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Biden's silence on Trump's indictment

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A lot of national attention remains focused on the legal drama - legal dramas - of former President Donald Trump. But it was another quiet day at the White House. President Biden did not speak publicly at all today. He spent only a few minutes yesterday talking about artificial intelligence. The White House has worked hard to keep its distance from the wall-to-wall coverage of his predecessor's arraignment.

NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is at the White House and joins us to talk through Biden's strategy. Hey, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey. You've covered both these presidents - Biden and Trump. What kind of contrast have you seen these last few days?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, after four years of covering the Trump presidency, I got to admit, you know, there were moments, you know, over the last couple of days where I felt like I was back in time. I mean, the focus on Trump has been so intense. On Monday, I was with President Biden on his trip to Minneapolis to talk about the economy when almost every question posed to him was about Trump. And the only thing that Biden said then was that he had faith in the system and he trusted the New York Police Department.

And really, since then, as kind of you noted, it's been almost zilch. At the White House yesterday, reporters were brought in for just about five minutes to hear Biden talk about artificial intelligence. He didn't respond to any shouted questions about Trump. And as you noted, there was nothing planned for today. And by 3 p.m., the White House had basically shut it down and said there wouldn't be any other updates for the day.

KELLY: Which is a little unusual - so what's going on here? Why would President Biden cede so much of the spotlight to his predecessor?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the White House says that Biden is busy at work, but the White House and Democrats also see an opportunity here - you know, an opportunity to really illustrate the contrast between what Americans can continue to expect from Biden versus Trump if he were to come back. Yesterday, it was really wild. It was a brief but significant split-screen where, in the afternoon, President Biden was sitting at a table, meeting with his advisers at the White House around the same time that Trump was sitting at a defense table in New York - you know, a New York courtroom, being arraigned.

KELLY: I mean, part of the background dynamic here, of course, is that Donald Trump is running for president again. President Biden, we believe, is going to run for reelection, but he hasn't actually officially declared one way or the other. How does that factor in here?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it plays a role. I spoke with Doug Sosnik. He was a former advisor to President Bill Clinton. You know, he does say there is a difference between a president and a candidate. And he says there's a perception that a president governing is working for the people, but once a president becomes a candidate, there's another perception that he or she is focused on keeping their job. And Sosnik says, right now, the most important thing for Biden is to emphasize what he is doing for the American people.

DOUG SOSNIK: The single focus of this White House should be on telling that story and not going down rabbit holes; for instance, like engaging on a day-to-day basis on a tit-for-tat about the travails and problems of former President Trump.

ORDOÑEZ: And that was the message the White House delivered today when they were asked again about this.

KELLY: What about the message that we're hearing from Republicans? As you're reporting, what are you learning about how they may be gaming out the situation?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, it helps Trump, and it excites the Republican base in the short term, but it could hurt later on. I spoke with Republican strategist Ryan Williams about that tension, and here's what he said.

RYAN WILLIAMS: Right now, the political world revolves around Donald Trump once again. It sucks the oxygen out of the room for any other Republican attempting to challenge him, and it allows Biden to just essentially focus on governing and on his agenda.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, he says it doesn't necessarily, though, help Republican law at large. He says the focus is so much on the base and not the rest of the country. And whoever wins the Republican nomination is going to have to pick up some new voters, and this does not necessarily do that.

KELLY: That is NPR's veteran White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks for your time.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.