BIDEN REPORTER Geneva
US President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Geneva Airport in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Washington: As President Joe Biden turned to walk off the stage following a news conference in Geneva after his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a reporter shouted out one final question.

“Why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behaviour, Mr President?” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked.

The president, who had already turned away from the clutch of journalists, threw up his hands and started back toward the reporters while wagging his finger.

“What the hell? . . . When did I say I was confident?” Biden said as he headed back toward Collins, before launching into a tense back-and-forth with the reporter while defending his approach with the Russian president.

Biden’s flash of frustration briefly revived memories of President Donald Trump’s frequent heated exchanges with the White House press corps, though Biden’s staid summit with Putin was in stark contrast to the deference Trump brought to his interactions with the Russian leader. As his exchange with Collins went viral, some critics jumped to defend the reporter, while others argued that her question unfairly reflected the president’s earlier statements.

Soon after the exchange, Biden issued a mea culpa for his tone.

Apology

“I owe my last questioner an apology,” the president told reporters on the tarmac as he readied to board Air Force One on Wednesday afternoon. “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave.”

Biden and Putin met on Wednesday in their first summit to discuss several topics, including alleged cyberattacks and human rights violations that have strained relations between Russia and the United States. Afterward, Biden characterised the meeting as “positive” and Putin called it “constructive.”

But Collins, who made headlines last year when she refused to move to the back of the room during a Trump briefing, pushed back on those claims.

After she shouted her question to Biden, the president said that she was mischaracterising his stance.

“I said what will change their behaviour is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world,” Biden said after snapping at her. “I’m not confident of anything. I’m just stating the facts.”

Collins pressed the president again, asking why the meeting, which lasted about three hours, should be viewed as constructive when Putin later downplayed human rights abuses and denied that Russia played a role in cyberattacks against the United States.

“If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business,” Biden said to the reporter before turning and leaving the stage.

Late-night shows

The tense back-and-forth soon staked a claim as one of the most interesting moments of the day. One clip of the video garnered more than 300,000 views on Twitter by early Thursday, and Wednesday’s late-night shows seized on the moment.

“That was some strong ‘grandpa has had it with your lip’ energy,” “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert said before imitating an old man scolding a misbehaving child.

“Anyway, US, Russia, nuclear weapons - I’m sure it’s all going to be fine,” Colbert added.

CNN did not immediately return a request for comment, but Collins on Wednesday defended her questions and said Biden had no need to apologise for his response.

“That is completely unnecessary,” she said of the apology on CNN. “. . . It is just our job to ask the president questions. That is the business we are in.”

Despite his apology to Collins, Biden still seemed ruffled by reporters questioning whether the meeting with Putin had been a success on the tarmac before he boarded Air Force One. When another reporter asked Biden what evidence he had that any progress had been made at the meeting with Putin, the president again expressed frustration.

“Look, to be a good reporter, you’ve got to be negative,” Biden told the journalists gathered around him. “You’ve got to have a negative view of life, it seems to me. The way you all, you never ask a positive question.”