President Joe Biden made a blunder in his impromptu press conference on Thursday, when he mixed up Mexico with Egypt while talking about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The president was trying to defend his memory and mental acuity, after a report suggested that he did not remember the year his son Beau died from brain cancer.
The president called the press conference to respond to a report by Special Counsel Robert Hur, who investigated the origins of the FBI’s probe into the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. The report, which was partially released on Thursday, contained a footnote that said Biden told Hur that he did not recall what year his son Beau passed away.
Beau Biden, who was the attorney general of Delaware and a decorated Iraq war veteran, died in 2015 at the age of 46 from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. His death was a devastating blow for the president, who has often spoken about his grief and his close bond with his son.
The report’s footnote sparked speculation that Biden was suffering from memory loss or cognitive decline, a charge that his political opponents have frequently leveled against him. The president, who is 79 years old, has also made several verbal gaffes and misstatements in the past, which have raised questions about his mental fitness.
Biden, however, dismissed the report’s footnote as a “cheap shot” and said he had no trouble remembering the year his son died. He said he was angry and offended by the suggestion that he did not recall such a painful event in his life.
“How the hell dare he raise that?” Biden said. “I remember the year my son died. I remember the month, the day, the hour, the minute, the second. I remember everything about it.”
Biden mixes up Mexico with Egypt
Biden also used the press conference to address the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, where Israel and Hamas have been engaged in a deadly exchange of fire for over a week. The president said he was working hard to broker a ceasefire and to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, who have been suffering from the Israeli airstrikes and the blockade.
However, in the course of his remarks, Biden made a mistake that confused many observers. He said he had spoken to the president of Mexico and convinced him to open the gate to allow humanitarian material to get into Gaza. He also said he had talked to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to open the gate on the Israeli side.
“The president of Mexico did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in. I talked to him. I convinced to open the gate,” Biden said. “I talked to Bibi [Netanyahu] to open the gate on the Israeli side. I’ve been pushing really hard, really hard to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”
Biden apparently meant to say the president of Egypt, not Mexico, since Egypt controls the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, which is the only entry point for goods and people into the besieged enclave. Mexico has no involvement or influence in the Middle East conflict.
Biden also said he had been on the phone with Qataris and Egyptians, and that he had made the case that more material, including fuel, should be allowed into Gaza. He said he was hopeful that a ceasefire could be reached soon, and that he was committed to a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Biden’s gaffe draws criticism and mockery
Biden’s gaffe did not go unnoticed by his critics and the media, who seized on it as another example of his poor communication skills and lack of foreign policy acumen. Some also compared it to a similar mistake made by a Republican congressman last week, who confused Iran with Israel while speaking on a TV show.
“Joe Biden just confused Mexico with Egypt. This is the guy who is supposed to be leading the free world and negotiating peace in the Middle East?” tweeted Republican strategist Matt Whitlock.
“Joe Biden thinks Mexico is in the Middle East. This is not a joke. He actually said this today at his press conference. He is not fit to be president,” tweeted conservative commentator Liz Wheeler.
“Biden mixes up Mexico and Egypt while talking about Gaza. Reminds me of when GOP Rep. Mike Johnson confused Iran and Israel on Meet the Press. Maybe Middle East geography is hard for some politicians,” tweeted journalist Mehdi Hasan.
Some, however, defended Biden and said his gaffe was not a big deal and did not affect his overall message or policy. They also pointed out that Biden has a history of stuttering, which may explain some of his verbal slips.
“Biden misspoke and said Mexico instead of Egypt. He corrected himself later. It happens. He’s still doing a good job on the Middle East crisis,” tweeted Democratic activist Scott Dworkin.
“Biden has a stutter. He sometimes mixes up words or names. It’s not a sign of dementia or incompetence. It’s a sign of being human. He’s still a smart and capable leader who knows what he’s doing,” tweeted journalist David Pakman.