Congressmen Ami Bera, David Cicilline, Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger talk problem solving.
President Eisenhower once began a news conference by saying: “I will mount the usual weekly cross and let you drive the nails.” He was probably only half-joking. Most presidents don’t like news conferences, and it isn’t hard to understand why.
There was a time, though, when Americans heard frequently from the Commander in Chief. President Franklin D. Roosevelt averaged seven news conferences a month. Today, however, the average has dropped to just two a month -- and it’s often even fewer than that. The president should be required to hold monthly news conferences on the citizens’ time, so that we can hold him accountable.
Here is the problem: News conferences are typically held sporadically and sometimes not for months at a time. Presidents feel uncomfortable being unscripted, worried that they might accidentally say something that will create a media frenzy. But the citizens should be able to hear from our president regularly in a candid, spin-free environment.
The President should be able to talk to citizens openly and honestly without using a carefully crafted script. Effective democracy requires an open forum to discuss the issues that are most pressing for the peoples’ agenda -- not the White House’s agenda. News conferences are a time for Americans to engage in conversation with our leaders. Open questioning provides for a more transparent government and helps us foster a closer connection with the president.
News conferences, though, should not just be the purview of the traditional press. With the proliferation of the Internet and social media, citizens should be able to connect with their leaders like never before. That’s why No Labels believes that in addition to holding monthly press conferences, the president should participate in twice-a-year citizen news conferences, where citizens could ask questions via email, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Biographer Lou Cannon says Reagan told him several times, "The reporters learned that I don't have horns and eat my young."
In The Press and American Politics: The New Mediator, Richard Davis reports that “John Kennedy enjoyed press conferences” because they “reinforced the image of a president in command of the issues.” American citizens need to see that our president is “in command of the issues,” and the No Labels proposition is clear and simple: We have questions that need to be answered. The president should commit to answering them.
Dan Schnur is the Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a former Republican political strategist.