President Joe Biden held a hastily arranged press conference Thursday night, where he vehemently and occasionally angrily refuted suggestions of declining mental acuity. However, the 81-year-old leader’s efforts may have exacerbated his biggest liability in an election year.
Summoning reporters to the White House, the president emphasized that his memory was “fine” and expressed offense at the portrayal of him as an “elderly man with a poor memory.” This characterization stemmed from a former US attorney, appointed by his likely 2024 opponent Donald Trump, in an investigation concerning his handling of classified documents.
During a press conference where the president passionately addressed the use of his son’s death and provided a thorough overview of the Middle East conflict, another significant blunder involving a foreign leader marred the occasion.
Towards the conclusion of his remarks, Biden mistakenly identified Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as the leader of Mexico. This error risked undermining his entire message and was swiftly seized upon by his political adversaries as further proof of his alleged incompetence.
White House supporters expressed frustration, arguing that the disproportionate focus on Biden’s slip-up reinforced their belief that the media prioritized sensationalism over substance and unfairly scrutinized Biden compared to Trump, who himself frequently stumbled over names, dates, and facts.
However, Biden’s blunder only served to solidify the growing concerns surrounding his age and cognitive abilities. These concerns had escalated throughout the week, fueled by instances of confusing European leaders’ names on the campaign trail and declining a traditional pregame interview before the Super Bowl.
The alarm peaked on Thursday afternoon with a damning Justice Department report on his handling of classified material, which cited the president’s “diminished faculties and faulty memory,” although it ultimately concluded that criminal charges were unwarranted.
Biden vehemently contested the portrayal outlined in Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report.
“I’m sincere in my intentions, and despite my advanced age, I am fully capable and know exactly what I’m doing. I’ve served as president and have guided this country through challenging times. I don’t require his endorsement,” Biden asserted to reporters in the Diplomatic Room.
The president also disputed conclusions within the report, including that he disclosed classified information to his ghostwriter. He said a memo on Afghanistan he wrote to President Barack Obama that he shared should have been considered “private” and not classified. Biden also said any assertion he willfully kept classified material was “plain wrong.”
“The fact is, they made a firm conclusion: I did not break the law. Period,” Biden said.
The president showed he was particularly hurt by Hur’s claim that he could not remember the date when his son, Beau Biden, died from brain cancer, saying it was immaterial to the investigation.
“How in the hell dare he raise that. Frankly when I was asked the question I thought to myself, it wasn’t any of their damn business,” Biden said. “I don’t need anyone to remind me of when he passed away.”
The report by the Justice Department said investigators working for Hur found Biden had knowingly stored and disclosed classified information that was kept at his homes in Virginia and Delaware, but stopped short of charging him with any crimes.
The most jarring disclosures in the report, though, were descriptions of the president, as an “elderly man with a poor memory,” who struggled on occasions to remember basic facts. Biden was described as also forgetting when his term as vice president ended and details of critical foreign policy debates during the Obama administration.
“My memory is fine,” Biden said. “I’m the most qualified person in this country to be President of the United States and finish the job I started.”
Biden defended himself by saying he had cooperated with the special counsel’s “exhaustive investigation” even as he juggled the demands of his office. The president said he sat for a five-hour interview with Hur, which took place a day after the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel.
Voters have said Biden’s age ranks as one of their biggest concerns as he heads into a likely rematch with Trump in November.
Trump, the Republican frontrunner, is facing criminal charges in four separate cases, including one alleging he kept classified material from his time in the White House and then tried to block the federal government from recovering it. Biden drew a distinction between his cooperation with investigators and Trump’s conduct.
“It wasn’t out like in Mar-a-Lago, in a public place,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s Florida estate where documents were found.
Trump’s campaign seized on the special counsel report Thursday.
“If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president,” Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for Trump’s political action committee, said in a statement.
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