Joe Biden’s Republican rivals are pouncing on questions about his mental acuity, following a verbal slip by the U.S. president that has exacerbated Democrats’ anxiety about his age.
“Biden’s not going to be any sharper in November,” Jason Miller, senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement to VOA.
The Make America Great Again Political Action Committee, which supports former President Donald Trump, released a statement saying, “Joe Biden isn’t just senile, he put our national security at risk.”
Trump has a commanding lead in the Republican primaries and is likely to become the party’s nominee, despite facing 91 felony indictments in various federal and state criminal cases.
The campaign of Nikki Haley, who is trailing Trump, released a statement that Biden “should take a mental competency test immediately” and make it public.
“The White House is not a taxpayer-subsidized nursing home,” Haley said. “It is clear to most Americans that Biden lacks the mental capacity to effectively serve as president.”
Biden’s verbal slip
Republicans renewed attacks after the president made a verbal slip Thursday evening, mistakenly referring to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as “the president of Mexico” while he was highlighting efforts he made to secure aid for the people of Gaza.
It’s the third instance in which Biden has mixed up world leaders in recent weeks, confusing French President Emmanuel Macron with former French President Francois Mitterrand and former German Chancellors Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel.
Thursday’s gaffe happened while Biden was pushing back against reporters’ questioning on a report by special counsel Robert Hur about the president’s mishandling of classified documents that noted his lapses in memory. The report cited examples of Biden unable to recall defining moments in his own life, including when his son Beau passed away.
“My memory is fine,” a visibly angry Biden shot back as he denied forgetting when his son died. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.
The White House pushed back against Hur’s characterization of Biden’s memory, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying during her Friday briefing that such comments don’t “live in reality,” underscoring Biden as “the most productive and effective president in modern time.”
With many voters concerned about Biden and Trump being too old to lead, highlighting the president’s age and experience as his strength is key, said Democratic strategist Douglas Wilson. In addition, the White House and Democrats must push back against questions of Biden’s mental acuity as ageism.
“No one should be a victim of ageism, not even the president,” Wilson told VOA. “Especially if the president is showing that he can still do the job. And he has shown he can still do the job.”
Three-quarters of voters, including half of Democrats, say they have concerns about Biden’s mental and physical health, according to an NBC News poll released this week.
Less than half of voters have concerns about Trump’s mental and physical health according to the same poll, despite his own multiple flubs.
During a campaign event earlier this month Trump appeared to mistakenly refer to his rival Haley as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when discussing the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. He has previously mixed-up Biden and former President Barack Obama.
While part of an American president’s job is performative — to stand before the world and articulate his message — there’s more to being a leader, said William Howell, professor of American Politics at the University of Chicago.
“The work of governing is the work of management and of team building and of coalition formation,” he told VOA. “There are no signs that somehow Biden has flagged on those fronts and that he’s incapable of meeting those obligations. And yet, what we regularly fixate on is the performative qualities — did he say the right name of the right leader?”
Biden not charged
Also, during Friday’s briefing, spokesperson for the White House Counsel’s Office Ian Sams underscored the special counsel’s decision that Biden will not be charged for mishandling classified documents.
“Our investigation uncovered evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen,” Hur’s report said, following a 15-month investigation. However, the evidence “does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Biden cooperated and would be difficult to convict, Hur’s report said, describing him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” who would be sympathetic to a jury.
Sams slammed parts of the report that raised questions about Joe Biden’s mental fitness as “gratuitous” and “inappropriate.” The sentiment is shared by many Democrats angry at the prosecutor appointed by Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland as special counsel.
“It felt like a hit job,” said Michael Blake, CEO of Kairos Democracy Project and former aide to Obama.
The notion that people are now focused on the president’s memory and attacking him about his son’s death is “egregious and heinous,” Blake told VOA. “As opposed to what the real news is — that he didn’t commit any crimes and he handled things appropriately.”
Trump, who is under federal indictment with 37 felony counts related to the mishandling of classified documents, obstructing justice and making false statements, sharpened his attack on Biden’s handling of the documents.
He called Biden’s case “100 times different and more severe than mine,” charging in a campaign statement Thursday that there is “a two-tiered system of justice and unconstitutional selective prosecution!” and “election interference.”
In his report, Hur preempted such assertions.
“Unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden, the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would present serious aggravating facts,” the report said. “Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite.”