Mar 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Split screen: Biden shows vigor as Hur to testify on "poor memory"

President Biden on the left, special counsel Robert Hur on the right.

Biden photo: Jason Bergman/Bloomberg via Getty Images. Hur photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden often goes days without a public event, but this week he's planning to capitalize on the good vibes surrounding his State of the Union address with a robust schedule of speeches in swing states and Washington, D.C.

Why it matters: The flurry of events will contrast with special counsel Robert Hur's testimony before Congress on Tuesday, when Hur is expected to defend his portrayal of Biden as an "elderly man with a poor memory" in the report he issued last month.

Driving the news: After months of resistance, the 81-year-old Biden is now aggressively confronting voter concerns that he's too old to serve until 2029.

  • Since his State of the Union speech last Thursday, Biden has visited Georgia and New Hampshire — and he's planning to go to Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Monday in New Hampshire, Biden joked that "I know I don't look it, but I've been around a while."
  • Approaching reporters, Biden referenced news coverage about himself and said: "I don't know why you don't like me more than [Donald] Trump, given the way he talks about you."

Biden's campaign has begun airing a new ad in swing states in which Biden ditching a suit and tie for a cozy, quarter-zip sweater and says: "Look, I'm not a young guy. That's no secret. But, here's the deal. I understand how to get things done for the American people."

  • On Saturday, he'll also Washington's Gridiron dinner — an annual staple for D.C. journalists, lawmakers and power brokers.

Zoom in: House Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to press Hur about why he recommended that Biden not be prosecuted for mishandling classified documents, when former President Trump was charged with doing so.

  • Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are likely to zero in on Hur's conclusion that Biden willfully retained classified documents after his vice presidency — but that Biden wasn't charged in part because his age and poor memory would make any prosecution difficult.

Hur is expected to defend his report — both his descriptions of Biden's mental state and why he felt Trump's conduct with classified documents was markedly different than Biden's.

  • Republicans will try to cast the president as feeble and forgetful — an image that Biden's team is trying to counter as some GOP lawmakers have also said they felt the president was cogent.

Zoom out: Biden has long been wary of addressing his age, preferring to crack jokes about it or challenge his doubters to "watch me" as he goes out on the trail.

  • Biden aides have sometimes seen denialism at play, as the president privately says versions of: "I feel so much younger than my age."
  • In the face of bad polling numbers and Hur's report, however, Biden is addressing concerns about his age more bluntly — and arguing that his age is less important than the age of his ideas compared to Trump's.
  • "The issue facing our nation isn't how old we are, it's how old our ideas are," Biden said in his State of the Union address, arguing that Trump would take the nation backward on issues such as abortion and gun violence.

What they're saying: "Republican officials who want to drag the country backward with cuts to Medicare and Social Security, tax giveaways to the rich and national abortion bans keep forgetting that their age attacks have failed since 2019," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said.

  • Anthony Coley, a former top spokesperson for Attorney General Merrick Garland, told Axios that Biden's vigorous address to Congress and the nation last week has taken some of the sting out of whatever heat the Hur hearing could bring.
  • "The stakes for Biden are much lower now than even a week ago," Coley said, "before 32 million Americans saw him in command during his State of the Union address."
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