White House fires back at Wall Street Journal over Biden story

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White House officials and President Biden’s allies went on the attack against The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday after the news outlet published a report on the president’s performance in private meetings headlined “Behind Closed Doors, Biden Shows Signs of Slipping.”

Democrats rallied to Biden’s defense and took issue with key parts of the story, blasting the Journal for largely citing the accounts of Republican officials who had spent time with the president, including former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Several White House aides shared a lengthy segment from MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in which the hosts excoriated the Journal story as a hit piece.

“I’ve spent time with both of those guys privately. Spent time with Biden and Trump privately. I’ve spent time with every House speaker over the past 30 years. And Joe Biden, I’m not just– it’s just not close,” host Joe Scarborough said.

“If you want to talk about international affairs, if you want to talk about how to get bipartisan legislation, Joe Biden is light years ahead of all of them,” he continued. “And the fact that the Wall Street Journal knew these quotes were out there, that editors– I’m not looking at the reporter. People always blame the reporter…I don’t even know what to say. I really don’t even know what to say here.”

The Wall Street Journal story was based on interviews with 45 people over several months, including Democrats and Republicans who were in meetings with Biden or briefed on them. The story cites examples of Biden reading from notes in meetings on Ukraine aid, sometimes deferring questions to aides and at times speaking too softly to hear or closing his eyes.

“Most of those who said Biden performed poorly were Republicans, but some Democrats said that he showed his age in several of the exchanges,” the Journal reported. 

Biden allies took particular issue with the fact that the only lawmaker to strongly criticize the president on the record was McCarthy, the former Speaker who has since left Congress after he lost the gavel last fall.

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

Deputy press secretary Andrew Bates posted on X a series of past quotes from McCarthy in which he praised Biden’s conduct during their private meetings over the debt ceiling. McCarthy told reporters publicly after those meetings that Biden was “very professional, very smart. Very tough at the same time,” and he reportedly told colleagues in private that he found Biden to be mentally sharp.

“What a surprise – Republicans employing their election year messaging strategy that contradicts their own prior words about @POTUS,” White House communications director Ben LaBolt posted on X. “Gambling in Casablanca!”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) posted on X that she was interviewed for the piece but was not quoted.

“Surprise, surprise—everyone attacking @POTUS is a Republican with an agenda,” she posted. “I made clear to the @WSJ regarding the January meeting on Ukraine that the President was absolutely engaged & ran that meeting in a way that brought everyone together. I’m not quoted—I wonder why.”

The Hill has reached out to The Wall Street Journal for comment.

The Wall Street Journal story is the latest piece to raise questions about Biden’s fitness for office as he seeks a second term. Biden is 81 and would be 86 at the end of a potential second term.

Republicans have for years tried to portray Biden as unfit for office and lacking the mental and physical fitness for the job. Former President Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for November, repeatedly attacks Biden as incompetent.

Democrats note that Trump is 77 and has been prone to his own verbal stumbles when he is on the campaign trail. Trump also repeatedly closed his eyes for extended stretches during his recent criminal trial in New York.

Biden himself has pushed back on questions about his age, including when a special counsel report published earlier this year described him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Asked in a May 28 Time Magazine interview if he thought he could do the job as an 85-year-old, Biden told the outlet, “I can do it better than anybody you know.”

“You’re looking at me, I can take you too,” he quipped.

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