US lawmakers tell Wall Street Journal that Biden showing signs of cognitive decline

Journal speaks to dozens of sources who say president does not always seem focused; Republicans more critical than Democrats, who insist he is still sharp

US President Joe Biden speaks next to First Lady Jill Biden during the annual Congressional picnic at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 4, 2024. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks next to First Lady Jill Biden during the annual Congressional picnic at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 4, 2024. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

US President Joe Biden, 81, shows signs of cognitive decline in closed-door meetings, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, basing its months-long investigation on interviews with more than 45 people.

The White House and other Democrats pushed back forcefully on the report, insisting that Biden is sharp at meetings, with detractors merely misrepresenting his behavior.

The majority of those who expressed concern were Republicans, said the WSJ, but some Democrats also asserted that Biden, the oldest-ever serving president of America, had shown signs of decline.

The article said the accounts describe “an unevenness” in meetings though “not the caricature of an addled leader that some of his political opponents draw.”

Listing some of the worrying lapses, the report cited six people who said House Speaker Mike Johnson revealed in February his concerns that Biden’s memory had slipped about details of the administration’s energy policies as he tried to discuss them during a meeting.

In a key January meeting on Ukraine military aid, according to the Journal, “the president moved so slowly around the Cabinet Room to greet the nearly two dozen congressional leaders that it took about 10 minutes for the meeting to begin, some people who attended recalled.”

US President Joe Biden speaks about an executive order in the East Room at the White House in Washington, June 4, 2024. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Attendees also had trouble hearing Biden, as he read general points that had already been agreed upon from notes and repeatedly deferred to others, according to five people who were there. The president also paused or closed his eyes for lengthy periods, leaving some to wonder if had “tuned out,” the report said.

“You couldn’t be there and not feel uncomfortable,” an attendee said. “I’ll just say that.”

In other important meetings, including during May 2023 negotiations on raising the debt ceiling, Republicans said that at times the president was sharp and spontaneous, while on other days he would repeat stories and bring up issues that were already solved.

“He would ramble,” former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican at the talks, told the paper. “He always had cards. He couldn’t negotiate another way.

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

Democrats in attendance disagreed with that characterization. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Biden was “incredibly strong, forceful and decisive.”

Biden has also made numerous public bungles, many of them caught on camera. Last month, during a Rose Garden event celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month, Biden said that US hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, held by Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was present at the White House event, though he quickly corrected himself.

The day before, he declared at a campaign event in Detroit that he was vice president during the COVID-19 crisis, but in fact ended his term three years before the pandemic.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement “Congressional Republicans, foreign leaders and nonpartisan national-security experts have made clear in their own words that President Biden is a savvy and effective leader who has a deep record of legislative accomplishment.”

“Now, in 2024, House Republicans are making false claims as a political tactic that flatly contradict previous statements made by themselves and their colleagues,” he accused.

The White House also carefully monitored what Democratic lawmakers told the newspaper, according to the report. Some of those who shared with the White House what they had said to the publication later called back to stress Biden’s capabilities.

“We thought it was important that all perspectives be represented” to correct “false and politically motivated claims,” Bates explained to the WSJ.

The White House noted to the newspaper that the president’s doctors have reported he is able to serve as president and a recent annual physical did not give cause for a cognitive assessment.

Administration officials pointed out to the Journal examples they said showed the president is of a clear and focused mind, including the many hours he spent in the Situation Room during Iran’s missile attack on Israel last month, after which he called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to persuade him to de-escalate the situation.

US Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom for his trial at the Manhattan criminal court, in New York, May 21, 2024. (Michael M. Santiago/Pool Photo via AP)

Democrats and administration officials rejected accounts of Biden being unfocused or relying on cards during meetings, saying he was sharp and there may have been misunderstandings on the part of his interlocutors. Deferring to aides is a tried and tested approach by presidents, they noted.

Biden’s challenger in the coming US elections, former president Donald Trump, who is only 3.5 years his junior, has also faced scrutiny for confusing names of officials and seeming to nod off during his recent criminal trial.

A Trump spokeswoman responded to the Journal that the presumed Republican candidate is “sharp as a tack.”

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