Jun 5, 2024 - Politics & Policy

WSJ takes on Biden's age, White House fires back


Biden speaks from the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a 3,000-word story headlined "Behind Closed Doors, Biden Shows Signs of Slipping," The Wall Street Journal reports that in meetings with congressional leaders, President Biden "appears slower" and "has both good moments and bad ones."

Why it matters: Biden's age and acuity are among the GOP's top attack lines. Poll after poll shows Biden's age, 81, is a major concern among voters.

  • Trump, who turns 78 next week, isn't far behind. Despite his own public slips, the polls find voters are less concerned about Trump's mental fitness.

Between the lines: Biden and his team bristle over questions about his fitness to serve. Asked in a new Time magazine interview whether he could really do the job deep into a second term, Biden retorted: "I can do it better than anybody you know."

  • Flashback: After special counsel Robert Hur described Biden as an "elderly man with a poor memory," Biden fumed in televised remarks that while he is an elderly man, "I know what the hell I'm doing. I've been president and I put this country back on its feet."
  • White House spokesperson Andrew Bates slammed the Journal's story. "It's a little surprising that The Wall Street Journal thought it was breaking news when congressional Republicans told them the same false claims they've spouted on Fox News for years, but it's also telling that the only individuals willing to smear the President in this story are political opponents afraid to use their names — plus one proven liar."

Zoom in: Bates was referring to the fact that the Journal interviewed "more than 45 people over several months," but former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was the only one to strongly criticize Biden's faculties on-record.

  • "I used to meet with him when he was vice president. I'd go to his house," McCarthy said. "He's not the same person."

The WSJ offers a few anecdotes to illustrate the idea that Biden has given interlocutors reason to wonder about his fitness.

  • When Biden was negotiating with House Republicans to lift the debt ceiling, "his demeanor and command of the details seemed to shift from one day to the next," the Journal says.
  • During talks in January with congressional leaders over a Ukraine funding deal, the Journal reports, Biden spoke very softly, referred repeatedly to notes and "sometimes closed his eyes for so long that some in the room wondered whether he had tuned out."

What they're saying: Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), who attended the meeting, declined to go into details but said: "These people who keep talking about what a dynamo he is behind closed doors — they need to get him out from behind closed doors, because I didn't see it."

  • The White House countered that Biden "laid out a forceful case for providing aid," and ultimately got a deal done.
  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who also attended, tweeted that she told the WSJ Biden had been "absolutely engaged" and effective. "I'm not quoted," she added. "I wonder why."

Behind the scenes: The WSJ report includes almost line-by-line rebuttals from the White House, in a sign of how hard the West Wing pushed back on the reporting.

  • "The White House kept close tabs on some of The Wall Street Journal's interviews with Democratic lawmakers," the story says.
  • "After the offices of several Democrats shared with the White House either a recording of an interview or details about what was asked, some of those lawmakers spoke to the Journal a second time and once again emphasized Biden's strengths."

"President Biden inherited an economy in free fall, fraying alliances, and a spiking violent crime rate, and he turned each around with his experience and judgment, delivering the strongest economic growth in the world, making NATO bigger than ever, and forcing violent crime to a near 50-year low," Bates, the White house spokesperson, told Axios.

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