President Biden’s administration has vowed to release White House visitor logs. But that allegedly does not include virtual visitor logs that record the primary method of interaction between selected parties and the president due to the pandemic.
There are a number of things the White House has not implemented that have Biden’s critics upset. After former President Trump left the White House, Biden committed his administration to reportedly restoring transparency to the White House. But that has not happened, apparently.
Politico has listed a number of issues: “The schedules for the president and vice president aren’t posted online. The White House comment line is shut down. There are no citizen petitions on the White House’s website.” Add to that list the White House virtual visitor logs not being released either.
Another sticking point is the fact that Biden has not held a personal news conference yet. He met virtually with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but there was no news conference held as there usually is.
We're releasing visitor logs for transparency but also most visitors will be virtual due to covid. Oh and yeah we aren't releasing those. pic.twitter.com/4V1fur6BkD
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) March 1, 2021
“The steps they’ve taken are welcome, but insufficient to the moment and the need,” states Alex Howard, who heads the Digital Democracy Project at the leftist Demand Progress Educational Fund. “They need to keep ‘showing their work’ by opening Cabinet meetings, disclosing information, and using political capital to emphasize that being ‘open by default’ isn’t just an option but an obligation across the government.”
Biden is being pressured to do a number of things, per Politico, such as “answering public records requests more quickly; publishing Office of Legal Counsel opinions; revising classification policies; and releasing logs of virtual meetings and physical meetings at other locations where the president and his aides travel.”
Even the center-left Brookings Institute is taking Biden to the ethics woodshed. They have released a new 70-page report that calls for more openness and transparency.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has over and over again claimed that Biden and his administration want to restore “truth and transparency back” to the White House.
“President Biden committed during the campaign to restoring ethics and transparency to government, and in his first weeks in office, he’s taken significant steps to deliver on that, including by reinstating the daily press briefing, putting in place sweeping ethics guidelines for the administration, and pledging to regularly release visitor logs again,” spokesperson Mike Gwin stated.
Republicans are criticizing the fact that Biden rescinded a Trump executive order which required that agencies post guidance documents explaining policies put in place. A number of Biden’s agencies have started taking those documents down.
Before Biden’s inauguration, Psaki announced that the White House would start once again releasing its visitor logs. But ‘virtual’ visitor logs are not included.
Even Obama’s ethics czar Norm Eisen believes Biden should release his virtual visitor logs. “For the Covid era when so much is being done remotely, there should be an accommodation for that,” he noted.
The White House has made it official that the release of those logs is a hard no: “Virtual meetings will not be subject to release — in the same way that previous administrations didn’t release phone logs — but we’re planning on regularly releasing the attendee lists for in-person meetings at the White House.”
“President Biden has taken promising first steps toward transparency, including by pledging to release White House visitor logs and the report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” said Anna Diakun, who is a staff attorney for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “But these steps are not enough, and the Biden administration hasn’t yet unveiled any broader plan to make good on its commitment to open government.”
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