russia, China and other big-ticket concerns.
Biden was not the only one to get heated on Wednesday toward the end of the high-pressure swing through Europe. Journalists jockeying outside the president’s meeting with Putin devolved into a fracas that led security officials to sideline most of the assembled media from the summit.
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