“I’m well-meaning, and I’m an elderly man — and I know what the hell I’m doing,” he declared from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, as he shouted at times, jousted with reporters and gave responses that verged on sarcasm.
Biden was responding to a comment in the report that he can come off as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
The president, who is 81, grew particularly emotional recounting a line from special counsel Robert K. Hur’s report that suggested he did not recall the year in which his son Beau had passed away. Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015, when his father was vice president.
“There’s even [a] reference that I don’t remember when my son died,” Biden said. “How in the hell dare he raise that?”
The president said he remembers his son’s death every day. “Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself it wasn’t any of their damn business,” he said. “I don’t need anyone to remind me of when he passed away.”
Capping a tumultuous afternoon, the White House scrambled to put together the address on short notice, notifying reporters just 20 minutes before it was to take place. Biden’s aides seemed taken aback by the furor caused by the report’s stark comments about his memory, saying it was “significantly limited” and that he had “limited precision and recall.”
Privately, Biden was also furious about the report’s comments on his memory. During a private meeting with House Democrats at their policy retreat in Virginia earlier Thursday, Biden grew especially animated when asked how he was doing.
“How the f— could I forget the day my son died? Of course I remember everything,” he said, according two people with knowledge of his remarks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a closed-door conversation.
At his White House remarks, Biden began by stressing that the report concluded that charges were not merited, even citing specific page numbers to bolster his case.
“I was pleased to see he reached the firm conclusion that no charges should be brought against me in this case,” the president said. “This was an exhaustive investigation.”
He also highlighted a separate investigation into former president Donald Trump’s own handling of classified documents, and the differences between them — notably that Trump allegedly sought to keep the documents even when authorities asked for them back and that he, unlike Biden, now faces criminal charges.
“I was especially pleased to see special counsel make clear the stark distinction and difference between this case and Mr. Trump’s case,” Biden said.
Later, when asked if he took responsibility for being careless with classified material, he largely pointed to his staff.
“I take responsibility for not having seen exactly what my staff was doing,” Biden said. “Things that appeared in my garage, things that came out of my home, things that were moved — were moved not by me but by my staff. By my staff.”
Later he added, “I didn’t know how half the boxes got in my garage, until I found out staff gathered them up, put them together and took them to the garage in my home.”
His home, he noted, is a private residence, unlike Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, which doubles as a club for members. “It was in my house,” he said. “It wasn’t like, in Mar-a-Lago, in a public place.”
The comments punctuated a remarkable moment in the Biden presidency. The nation’s oldest president has been fighting off voters’ concerns about his age as he prepares to seek reelection against his predecessor — who at 77 is also elderly — only to see a prosecutor’s document unexpectedly and, his aides say, gratuitously renew those concerns in a stark way.
During his address, Biden spoke without a teleprompter. He took questions from an animated press corps, even coming back to the lectern to answer additional queries being fired at him. He repeatedly downplayed concerns that voters have about his age and rebutted any notion that he has lost a mental step.
“Look, my memory has not gotten — my memory is fine,” he said. “Take a look at what I’ve done since I’ve become president. None of you thought I could pass any of the things I got passed. How’d that happen? You know, I guess I just forgot what was going on.”
At a time when some Democrats have expressed concern about the risks of keeping him as the nominee, he was asked why it had to be him.
“I’m the most qualified person in this country to be president of the United States and finish the job I started,” Biden shot back.
When he returned to answer a final question, however, criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in perhaps his harshest terms yet, he appeared to again have a verbal stumble. While speaking about aid to Palestinians facing an Israeli bombardment in Gaza, he referred to President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi of Egpyt but misstated the country he represents.
“As you know, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in,” Biden said. “I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate.”
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.
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