President Joe Biden’s first late-night appearance since becoming president was on very friendly terrain: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, in which the host was effusive throughout and largely stayed on the White House topic points.
“You are bringing class back to the office,” Fallon told the president, making pretty clear where his affinity lies, having endured criticism for his light-hearted interview with Donald Trump in the midst of the divisive 2016 presidential campaign.
There were many advantages for the White House in doing the interview, as Biden got to stick to his talking points on the infrastructure bill, the Build Back Better Act and the Covid-19 relief package without facing any kind of serious follow ups. It’s likely that Fallon’s broadcast rivals, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel, would have slipped in a couple of questions with a harder edge, even if there is no secret where their allegiances lie.
When Fallon touched on the polarizing issue of the vaccines, he put it this way: “The Covid problem. I don’t know what else to do and how to tell people to get the vaccine. At this point I think people are going to do what they will, I guess. I don’t know what to say. Is it the youth that we have to just hope that the kids get us out of this? Because I got vaxxed. I got boosted. I got whatever you want. If you want me to wear red pants, I will wear red pants. I want this thing to go away.”
Biden replied, “I think what we ought to do is have more people listen to your song.” He was referring to A Masked Christmas, with Ariana Grande and Megan Thee Stallion. Biden tweeted it out.
Biden brought up some of the furor over vaccine mandates, as he told Fallon, “This stuff about ‘Biden’s mandating these things happening, and it is un-American. Look at it this way. It is patriotic to get this done. Not a joke. It is patriotic to get it done.”
The chief drawback to the Fallon interview was that it was not in studio and still virtual: Biden was not as relaxed as in past in studio appearances, and he stuck so much to the talking points in the initial portions of the Fallon interview that the president seemed more like he was making the rounds on the Sunday morning talk show than a late night guest shot. As the interview went on, though, he eased up a bit. After all, this was far from a grilling.
Perhaps the funniest moment was when Fallon asked Biden, “How much do you pay attention to your approval rating?” “Well, not anymore,” the president responded.
“I would pay attention when they’re in the mid-60s, but now they’re in the 40s, I don’t pay attention anymore.”
“I appreciate the honesty, yeah,” Fallon said.
Biden then said, “Look, people are afraid. People are worried. And people are getting so much inaccurate to them. I don’t mean about me, but about their situation. They are being told that Armageddon is on the way. The truth is the economy is growing more than it has any time in close to 60 years. The unemployment rate is down to 4.2% and it is going to lower.”
Biden recently returned the presidential tradition of attending the Kennedy Center Honors, as Fallon noted, and The Tonight Show host was in the audience. The 46th president also is going back to the presidential prerogative of doing late night, a forum that Trump shunned for obvious reasons. It’d hardly be surprising if Biden makes more return visits to this turf, based on the light and soft nature of the Fallon interview, with an atmosphere more on the order of Mr. Smith than Meet the Press.
Fallon: “Does anyone really understand how hard your job is?…Just being in D.C. the other day and driving around and you see all these giant buildings and you feel kind of nervous. I feel important when I am there but you are the leader of our country. The pressure. And then you have to do 20 events during the day that we don’t even see.”
Biden: “Well look. I was vice president for eight years. I knew what the job was. No one should feel sorry for me. It is the greatest honor anyone could have in their whole life, in my view, is to be president of the United States.”