White House botches Biden debate fallout

Democratic Party presidential candidate U.S. President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump speak during a presidential debate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 27, 2024 in a combination photo. PHOTO| REUTERS

What you need to know:

  • For a week now the Biden team has been blaming a cold for his weak, raspy voice at the debate, in which the president lost his train of thought repeatedly and spoke incoherently.

Washington. The White House communications strategy for dealing with President Joe Biden's dismal debate performance against Donald Trump appears to have only made things worse.

In choosing what information about the president's physical and mental fitness to share, Biden and his staff have been unforthcoming, and even flippant -- one aide likened people calling for Biden to drop out of the race to babies wetting the bed.

"The White House fumbled this," California lawmaker Katie Porter told CNN.

"The presidential debate was awful for Joe Biden, but the cover-up has been worse," The Economist said Thursday as it joined several other media outlets and public figures calling on Biden to drop his reelection bid.

The magazine ran a picture of an old person's walker adorned with the seal of the US presidency, and the caption "no way to run a country."

In the latest of several examples of foggy communication, a White House spokesman said the 81-year-old president was seen by a doctor a few days after the debate because he had a cold.

However, in her daily briefing Wednesday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had earlier said Biden "did not get checked out" by a doctor.

And so the doctor's appointment has become another headache for the White House as it deals with fallout from the debate.

A cold. Then jet lagĀ 

For a week now the Biden team has been blaming a cold for his weak, raspy voice at the debate, in which the president lost his train of thought repeatedly and spoke incoherently.

On Tuesday, four days after the debate, Biden himself offered another reason for why he did so poorly -- too much travel.

In the weeks leading up to the debate, he flew to Europe twice for D-Day and G7 events, and then traveled non-stop from there to California for a glitzy fundraiser.

"I decided to fly around the world several times, cross a hundred time zones before I went to the debate," he told donors, adding he "almost fell asleep" on stage.

Journalists peppered Jean-Pierre with questions about why she had not cited jetlag previously as an explanation for Biden's performance.

"That is my bad," she said, explaining that she had been "so focused on the cold" in her briefing the day before.

But she could not say why Biden, who returned from Italy 10 days or so before the debate, still had jet lag.

Democrats, seized with panic as the November election approaches, called on Biden to demonstrate fitness by appearing more in public to give press conferences and interviews and to speak spontaneously.

But when Biden has made remarks since the debate he has used a teleprompter screen.

The only exception was Thursday when he briefly addressed military personnel and their families at Fourth of July party at the White House.

Responding to a supporter who told him to "keep up the fight," Biden said: "You got me, man. I'm not going anywhere." Then he told a confusing story about traffic jams on highways.

On Friday evening Biden is scheduled to give an interview on ABC in which he will speak off the cuff, an exchange designed to show he can still express himself clearly under pressure.

US media say Biden and his family posed for photographs last weekend at the Camp David retreat, right after the debate, with celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.

But it was not until Wednesday that he spoke with the top Democrat in the House of Representatives about the debate and met with Democratic state governors.

Faced with alarming articles about his mental acuity and calls for Biden to drop his reelection bid, his team at first dismissed the concerns.

The Sunday after the debate, deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty sent around an email that said, "The bedwetting brigade is calling for Joe Biden to 'drop out.'"

Another White House press person was quoted Saturday in Vanity Fair magazine as saying "I am worried about the cognitive abilities of the invertebrate professional panicking class."

But the White House tone later changed.

Jean-Pierre has said repeatedly this week that questions about the president's performance were legitimate while insisting he is "as sharp as ever."