Whenever a president travels, a special lectern called the “blue goose,” or its smaller cousin “the falcon,” is in tow.
The boxy dark blue and dark paneled lecterns — there are many — are a symbol of the modern presidency.
It’s from behind them that President Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” President Barack Obama declared that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and Queen Elizabeth II was rendered nearly invisible except for her hat when she was welcomed on the South Lawn by President George H.W. Bush.
The bullet-resistant lecterns also serve the White House’s security interests.
But lately President Joe Biden is rendering them all but obsolete.
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Increasingly, Biden is ditching the presidential norm of speaking at lecterns and is using a hand-held microphone instead.
From casual fundraisers to more formal remarks on disaster response or inflation or the like, Biden has opted for a hand-gripped mic more than a dozen times in recent months.
In fact, Biden sometimes speaks behind both a handheld mic and two mounted mics.
Take a look —
AGAIN! Why does Biden use a handheld mic when there are always TWO mics on any podium he uses? pic.twitter.com/dDSv0TjuxZ
— 🍊 Terrance 🌴 (@Orsin_Buggy) October 6, 2022
President Biden with the handheld mic in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania pic.twitter.com/RJuzkb5OiH
— Arlette Saenz (@ArletteSaenz) August 30, 2022
Supporters offer a strange defense and say that Biden becomes a more natural speaker when using a handheld mic and wandering around the stage.
“There are two tricks to public speaking, and neither is really rocket science,” Mo Elleithee, a former Democratic consultant, told the Associated Press. “First, you want to be as comfortable as possible. Second, you want to be authentic. And the two go hand in hand.”
Elleithee claimed one of Biden’s strengths is his authenticity. “Love or hate his politics, he’s a real guy who comes across as one. That’s because he’s most comfortable when he’s talking with people, as opposed to talking at them. Standing at a podium is stiff. It’s formal,” she argued.
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But there may be another reason, critics point out. Biden, 79, has long acknowledged his difficulties as a public speaker, and he suffers from a clinical stutter. He’s faced ridicule for butchering prepared remarks at debates, and he’s given shockingly few sit down interviews with reporters.
In his first year as president, Biden reportedly gave only 28 sit-down interviews, compared to 162 for Obama and 95 for former President Donald Trump.
As a candidate and now as president, he has eschewed the traditional glass-paned teleprompters normally placed just off the corners of the lectern, instead preferring larger teleprompters on television screens.
Some commentators have speculated that our elderly president has ditched the lectern in order to connect with his audience.
And one Twitter user observed, “Having a prop in your hand is an [old] trick for performers. it’s why lots of old performers always had a drink or a cigarette/cigarette holder (or a golf club) on stage.”
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Last week, as the president surveyed the hurricane damage in Florida, he spoke at first into the fixed microphones, gripping the sides of the lectern. But midway through his speech he called an audible.
“Let’s see if this thing works, is this one working?” Biden asked as he grabbed on to the hand-held mic. The president then stuck a hand in his pocket and turned toward the crowd as he continued talking about the administration’s disaster response.
President Biden's not done many handheld mic remarks since all the way back when he was Candidate Biden
Rocking the 🎤 twice in one day yesterday at the farm in Kankakee, IL and at the IBEW in Chicago feels like a considered effort to get out from behind the lectern pic.twitter.com/nkMyl4NRj5
— Doug Landry (@dougblandry) May 12, 2022
Biden isn’t eschewing the iconic presidential lecterns entirely: They still hold backup copies of his remarks (in case the teleprompters have an error) and often a glass of water. But the built-in microphones are increasingly turned off.
And when Biden staffers place the leather-bound folder with his written remarks on the lectern, they also put a second copy in the handheld mic.
Of course, there are times when technology fails him. During a Democratic fundraiser for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the mic feed kept going in and out, making it nearly impossible to hear Biden.
Delivering remarks recently at the headquarters for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a confused Biden finally spotted the handheld microphone.
“I’m going to use this” he ordered.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.