Biden shows signs of decline in private meetings with congressional leaders

President Biden has shown signs of poor cognitive performance in private meetings with congressional lawmakers, as his age and mental acuity continue to be questioned in the run-up to the November presidential election.

Biden, 81, is the oldest person to hold the presidency and has faced skepticism from Republican voters and lawmakers about his ability to do his job. Many Republicans and even some Democrats have said the president shows his age in private meetings, according to the Wall Street Journal, which spoke with 45 lawmakers and administration officials about the president's mental performance.

Most of those interviewed by the outlet who criticized Biden's performance were Republicans, although some Democrats said the president showed his age in several exchanges. These respondents participated in or were briefed on meetings with Biden, including administration officials and other Democrats who did not express concerns about the president's handling of the meetings .

When meeting with congressional leaders in January to negotiate a deal to send additional funds to Ukraine, Biden at times spoke so softly that some people had difficulty hearing him, the Wall Street Journal told The Wall Street Journal. five people close to the meeting. The president read notes to emphasize obvious points, paused for long periods of time and even closed his eyes for so long that some people at the meeting wondered if he had tuned out.


President Biden speaking

President Biden, 81, is the oldest person to hold the presidency. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In February, when Biden met one-on-one with House Speaker Mike Johnson, the president said a recent policy change by his administration that puts some major energy projects in jeopardy was just a study, according to six people who were briefed at the time about what was happening. Johnson recalled the meeting. Johnson worried that the president had forgotten the details of his own policies.

Last year, when Biden was negotiating with House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, his demeanor and mastery of details seemed to change from day to day, said Kevin McCarthy, then Speaker of the House. , and two other people close to the negotiations. He seemed lively in his free, spontaneous exchanges with Republicans one day, and mumbled and seemed to rely on notes on other days.

“I used to meet him when he was vice president. I used to go to his house. He's not the same person anymore,” McCarthy said.

Previously having a reputation in Washington for being a master negotiator of legislative deals, possessing detailed knowledge of the issues and insights into the motivations and needs of the other party and for excelling under pressure, Biden is now seen, in especially in the last year after Republicans took control of the House, as an aging president with sometimes poor cognitive abilities.

White House officials, however, have dismissed numerous accounts from people who met with the president or were briefed on those meetings, saying the criticism was motivated by partisan politics.

“Congressional Republicans, foreign leaders, and nonpartisan national security experts have made clear in their own words that President Biden is a wise and effective leader with a long track record of legislative accomplishments,” it said. White House spokesman Andrew Bates. “Now, in 2024, House Republicans are making false statements as a political tactic that flatly contradict previous statements made by themselves and their colleagues.”

At Biden's meeting on Ukraine in January, the president made a compelling case for aid, according to administration officials and some participants, who said it was common to use notes during these meetings. Bates also denied claims that Biden misspoke during his meeting with Johnson in February on energy policy.

Biden waving his hand

White House officials have claimed that criticism of Biden's mental acuity is driven by partisan politics. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Administration aides familiar with last year's debt ceiling negotiations recalled that Biden was efficient, not directly involved and provided detailed instructions behind the scenes. Aides said McCarthy privately told administration officials at the time that he was impressed with Biden's performance and that the former president suggested in public remarks that the president seemed sharp.

Aides said passing funding for Ukraine and raising the debt ceiling without major concessions to Republicans showed he had succeeded.

Former President Trump, Biden's biggest threat in the presidential election at 77, has also been criticized for his mental acuity, as he has shown signs of poor memory, giving inaccurate facts and making mistakes in his public remarks, thus allowing Democrats and Republicans to attack their political enemy because of their mental acuity.

Some who attended meetings with Biden blamed his mistakes on his speech impediment and tendency to be long-winded. People who expressed concerns about the president said the behavior they observed suggested inequality, rather than a confused leader as some of his political opponents have described. The White House said the president's doctors had deemed him fit to serve and that his recent annual physical showed no need for cognitive testing.

Administration members provided several examples of other instances that they say show the president was sharp and engaged, including long hours spent in the Situation Room in April during and after the Iranian missile attack on Israel, and late nights on the phone with White House lawmakers. .

Voters' concerns about the mental acuity of Biden and Trump are largely shaped by their speeches and other public appearances.


Former President Donald Trump

Former President Trump was also criticized for his mental acuity. (Donald Trump/Social Truth)

At a campaign event in Detroit last month, Biden suggested he was vice president during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began during the Trump administration. The next day, at a Rose Garden event celebrating American Jewish Heritage Month, Biden first said that one of the American hostages held in Gaza was a guest at the White House event before saying to correct.

In January, Biden confused two of his Hispanic cabinet secretaries, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

At a February fundraiser in New York, he recalled speaking to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at the 2021 Group of Seven meeting, despite the fact that Kohl died in 2017. At a In another fundraiser that month, he said that at the 2021 G-7 summit he spoke to former French President François Mitterrand, who died in 1996.

Meanwhile, Trump confused then-Republican presidential opponent Nikki Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic congresswoman from California, during a speech in January. At a rally in Virginia in March, Trump confused Biden with former President Obama when commenting on Russian President Vladimir Putin's views on American leadership. During his criminal trial in New York last month, he closed his eyes for extended periods.

Following the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol, concerns about Trump's mental state led some members of his cabinet to discuss whether to further check his power and at least one of them has considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. .

A Trump spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that he was “sharp as a tack.”

President Joe Biden speaking to reporters

Voters' concerns about the mental acuity of Biden and Trump are largely shaped by their speeches and other public appearances. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


Concerns about the president's mental state were amplified earlier this year when special counsel Robert K. Hur, who questioned him for about five hours over two days last October during an investigation into his handling of documents classified, wrote that Biden's memory had been “significantly limited.” Biden addressed Hur's report by saying, “I know what I'm doing.”

Americans have had little opportunity to observe Biden in unanticipated moments, as he has been reluctant to grant media interviews. By the end of April, he had given fewer interviews and press conferences than any of his recent predecessors, according to data collected by Martha Joynt Kumar, professor emeritus at Towson University. His last public meeting with an independent media outlet was in October 2021.

Biden has had fewer small meetings with lawmakers during his term, according to visitor logs. In his first year in office, he held more than three dozen meetings of fewer than 20 lawmakers in the West Wing, even with pandemic restrictions. The number dropped to about two dozen in his second year and about a dozen in his third year.

The Wall Street Journal contributed to this report.


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