Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visibly baffled on Tuesday when a Republican lawmaker quizzed him on claims that someone at the White House is controlling when and how President Joe Biden speaks.
Blinken was there to testify on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, ranking member Jim Risch grilled Blinken on how much control Biden had over decision-making in Afghanistan.
He seemed to doubt the president had much of a say, pointing to a Monday incident where Biden‘s livestream was cut off mid-sentence after the president went off-script to ask an audience member about the Idaho wildfires.
‘Somebody in the White House has authority to press the button and stop the president – cut off the president’s speaking ability and sound. Who is that person? Risch asked.
The chief diplomat chuckled at the claim.
‘I think anyone who knows the president, including members of this committee knows that he speaks very clearly and very deliberately for himself. No one else does,’ he defended.
But the Idaho lawmaker pressed on.
Senator Jim Risch grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken over who was making the top calls in Afghanistan – and claimed it didn’t even look like President Biden was calling the shots at the White House
‘Well are you saying that there is no one in the White House that can cut him off because yesterday that happened and it is happened a number of times before that,’ Risch said, referencing the Monday incident.
‘It is been widely reported that somebody has the ability to push the button and cut off his sound and something from speaking. Who is that person?’
Blinken, laughing again, said ‘There is no such person.’
‘Again, the president speaks for himself. Makes all of the strategic decisions, informed by the best advice that he could get from the the people around him,’ he said.
Biden was at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Monday for a round table with federal and state officials on on the wildfires – which Biden blames on global warming.
The meeting was being broadcast live but as the president went to pose a question to George Geissler of the National Association of State Foresters, the White House appeared to cut him off mid-sentence.
‘One of the things that I’ve been working on with some others is —’ Biden said before the livestream ended abruptly prompting many viewers to question what had happened.
Risch continued to press Blinken at the Tuesday hearing, asking him if he was challenging the claim in front of the committee.
‘That is correct,’ Blinken said.
During a recent roundtable in Idaho, President Joe Biden blamed the wildfires engulfing parts of state and other western states on climate change – seconds before his feed was cut off
‘So this didn’t happen yesterday nor on the other occasions where the media showed the American people that his sentence was cut off in mid sentence. Are you saying that didn’t happen?’ Risch grilled.
The Biden official told Risch again that he didn’t know what he was referring to.
‘All I could tell you is having worked with the president for now 20 years, both here on this committee and in over the last nine months at the White House, the president very much speaks for himself,’ he said.
The Monday moment was reminiscent of last month, when Biden’s audio feed was cut moments before he was about to respond to a reporter’s question on his administration’s military withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan.
NBC’s Peter Alexander asked, ‘If Americans are still in Afghanistan after the deadline what will you do?’
Biden smirked just before the White House cut his feed.
In a follow-up tweet, backed by additional reporters at the briefing, Alexander noted that Biden answered, ‘You’ll be the first person I call.’
The Bootleg Fire burns through vegetation near Paisley, Oregon, U.S., July 20, 2021
A scoop plane drops water onto a burning ridge where a fire line had been created by crews of wildland firefighters, Monday, July 12, 2021, at the Lick Creek Fire, south of Asotin, Washington
Then in March, while speaking to Democratic lawmakers at a virtual event, the White House cut Biden’s feed before he said he was ‘happy to take questions.’
A recent Politico piece highlighted how White House staffers will ‘either mute [Biden] or turn off his remarks’ out of ‘anxiety’ the president will deviate from ‘the West Wing’s carefully orchestrated messaging.’
During a previous interview, White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted that Biden is often advised by her staff not to take questions.
Just last week, Biden confused reporters when he told a crowd, ‘I’m supposed to stop and walk out of the room’ during a White House event following his carefully constructed remarks.
Also on Monday, Biden stopped off in Sacramento, California to survey the damage from recent wildfires and campaign for a fellow Democrat facing a recall election.
This comes after the president approved a disaster declaration to the state and ordered federal assistance to help the recovery efforts Sunday night.
More than 6,800 wildfires large and small have blackened an estimated 1.7 million acres (689,000 hectares) within California alone this season, stretching available firefighting forces and equipment dangerously thin.
Scientists say man-made global warming is changing the climate, making wildfires more destructive and more frequent.
President Joe Biden talks with California Gov. Gavin Newsom as he arrives at Mather Airport on Air Force One Monday for a briefing on wildfires at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services
‘We have to think big,’ Biden told an audience near California’s state capital, Sacramento.
‘Thinking small is a prescription for disaster… We’re going to fight this climate change.’
The president is focusing on what is becoming a familiar message on the urgency of an issue that has sparked huge fires and floods — both of which have devastated different areas of the country in recent months.
‘The reality is, we have a global warming problem,’ Biden told firefighters earlier in Idaho, echoing the scientific consensus that human activity is affecting the climate.
‘Things aren’t going to go back to what they were. It’s not like you can build back to what it was before.’
Biden, who has broken with the climate change skepticism of his predecessor Donald Trump, recently said the world faces a ‘code red’ on climate change and called for parties to put aside their political differences to address the issue.