Administration

GOP seizes on Biden gaffes to attack competence

Republicans are seizing on recent gaffes from President Biden, putting a spotlight on his slip-ups to attack Biden’s competency ahead of both the midterms and a 2024 presidential race.

The GOP in particular is using a moment last week when Biden asked whether a congresswoman who died in August was in attendance at the event where he was speaking.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) included the gaffe in a list of their top Democrat fails from last week, criticizing the White House’s refusal to say if Biden would apologize for his remarks as “tough to watch.”

The RNC did not make Biden’s age a central part of its criticism, but it is an implicit and sometimes explicit part of the attacks from various Republicans, who see perceptions of Biden’s age and competence as a potentially fruitful line of attack.

Democrats who themselves are wondering if Biden will stick with his stated intensions of running for reelection at the age of 81 acknowledge they are worried that attacks could swing some voters.

“It’s not a great look,” one Democratic strategist acknowledged. “And we all know it only feeds into the criticism of the president and his age. [Biden] has to be really careful to not give the other side easy fodder.” 

Biden was making gaffes before his age was a political issue.  

As a presidential candidate in 2007, then-Sen. Biden apologized after describing then. Sen. Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African American” presidential candidate “who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

As Obama’s vice president in 2010, Biden was caught on a hot mic saying the passage of health care reform was a “big f—ing deal.”

But today’s gaffes are being used by Republicans to question Biden’s competency, given his age.

The remark about former Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who was killed in an August car accident, was the worst recent verbal gaffe, but there have been others.

In March, he said about Russian President Vladimir Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” a statement the White House had to walk back a short time later. 

In July, Biden said that he had cancer, which the White House waved off as a nonmelanoma skin cancer treatment. In May, he said, “there have not been many senators from Delaware. … As a matter of fact, there’s never been one.”

On Monday, Biden raised eyebrows when he said he “was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home, politically,” during a trip to the island.

Biden met with Walorski’s family following his gaffe last week to sign a bill honoring her. At the event, also attended by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he reportedly apologized to Walorski’s family for his comment, though the White House would not confirm the apology.

Bruce Mehlman, a GOP lobbyist at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, said Biden’s gaffes are a real danger for the president. He said they can be exploited by opponents as evidence that Biden is deteriorating with age.

 “Biden gaffes are mostly exploited by opponents as evidence of senescence rather than for the substance of the statements themselves,” said Mehlman, a former assistant secretary at the Commerce Department under President George W. Bush.

GOP strategist Doug Heye said Republicans “are going to point it out” when Biden stumbles verbally.

“But they would be smart to not be over the top about it,” he added.

Doing so, after all, could backfire with voters.

The harshest public criticism of the Walorski comment came from former Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller, who said that Biden should be in “assisted living” and “is not cognitively present.”

Miller, however, made no public criticisms when his boss, former President Trump, made numerous gaffes while in office, most notably when he suggested the idea of ingesting disinfectant to fight COVID-19 during a press briefing early in the pandemic or when Trump displayed an altered map with Sharpie markings of a hurricane’s path.

In response to this story, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates pointed to the Biden administration’s accomplishments, including that it has “made NATO the strongest it has ever been, and taken unprecedented action to fight climate change and bring manufacturing back from overseas.”

Some Republicans downplayed Biden’s gaffes as creating political weapons for their party.

“As alarming as it is, voters are more troubled by the damage Biden’s done to the economy, his rising prices, out of control crime and the open border,” one Republican official told The Hill.

Heye argued that the White House worsened things with the Walorski gaffe by not acknowledging Biden’s mistake more directly.

“Part of the challenge with what Biden said about Walorski is that it was just completely mishandled by the White House. It’s very easy and it’s the obvious thing to do to just say, ‘he misspoke’ and then you move on. But by continuing to do the ‘front of mind’ thing, it stretched any credibility and made it a bigger issue than it was,” Heye said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had attributed Biden’s misstep to Walorski being “top of mind” for Biden when she was pressed by reporters about the misstatement.

Some Democrats, for their part, don’t think Biden’s gaffes will make much of a difference.

“The RNC may have some fun with it, they may be giving themselves high fives, but in the end I don’t think it makes much of a difference at all,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley. “Everyone knows he has a habit of misspeaking from time to time.”

A second Democratic strategist agreed: “It’s already baked in,” the strategist said. “People elected Joe Biden knowing he can put his foot in his mouth. It’s like pointing out that Donald Trump lies. People know this about him and I don’t think it makes much difference. 

“Sure, Republicans will use this against him and they should,” the strategist added. “But it won’t matter.” 

Updated 10:22 a.m.

Tags Barack Obama Biden Jackie Walorski Jackie Walorski Joe Biden Republican National Committee RNC

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