WASHINGTON – Despite his status as the nation’s oldest president in history, Joe Biden feels he is “babied” by his staff, setting off the 80-year-old’s Irish temper, according to a new book peeling back the inner workings of the White House.
The gaffe-prone president’s staff regularly scrambles to mop up the messes Biden makes with off-script comments, but the efforts are not always appreciated, according to Franklin Foer’s “The Last Politician,” which went on sale Tuesday.
That tension came to a head in the early days of Russia’s war on Ukraine when Biden, through excitement, bombed what otherwise would have been a triumphant speech supporting Kyiv, Foer writes.
The March speech was critically important to Biden.
Chief of the Joint Staff Gen. Mark Milley had “egged the president on” as he drafted it, according to the book by the Atlantic staff writer and the former editor of the New Republic.
“This is your, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’ speech,” Milley told Biden – a reference to former President Ronald Reagan’s impactful words near the end of the Cold War.
Foer writes, “At this late stage in his career, [Biden] had largely stopped giving speeches with cadences and imagery that aspired to be described as Kennedyesque.
“But, here in his moment, he strove for loftiness and built his speech to culminate in a grand exhortation about the moral imperative of thwarting authoritarianism.”
Biden later said in his speech, “A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty.
“Brutality will never grind down their will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia – for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.”
But instead of ending there as planned, the speech culminated with an off-the-cuff statement that sounded like Biden was calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be overthrown: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.“
The statement alarmed Americans and international US allies who worried it would spark retaliation and escalation from Putin — and his full arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Upon leaving the stage, “Biden instantly knew that the White House would have to clarify his mistake,” according to Foer.
No stranger to walking back comments made by the president, Biden’s staff quickly took the initiative to explain away the controversial statement. But they’d done so without consulting the president, which drew the octogenarian’s ire and resentment, according to the book.
“By the time [he] piled into the motorcade leaving [the speech,] his aides had released a statement walking back his sentence,” Foer writes. “Suddenly, the press wasn’t marveling at his rhetoric or his diplomatic triumphs; it was back to describing him as a blowhard lacking in self-control.”
The coverage enraged Biden – who Foer says “like Donald Trump … is a voracious consumer of television” – and he “left for home, ending his triumphalist tour, feeling sorry for himself.”
Deep down, he “knew that he had erred” by making the comment in the first place, Foer says. But instead of taking responsibility for the flub, he “resented his aides for creating the impression that they had cleaned up his mess.”
“Rather than owning his failure, he fumed to his friends about how he was treated like a toddler,” Foer writes.
“Was John Kennedy ever babied like that?”
Asked Tuesday to respond to the book’s allegation that Biden felt babied, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre rebuked the question, calling the book’s revelation “a ridiculous claim.
““No one treats the President of the United States, the commander in chief, like a baby,” she said.