'Town halls are back:' CNN prepares to host a Tuesday night event with President Biden

Posted February 15, 2021 10:55 p.m. EST

— A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

"We're back," Mark Preston said on the phone from Wisconsin Monday night. "The CNN town halls are back."

President Biden will be fielding questions from Wisconsinites at a CNN town hall Tuesday at 9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. local time. It is, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in this preview piece, one of Biden's "first official stops since taking office."

Viewers are accustomed to televised town halls with candidates -- but such events with presidents occur much less often. The broadcast will give Biden a global forum to set the post-Trump agenda and promote his Covid-19 relief proposal.

CNN's Anderson Cooper will moderate the town hall and ask some of his own questions, but CNN's past town halls have prioritized audience interaction, and that's the plan for Tuesday's event as well. "Expect the audience to dominate the questioning," Preston, CNN's VP of political and special events programming, told me.

The evening may give some people flashbacks to that night in October when both Biden and Donald Trump held dueling town halls on ABC and NBC. That time, Biden out-rated Trump. This time, Biden won't have Trump competition at all...

Socially distanced Q&A

Biden is scheduled to depart the White House Tuesday afternoon for the prime time broadcast. It will take place at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. According to the Journal Sentinel, this will be the first "big event" at the theater since last March, when the pandemic shut everything down. Per Bill Glauber's story, "the event will be socially distanced, with the president fielding questions from a small, invitation-only audience of Democrats, Republicans and independents..."

>> "We're constantly talking to all of the political leaders about doing events like this, as you've seen over the past couple of years," Preston told me...

>> Jeff Zeleny is in Milwaukee ahead of the town hall, speaking with voters about their priorities, and one of his segments aired on "Erin Burnett OutFront" Monday night...

"Biden makes his case"

Biden has spoken with the press corps relatively frequently since taking office, but has only granted a small number of interviews, so this town hall is a significant step in his first 100 days. Preston's political analyst brain came out when I asked how he would position Tuesday night -- he said "Joe Biden makes his case to the American people before he makes his case to Congress." Newly inaugurated presidents typically address a joint session of Congress toward the end of February, in lieu of a State of the Union address, and Biden's speech has not been publicly scheduled yet...

A day in the life of the new prez

Five key takeaways from Kevin Liptak's story about Biden's routine:

-- "The President's Daily Brief, a highly classified update on the country's top intelligence, is back to a daily occurrence after happening only sporadically under Trump."

-- "His days are more structured than Trump's, whose aides began blocking out large chunks of 'executive time' to accommodate his TV viewing and telephone calls."

-- Biden has "continued a tradition of reading letters from Americans, a handful of which are tucked into the briefing materials he brings home in the evenings."

-- "And he hasn't been put off by the pack of reporters who track his every move. He's shown more willingness to answer shouted questions than Obama was, weighing in on his predecessor's impeachment trial even as the White House insisted he was focused on other things."

-- "Meetings among staffers, which begin before 8 a.m. ET every weekday, are a combination of in-person and video conference while the West Wing remains sparsely staffed due to Covid-19 precautions." Read on...

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