PBS’s Pathetic Denial of Biden’s ‘Illegal’ Apology:’ ‘We Should Correct the Record’

The Monday evening edition of the PBS NewsHour featured a spicier-than-usual “Politics Monday” segment with NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, both seeing a more favorable issue landscape for President Joe Biden. But it was co-anchor Geoff Bennett that sucked up to Biden the most.

The term “illegal” is considered offensive on the left, and Biden eventually bowed to media and left-wing pressure to apologize for his word choice. PBS aired the relevant clips:

Co-anchor Geoff Bennett lunged immediately to shield Biden from Trump.

MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart asked Biden do you “regret” the word choice, and he agreed. Even on screen at MSNBC, the screen read “Biden regrets calling migrant an ‘illegal’ at the SOTU.” He didn’t say “sorry” or “I apologize,” but how desperate is PBS here?

Tamara Keith of National Public Radio came with the requisite spin.

The segment shifted from immigration, then to social spending and Donald Trump’s vague pronouncements in a CNBC interview about “cutting” entitlements.

Bennett took the Democratic election-year line, seeing no worries on the immediate horizon for Social Security.

Keith also kicked the can down the road and pretended, for the sake of Democratic electoral convenience, that congressional Republicans would ever actually threaten entitlements anytime soon.

PBS NewsHour

3/11/24

7:37:37 p.m. (ET)

Geoff Bennett: President Biden traveled to New Hampshire today, his latest trip to a battleground state after he and former President Donald Trump held dueling rallies over the weekend.

Mr. Trump mocked Biden’s childhood stutter and pounced on the president saying in an interview with MSNBC over the weekend that he regretted using the term illegal during his State of the Union address to describe the suspected killer of the University of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley.

Joe Biden, President of the United States: I shouldn’t have used illegal. I should have — it’s undocumented.

And, look, when I spoke about the difference between Trump and me, one of the things I talked about on the border was that his — the way he talks about vermin, the way he talks about these people polluting the blood. I talked about what I’m not going to do, what I won’t do. I’m not going to treat any — any — any of these people with disrespect.

Donald Trump, Former President of the United States (R) and Current U.S. Presidential Candidate: He was an illegal migrant and he shouldn’t have been in our country and he never would have been under the Trump policy.

(Cheering and applause)

Donald Trump: And Biden should be apologizing for apologizing to this killer.

Geoff Bennett: Let’s bring in our Politics Monday team. That’s Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR. It’s great to see you both.

And, look, we should correct the record because President Biden never apologized to the alleged killer, as Donald Trump said he did. He never even apologized for using the word illegal.

But, Tam, the Biden campaign has been saying for weeks now that they want to draw a contrast between these two visions. And never before, you could argue, have differing visions been so clear on this topic of immigration that more voters say they care about, prioritizing over the economy.

Tamara Keith, National Public Radio: Right. Immigration and the border keeps rising in terms of voter concern, voter priorities.

And President Biden is not running away from this issue. There was a time where he sort of was, but that time is past. And now he has something to say, which is, hey, there was this bipartisan deal in the Senate. It was tough on the border. I would have supported it. I did support it. And Trump tanked it.

And that is Biden’s message that you’re going to hear again and again. Now, will it work? I don’t know. Trump is taking a very different tack, and he is running — sort of rerunning the playbook that he ran in 2016, all the way down to, in 2016, he also talked about a young woman who was killed in an incident that involved someone who was in the country illegally.

And now he is very focused at this time on the Riley case and saying — quite explicitly saying suburban housewives are worried about illegal immigrants coming into their homes and going to their kitchens, I mean, which is a very Trumpy way to say things.

But he’s being very explicit that he is running a campaign based on the idea that his immigration policies will make you safe, that you — this thing you’re worried about, I’m going to be tough. And Biden is running on sort of a more nuanced, we need to be tough, but we also need to be compassionate.

Geoff Bennett: How do you see it?

Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report: Yes, that’s exactly right.

The ways in which we talk about the term immigration sound different to different groups of people. And so if you say border security, I think that’s one thing that across the board voters say that they are concerned about. What to do about it is a different question.

And I was digging into some polling that Pew did a couple of weeks ago asking Hispanic voters specifically what they thought the answer could be to solving some of this. And one of those is, OK, increase more deportations.

Well, among non-Hispanic voters, 59 percent say that sounds like a great idea. Only 33 percent of Hispanic voters say that they think that’s a good idea. Do you think it’s increasing crime? Again, overwhelming percentage of non-Hispanic voters say, yes, I do think that what is happening on the border is having an impact on crime. Latino voters are split on that issue.

And we see it too in just who’s the most concerned about this issue. We saw it in Katie — Senator Katie Britt’s response in — to the State of the Union. We have seen it in ads for congressional candidates that have been running thus far. And, of course, we see it in the rhetoric of Donald Trump .

The issue of the border is the number one topic for their base. And so that to me is the question. It’s — we know, Republicans, this is their very top issue. It’s not as important of an issue for Democrats. What is it going to mean for these other groups of voters who don’t align themselves in either camp?

Geoff Bennett: Yes. Well, look, there’s also a contrast on this issue of social spending. President Biden, as you all both know, released a 2025 budget today that calls for broad new social spending, higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Donald Trump, meantime, on CNBC said there is a lot that can be done in terms of cutting the government programs, Social Security and Medicaid.

Donald Trump: There is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting and in terms of also the theft and the bad management of entitlements, tremendous bad management of entitlements. There’s tremendous amounts of things, numbers of things you can do.

Geoff Bennett: So, look, Social Security is solvent through, what, the year 2034. Medicare is solvent through 2028. After that, some choices have to be made.

But to talk about potentially making cuts to these programs, that’s a choice.

Tamara Keith: Right.

And these are obviously very difficult public policy issues that are going to have to be dealt with eventually, and they are concerns for some voters. But, generally speaking, President Biden should send a thank you note to former President Trump, because the idea that Trump is going to come for your Social Security and Medicare was just — that case was just made easier by what Trump said on TV, because this is an issue that Biden has been trying to push, trying to say that Republicans want to take away these programs that you care about a lot.

You saw it in last year’s State of the Union, an entire extended back-and-forth about this very topic. And it became an applause line for President Biden for half the year. Did you see my State of the Union where I negotiated to preserve Medicare and Social Security with the Republicans?

This is something that the Biden campaign is going to be very happy to talk about.

Amy Walter: Well, it’s also difficult, though, to make a campaign about what you want to make it about. If it were up to — right. If it were up to Democrats, this would be an election about health care. It would be an election about protecting Social Security and Medicare, all the issues — it would be about abortion, all the issues where they have a natural advantage.

Instead, we have a crisis on the border and we have the American consumer who’s not feeling great about the economy. Those are the issues that are in front of them at this moment in time. Now, with billions of dollars that will be spent on the election, and, of course, we have months to go where other issues can pop up, this may make it into the — it’s definitely going to make it into their advertising.

Whether it makes it into the consciousness of voters as their top salient issue, we will have to wait and see.

Geoff Bennett: Well, meantime, the Biden campaign is looking to lock in the image that President Biden projected at that State of the Union address last week.

Here’s a new ad from his campaign released over the weekend.

Joe Biden : Look, I’m not a young guy. That’s no secret. But here’s the deal. I understand how to get things done for the American people.

Geoff Bennett: So walk us through the new strategy here, Tam.

Tamara Keith: If you can’t change it and you can’t hide from it, why not run straight into it headlong? And that’s exactly what they’re doing with the age issue, which is — it’s a challenge that they can’t fix, because every single day, Joe Biden gets older. That is a benefit of living, is that every day you get older. But it’s a challenge for his campaign.

And even though they say this is a media creation and a media fixation, I will tell you, when I was out talking to voters last week, they brought it up. I didn’t bring it up. They brought it up, not just Republicans, but also Democrats. It was something that was discussed repeatedly by voters as a concern.

They are trying to neutralize it with this ad and with other things and arguing, as President Biden has now said a few times, it’s not about your age. It’s about the age of your ideas. And that is the way that he’s trying to turn it, at least in this current iteration, $30 million of spending in the next six weeks. And that’s just the beginning.

Geoff Bennett: Thirty million dollars, that’s real money.

Amy Walter: Yes, you can do a lot of stuff with $30 million, although it’s $30 million in — are we still in March? It’s still in March.

Tamara Keith: It’s March.

Amy Walter: It’s still in March.

Amy Walter: We have got a long way to go before November.

But, look, I think the issue for Biden is, his age is also a stand-in for voters thinking he’s not being effective, right? And so when we hear about this term of he doesn’t sound right, or he looks weak, getting a win on something, whether that is on a border legislation, whether that’s something else that we’re going to see in these next few months, I think that is going to be more important than a conversation about whether he’s really all that old.

Geoff Bennett: Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, thanks, as always, for your analysis.

Tamara Keith: You’re welcome.

Amy Walter: You’re welcome.

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