Miami Herald (Sunday)

Biden, allies are pushing back against special counsel’s damaging claims about his memory


President Joe Biden’s Democratic allies are launching an aggressive defense against a special counsel’s explosive claims that the 81-year-old president couldn’t remember major milestones in his life, trying to diminish the significan­ce of the prosecutor’s allegation­s that Biden was too forgetful to be charged for mishandpol­itical ling classified material.

Biden set the angry tone hours after special counsel Robert Hur’s report was released, dismissing the report’s conclusion­s about his memory and insisting that he hadn’t forgotten the year his son Beau died, as Hur claimed. Democrats on Capitol Hill and around the country quickly followed.

“Republican­s saying that Biden is old is the least surprising thing in American politics,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said. “It’s all they’ve got.”

Democrats plan to answer the widespread questions about the 81-year-old president’s age and readiness by affirming that Biden is capable of being commander in chief and trying to discredit people who portray him as enfeebled. Key to that strategy is drawing a contrast with former President Donald Trump, the heavy Republican front-runner, who is himself 77 and has also confused names and facts while also facing four indictment­s and multiple multimilli­on-dollar civil judgments.

The signs of support are crucial for Biden as he prepares for what could be a tight election against Trump. Even before the report’s release, fears were mounting that the coalition that helped elect Biden in 2020 was fraying, making it all the more important for Biden to keep as many supporters as possible firmly on his side.

The Biden campaign circulated talking points to allies that were obtained by The Associated Press. The talking points refer to Hur, a U.S. attorney during the Trump administra­tion, as a “MAGA-appointed attorney who doesn’t have a case so he decided to lob personal attacks against the president.” That’s a reference to “Make America Great Again,” Trump’s movement.

The talking points also stressed that Hur is “a lawyer — not a doctor — so people should take his legal conclusion­s and ignore his political opinions.”

The White House has also noted Biden cooperated with Hur, who declined to charge him with unlawfully retaining classified documents, while Trump faces an indictment in Florida after the FBI seized records from his Mar-a-Lago residence.

“The way that the president’s demeanor in that report was characteri­zed could not be more wrong on the facts and clearly politicall­y motivated, gratuitous,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday. “I will say that when it comes to the role and responsibi­lity of a prosecutor in a situation like that, we should expect that there would be a higher level of integrity than what we saw.”

Indignatio­n spread into South Carolina, where Biden scored a commanding victory in the first-inthe-nation Democratic primary on Feb. 3, which was designed by his campaign to project clear strength. Some saw Biden’s forceful response to the special counsel as a promising sign.

“I truly believe this is bringing the best out in the president. It’s showing that he’s a fighter,” said LaJoia Broughton, a 42year-old small-business owner in Columbia who voted for Biden in the primary.

Biden aides say they do not expect the president or his campaign to take on the age question more directly. They can’t make Biden any younger, and they note that attacks on the president over his age were also persistent four years ago, when Trump labeled him “Sleepy Joe.”

Instead, they intend to draw on the blueprint of the 2020 campaign and argue that many voters won’t want a repeat of Trump’s turbulent time in the White House. They also plan to highlight Biden’s accomplish­ments and an economy that continues to show strength.

“The president has said that age is a fair question on voters’ minds, but if you’re an independen­t or pursuable voter across this country and you’re worried about your kid facing gun violence while going to school, the prospect a national abortion ban, or the future of our democracy, you may think about the president’s age, but at the end of the day the choice is easy,” said Kate Berner, a former deputy communicat­ions director in the Biden White House. “Donald Trump is on the wrong side of all of those issues.”

Some Democrats weren’t so optimistic.

“This is a distractio­n. When you’re running a presidenti­al campaign, you don’t like distractio­ns,” said Jim Messina, who led former President Barack Obama’s last campaign.

Messina compared the special counsel’s report to the announceme­nt in October 2016 by then- FBI Director James Comey that he was further investigat­ing Democratic presidenti­al nominee Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified emails when she was secretary of state. Comey’s announceme­nt, which came 11 days before the election, has been blamed for helping Trump beat Clinton.

In this case, this week’s report comes nine months before Election Day, Nov. 5

“There’s just so much time to get through all this,” Messina said.

“Trump has all the trials coming up. I’d be surprised if this was an issue in a month.”

Still, Trump’s allies were emboldened this week.

Beyond celebratin­g the release of the special counsel’s embarrassi­ng descriptio­ns of Biden, Trump won a new trove of delegates Thursday in Nevada’s caucuses, where he ran unopposed.

“We all already know that Joe Biden is senile. What’s being lost is that Joe Biden is a criminal who put American national security at risk,” Donald Trump Jr. wrote in one of many messages highlighti­ng the new report.

Trav Robertson, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, described the report as an obvious political liability for Biden. But he directed blame squarely at Attorney General Merrick Garland for allowing the report to include comments about the president’s age, memory and cognitive capabiliti­es.

“Merrick Garland not doing his job only allowed a Trump appointee to feed a political narrative to deflect from Trump,” Robertson said, adding, “Donald Trump can’t lift a glass of water to his lips without using both hands because he’s old.”

 ?? NATHAN HOWARD TNS ?? President Joe Biden was visibly angry while facing intense questions by White House reporters Thursday after the special counsel report was released.
NATHAN HOWARD TNS President Joe Biden was visibly angry while facing intense questions by White House reporters Thursday after the special counsel report was released.

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