A limited number of journalists were allowed to enter the room during the press conference. Those in attendance wore masks and sat six feet apart to keep the rules of social distancing. Mr Biden asked reporters by their first names taken from a list previously drawn up by his staff.
With that in mind, it was another return to normal after four years of Mr. Trump’s unqualified, fact-challenged press conferences. On the one hand, Mr Trump mocked a reporter for wearing what was called the “biggest mask I have ever seen,” and on the other, he claimed that injecting disinfectant into the human body could help fight the coronavirus. Reporters called to be heard and Mr. Trump seemed to be enjoying the mess.
In contrast, Mr. Biden’s performance was relatively calm.
“It’s a great relief after four years when every presidential press conference has been a disastrous event,” said Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist. She said Mr. Biden stayed on the news and “built empathy into everything he does.”
“Biden did what he had to do,” said David Axelrod, a former top advisor to Mr. Obama. “He pushed the progress with the virus at the top, parried difficult questions at the border and in the filibuster and generally did not send any unsolicited messages.”
It is unclear where Mr Biden will fall if he regularly addresses the news media in a formal setting. Mr Trump gave 44 formal press conferences during his presidency, though he regularly had long question-and-answer sessions with reporters during the Oval Office events or before crossing the White House lawn to board Marine One. Mr Obama held 65 press conferences, according to data compiled by the American Presidency Project, which is tracking such solo performances.
Mr Biden also left a number of open questions about some of the most politically contentious issues his administration is facing. He wasn’t going to tell how quickly he wanted to allow reporters to see conditions in detention centers for migrants along the US-Mexico border. He did not commit to a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. And he refused several times to say whether he would try to change the way the Senate works.
It was at these moments that Mr Biden, a politician who had recently embraced the art of restraint, seemed aware of the dangers of making promises to a room full of reporters.
“I’m not going to set up a strategy in front of the whole world,” he said, “and you now.”