Biden seemed old and confused. Not only could this bad look have staying power, it’s coming at a bad time for the president and his party.
In recent months, Biden seemed to have turned a corner. After a rough year that started in the aftermath of his ill-fated 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, Biden was starting to get his mojo back, as evidenced by his rising approval ratings, and midterm prognostications looking increasingly optimistic for Democrats.
And while the calls to replace Biden on the 2024 ticket never really subsided, this latest flub is sure to renew and accelerate the desperate search for a successor, once the midterms are over in six weeks.
Making matters worse, the gaslighting put forth by Biden’s White House press secretary only angered the press corps. As The New York Times put it, “Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, refused to acknowledge that Mr. Biden had misspoken or that he had forgotten that Ms. Walorski had died.”
It was an almost Sean Spicer-esque spin from a WH press secretary, which makes me wonder what kind of attention this would be receiving if Donald Trump had made a similar mistake (and if his team refused to accept it). It would likely be the West Point ramp controversy—on steroids.
But this is not a story about media bias or hypocrisy. Regardless of whether Biden is suffering from cognitive decline (that’s for the doctors to decide), it’s very clear that—putting it kindly—he is long past his prime.
We should at least be willing to honestly admit that.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Thirteen people have been killed in Iraq's Kurdistan Region, officials say, as Iran launched missiles and armed drones at what it said were bases of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups.
A pregnant woman was reportedly among those who died in the strikes.
Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps said it hit "separatist terrorists" who had supported recent "riots".
The strikes were reported after Iranian authorities accused armed Iranian Kurdish dissidents of attacking and infiltrating Iran from the northwest of the country to sow insecurity and riots and spread unrest, especially in the northwest where most of the country’s population of over 10 million Kurds live.
Nine people were killed and 32 wounded in the attacks near Erbil and Sulaimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan, its health minister, Saman Barazanchi, said in a statement.
He expressed in a statement his total rejection of such Iranian violations of the Iraqi sovereignty, calling on Iran to respect the international law and good neighbliness principles, and to stop undermining regional stability and security.
“UNICEF abhors and condemns the attack which impacted a school today in a refugee settlement in Koya, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
“At least two children were injured and one pregnant woman was killed, according to initial reports. UNICEF extends its sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed and wishes the injured children a fast and complete recovery.
“Attacks on children and their school facility are unacceptable and can be a grave violation of children’s rights. School facilities should always be a safe place for every child, where children can learn, play and grow to reach their full potential.
“UNICEF reiterates its call on all parties to protect children from all forms of violence at all times and under all circumstances, and to respect the Safe Schools Declaration.”
QUESTION: You put out a statement condemning the missile and drone attack by the Islamic Republic of Iran against the Iraqi Kurdistan. What is the U.S. Government doing to protect – to help protect the region, especially given that there are U.S. forces stationed there as well?
MR PRICE: So you’re right. We did put out a statement. We put out a statement in my name. The National Security Advisor also condemned these drone and missile attacks against Iraq’s Kurdistan region earlier today. We’ve made the point that we stand with Iraq’s leaders, its leaders in its Kurdistan region as well as in Baghdad, in condemning what was a brazen assault on Iraq’s own sovereignty and Iraq’s own territorial integrity. This is unfortunately just another instance of Iran’s flagrant disregard for not only the lives of their own people but also for their neighbors and for what are core principles at the crux of the UN Charter: sovereignty, territorial integrity.
This is not the first time that we have seen Iran use these tactics – ballistic missiles and drones – but we are going to continue working with our partners in the region to help them defend against these types of threats. And we can do that in a number of different ways. We have levied sanctions when it comes to networks of UAV – when it comes to UAV networks in Iran. We have taken a number of steps with partners in the region to provide them with supplies and assistance that they would need to defend themselves against the types of Iranian-provided weapons systems that are such a destabilizing force. So we’ll continue to do that. Ultimately this was an attack – a brazen assault on the sovereignty of Iraq. And the most important thing we can do in many ways is to stand with Iraq’s leaders, Iraq’s leaders in Baghdad, Iraq’s leader in the region – leaders of Kurdistan and Erbil going forward.
QUESTION: Have they reached out for any assistance?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any requests for assistance?
QUESTION: Same topic.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? So a duel citizen or an American citizen was actually confirmed to be among the killed. We just confirmed that. But also the CENTCOM put out a statement saying that they shot down a drone that they believe was going towards American forces. So is there any safety concerns for Americans in Kurdistan region?
MR PRICE: In the aftermath of these attacks, we did an accountability check. In the aftermath of that, we determined that there were no casualties on the part of American officials in the region. Of course, we take threats – potential threats like this very seriously but in this case there’s nothing to suggest that American officials were injured.
QUESTION: So I know that you guys have two statements out, but I am just curious what’s the understanding here. Why is Kurdistan region a target of Iranian attack?
MR PRICE: That would be a question for Tehran, not for Washington.
QUESTION: And last question. During the Obama administration and then early Trump administration, the Iranian opposition were able to engage with U.S. officials, but then former Secretary Mike Pompeo put out an order to kind of refrain from engaging with the Iranian opposition. What is the position of your administration? Do you guys engage with them? If not, why not?
MR PRICE: The Iranian opposition inside of Iran?
QUESTION: Or here, like —
MR PRICE: Of course, we’re always open to listening to those who have a perspective when it comes to Iran and its people. I think the most important thing we can do is to listen to those brave Iranians who were peacefully taking to the streets to exercise and to make clear their aspirations for greater levels of democracy, of freedom, of human rights. It’s important that the world not only listen but important that the world be able to hear them in the first place.
And so that’s why we’ve taken some of the steps we have not only in recent years, including the general license that was issued in 2014 but the so-called General License D-2 that we issued late last week, whose primary purpose was to allow the voice of the Iranian people to be heard by the outside world. It’s an important tool, and it’s – since the issuance of this general license last Friday, we’ve seen indications that U.S. technology companies have availed themselves of this newfound ability to provide services to the Iranian people. It is our hope that the Iranian people are in a position to take advantage of these – of this new technology, of these new services, not only to communicate with one another but to see to it that their voices are heard around the world.
Yes, in back.
QUESTION: You said there were no U.S. officials among the victims. There was one U.S. citizen. His name is Omar (inaudible), known as Chichu. So do you have any response other than the statement you put out?
MR PRICE: I am not aware that we’ve been able to confirm that just yet, but if and when we are, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Also, I have a question about sanctions, because you were talking about sanctioning the morality police. I want to ask about the – about the existing sanctions that we already have in place regarding specifically Iranian oil sanctions. Do you believe that these sanctions at the moment are properly executed? Because based on statistics, we know Iran boost its own oil exports, specifically to China.
MR PRICE: So some of the – and these are all, of course, open-source estimates, and so to some extent there is always going to be a margin of error when you look at statistics like that. I think what we can say with some confidence is that some of the open-source statistics have been inflated, and that is the case when it comes to certain reports of Iranian oil exports to the PRC.
But the fact of the matter is that sanctions and sanctions enforcement, it is an iterative – it requires an iterative approach. We are always looking at ways we can optimize the sanctions regimes that are in place around the world. We can optimize them in two important ways. One is to ensure that there aren’t humanitarian implications and to make sure there aren’t spillover effects on arenas that are important to us – like humanitarian arenas, for example – but also to ensure that the limitations and the restrictions that these sanctions are designed to impose are as constricting as possible.
So even in the case of Iran, in recent weeks not only have we leveled – and levied, excuse me – new sanctions against Iran’s petrochemical and – petrochemical industry, but we’ve taken action against sanction evasion networks precisely for the reason that you highlight. We’re always in discussion not only with our interagency to determine what more we can do as a government, but also with other governments as well to make sure that we’re all working together to see to it that these sanctions regimes are as biting as possible.
Also on Wednesday, the Turkish Armed Forces announced a separate operation that "neutralized" two members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), another Kurdish separatist group involved in an insurgency against Turkey for four decades. The raid was part of the ongoing Operation Claw-Lock launched in April by Ankara as the latest effort in a years-long cross-border campaign.
The sites of both Iranian and Turkish military activity are under the immediate jurisdiction of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, which condemned Iran's strikes on Wednesday.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. In the beginning of the briefing, you said the rules-based international order, undermined anywhere it’s undermined everywhere. Does that also apply to Turkish violation of the sovereignty of its neighbors? Just this morning Turkey bombed a civilian tourist site, killing eight Iraqi tourists and wounding over 20. Are you, first, aware of those reports? And if you’re not, are you generally concerned about Turkish repetitive violation of the sovereignty of its neighbors?
MR PRICE: I am aware of those reports. I do expect we’ll have more to say on this later today, but let me just say in the interim that we’re aware of the deadly shelling in northern Iraq today. It killed and injured numerous Iraqis, including civilians, according to these first reports. We reaffirm our position that military action in Iraq should respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we express our condolences to the families of the victims of today’s actions. We emphasize the importance of ensuring civilians are protected and we will continue to monitor the situation closely as additional information emerges. For the time being, we’ll defer to our Iraqi partners for additional comment.
But to your broader question, the rules-based international order is agnostic as to the country behind it, and it applies equally to the United States as it does to any other country, whether that’s in the Middle East, in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific, in any other region around the world.
QUESTION: Did it apply to the United States in 2003?
MR PRICE: We can go down the historical rabbit hole, but I will try and – we’ll try and finish up here.
The story: The killing of a young girl allegedly at
the hands of US forces has sparked outrage in Iraq. Iran’s allies in the
country are capitalizing on the public backlash to double down on their
demand that American troops must withdraw. They are also seizing on the
incident to undermine Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi by slamming him
for “his silence.” This comes against the backdrop of heightened
political tensions in Baghdad, where a new government appears set to be
The coverage: Zeinab Essam, a member of a family of farmers from the district of Abu Ghraib to the west of Baghdad, was killed by several stray bullets on Sept. 19.
"Is Representative Jackie here? Where's Jackie?" Biden asked. "I think she was going to be here."
Walorski was killed in a car crash along with two of her staffers and the driver of another vehicle in August.
Biden was delivering a speech at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health when he recognized the lawmakers who helped make the event a reality.
“I want to thank all of you here, including bipartisan elected officials like Rep. [Jim] McGovern, Sen. [Mike] Braun, Sen. [Cory] Booker, Rep. … Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” Biden said, referring to Walorski.
Shortly after Biden spoke, White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice moderated a panel at the conference and acknowledged Walorski’s death.
Walorski and two staffers were killed in an Aug. 3 car accident. She had served in Congress since 2013.
Biden thanked other conference organizers, then asked: "Jackie are you here? Where's Jackie?"
Walorski, a Republican, was one of four Congressional co-sponsors of the bill to fund the conference. She was killed with two staffers in early August.
Biden moved past the issue without any correction.
Q What happened in the hunger event today? The President appeared to look around the room for an audience member, a member of Congress who passed away last month. He seemed to indicate she might be in the room. What happened there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the President was, as you all know — you guys were watching today’s event, a very important event on food insecurity. The President was naming the congressional champions on this issue and was acknowledging her incredible work. He had — he had already planned to welcome the congresswoman’s family to the White House on Friday. There will be a bill signing in her honor this coming Friday.
So, of course, she was on his mind. She was of top of mind for the President. He looks — very much looks forward to discussing her remarkable legacy of public service with them when he sees her family this coming Friday.
Q He said, “Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? She must not be here.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I totally understand. I just — I just explained she was on top of mind. You know, this wasn’t — what we were able to witness today and what the President was able to lift up in this — at this conference at this event was how her — her focus on wanting to deal with, combat food — food insecurity in America. And this is something that he was lifting up and honoring.
And, again, he knows that he’s going to see her family this coming Friday. There’s a bill signing that’s going to happen in renaming a VA clinic in Indiana after the late congresswoman. He knows that he is going to see her family, and she was at top of mind.
[. . .]
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not sure why. Why? Why one more time?
Q Well, because I think — frankly, honestly, I think the memory of the congresswoman in history requires some clarity here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hmmm —
Q Can you explain where the mistake was made? Did the Pres- — was the President confused? Was something written in the teleprompter that he didn’t recognize? Can you just help us understand what happened?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, you’re jumping to a lot of conclusions.
Q No, I’m simply seeing — seeking to find —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but you’re — but I —
Q — out what happened here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I hear you, Steven. I’m — I’m answering the question, that you’re jumping to a lot of conclusions.
I just answered the question. If I had said — if that had been the case, I would have stated that. Right? I clearly have stated what you just laid out.
What I had said is that she was on top of mind and that he is going to see her family in just two days’ time, on Friday, to honor her, to honor her work, to honor — to honor her legacy, if you will. I just mentioned this. It’s going to be a renaming of a VA clinic in Indiana in her name. And, you know, that is — that is what he was thinking of.
He was thinking about her as he was — as he was naming out and calling out the congressional champions on this issue — on this really critical issue that’s going to help millions of Americans. And that is — that is — that is what the President was focused on.
Q Would you be prepared to release the prepared remarks that the President had in the teleprompter just so we could understand?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not understanding why — why that would be — would be necessary. We always share the remarks that the President had — even, you know, delivered. That’s probably going to be up on the website. Not really sure what that has to do with anything.
I just answered the question about her being on top of mind. I don’t think that’s any — that’s unusual. I feel like many of us have gone through that particular, you know, time where someone is on top of mind and you call them out and you mention them. Especially in this — this type of context, if you think about how he’s going to the see the family in two days; if you think about how, when he sees them in two days, it’s going to be for such an important moment, assigning — signing a piece of legislation that’s going to rename a VA clinic in her state — that’s important — if you think about this issue and how important this issue is.
And he was, again, calling out congressional champions for this particular issue.
Q Lastly, I just wanted to return to this question of the congresswoman. And I think we all totally get why she’s top of mind. You’ve made that case pretty effectively.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, thank you.
Q But I think the confusing part is why, if she and the family is top of mind, does the President think that she’s living and in the room?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t find that confusing. I mean, I think many people can speak to sometimes when you have someone top of mind, they are top of mind. Exactly that. And it is also — if you put it into the context, it’s not like it happened without — outside of context, right?
It happened at an event where we were cha- — we were calling out the champions — congressional champions, in particular, of this issue — this important issue, when it comes to food insecurity, something that this administration has led on — led on from the beginning of this administration, not just across the country but also globally.
You heard him talk about food insecurity last week at the U.N. and the investments that we have put forward as — as the — as the United States of America and helping — and helping deal with that.
Look, he was at an event — you all saw, you all watched, which is why you’re asking the question — right? — where he was calling out, again, congressional leaders — a bipartisan leadership that we have seen on this particular issue.
And, again, he’s going to see her family in just two days, and she was on top of mind. I mean, I don’t — that is — I mean, that is — that is not an unusual — unusual scenario there.
Q Karine, I have John Lennon top of mind just about every day, but I’m not looking around for him anywhere.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: When you sign a bill for John Lennon — Lennon as president then we can have this conversation.
Q Why doesn’t he just apologize?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — go ahead. Go ahead.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
Q Thanks, Karine. There are —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q These moments of confusion are happening with increasing frequency.
Q Why not just apologize?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Excuse me. There are reports that —
Q Americans are watching this and are having concerns. What do you say to that?
Q There are reports that Treasury Secretary Yellen —
Q What do you say to that?
Q — is looking to leave the administration —
Q This is a legitimate question. We need to have some answers.
Q — at the end of year. What can you tell us about that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m sorry, somebody was yelling over you, so —
Q No, we were asking about the mental acuity —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q — of the President.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q I said there are reports that —
Q This is a valid question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q — Treasury Secretary Yellen is looking to leave Secretary Yellen is looking to leave the administration —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is not your turn to speak, and you’re being rude to your colleagues, and let your colleague answer the question.
Q You might be being rude to us by —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q There are reports that —
Q — not answering the question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. I — you’re yelling and — over your colleague. So that is incredibly rude.
Q Can we have an answer to the substantive question here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q We’re just trying to get an answer, Karine. “Top of mind” is not an answer.