It’s 15 months since President Biden swept into the White House, where, judging by his current poll ratings, his tenure might not be a long one. Of course, many in his party never thought the 79 year-old would run again in 2024: the problem for Democrats is that his deputy Kamala Harris is even more unpopular. Still, while the pair’s record in office is mixed since taking over, America has clearly had a ‘better war’ in Ukraine than they did in Afghanistan, eight months ago. Nevertheless, the two have both made a number of gaffes which, had they been made by Biden’s predecessor, would almost certainly have had far greater publicity and condemnation. Below are six howlers from the dynamic duo at the top of American policymaking…
1. Chemical weapons
Biden made a trio of slip-ups on three successive days during his recent European tour. First, on 24 March, the president told a press conference that if Russia used chemical weapons it would ‘trigger a response in kind’ – suggesting that America would unleash retaliatory chemical weapons on Putin’s soldiers.
Naturally one of his underlings, National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, was called upon to ‘walk back’ the remarks, only saying that ‘we’ll respond accordingly’ and that Russia would pay a ‘severe price.’ He added that ‘the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstances.’ Whoops!
2. The 82nd Airborne
The next day, on 25 March, at a base in Poland, Biden was at it again. He told the 82nd Airborne Division that the Ukrainian people ‘have a lot of backbone’ before appearing to suggest that the troops would soon be in Ukraine itself – something his own officials have repeatedly ruled out. Biden continued:
And you’re going to see when you’re there. And some of you have been there. You’re going to see – you’re going to see women, young people standing – standing… in front of a damn tank, just saying, “I’m not leaving. I’m holding my ground.” They’re incredible. But they take a lot of inspiration from us.
Again, these remarks had to be ‘walked back’ by a lackey. A White House spokesperson later clarified that remark: ‘The President has been clear we are not sending U.S. troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position.’
3. Regime change
The real clanger came the day after that on 26 March. During a set-piece speech in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Biden seemed to commit the US to regime change in Russia, saying of President Putin: ‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.’ It appeared to mark a sharp contrast from prior statements from the White House, which emphasised that regime change in Russia is not America’s goal. Hours previously, he had also called Putin ‘a butcher.’
Shortly after Biden made his comments, a third clarification was issued in three days. A White House official was quoted as saying that: ‘The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.’
4. Layman’s explanation
It’s not just the Commander-in-chief who has suffered verbal embarrassment. On 1 March, Harris did an appearance on the syndicated ‘Morning Hustle’ where she was asked by to explain the conflict ‘In layman’s terms for people who don’t understand what’s going on and how can this directly affect the people of the United States?’ Harris responded with this much widely-mocked infantile response:
So Ukraine is a country in Europe. It exists next to another country called Russia. Russia is a bigger country. Russia is a powerful country. Russia decided to invade a smaller country called Ukraine. So, basically, that’s wrong, and it goes against everything that we stand for.
As one critic pointed out: ‘Layman’s terms doesn’t mean ‘assume the audience has never heard of Russia.’
5. Polish press conference
On 10 March, Harris gave a fairly abysmal press conference while visiting the Polish border. First, she went viral for her bizarre awkward laughter while waiting for a question about refugees to be translated. Then she claimed that ‘A friend in need is a friend in need.’ And then finally she also gave this robotic, rambling answer when describing the purpose of her visit:
I am here. Standing. Here. on the northern flank, on the eastern flank, talking about what we have in terms of the eastern flank and our NATO allies, and what is at stake at this very moment. What is at stake this very moment are some of the guiding principles around the NATO alliance.
Makes the Donald almost appear lucid.
6. NATO ally
Harris has also claimed on multiple occasions that the US is supporting Ukraine ‘in defence of the NATO alliance’ – even though, er, Ukraine is not in NATO. She was forced to delete a tweet saying that on 15 March, having previously made the remark to House Democrats in a speech four days earlier. ‘So I will say what I know we all say, and I will say over and over again: The United States stands firmly with the Ukrainian people in defense of the NATO alliance.’
Hardly the kind of clarity needed at a time of heightened international tension…
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