Joe Biden seemed to forget the defense secretary’s name and even his job title in a speech yesterday – calling Lloyd Austin the ‘guy who runs that outfit over there.’
The president was announcing two women were to be promoted to elite, four-star general commands at a ceremony at the White House on International Women’s Day.
‘I want to thank Sec-, the former general, I keep calling him “General.” My – the guy who runs that outfit over there,’ Biden said, before quickly adding, ‘I want to make sure we thank the secretary for all he’s done.’
The 78-year-old self-confessed ‘gaffe machine’ has made verbal fumbles a hallmark of his career but there is growing disquiet over why Biden still hasn’t held a press conference – no president in the last century has gone this long without taking questions from reporters.
President Joe Biden speaks during an event to mark International Women’s Day as Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin listen
U.S. Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost fist bumps Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin following President Joe Biden’s remarks on International Women’s Day
President Joe Biden (C) speaks, flanked by the nominees to positions as 4-star Combatant Commanders General Jacqueline Van Ovost (L) and Lieutenant General Laura Richardson (R)
Donald Trump and Barack Obama both took on the press pack within their first month in charge.
The White House says Biden is focused on getting over big congressional hurdles – the COVID-19 relief bill and Cabinet confirmations.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday defended the president’s accessibility to the media and suggested that a news conference was likely by the end of March.
‘I would say that his focus is on getting recovery and relief to the American people and he looks forward to continuing to engage with all of you and to other members of the media who aren’t here today,’ Psaki said. ‘And we’ll look forward to letting you know, as soon as that press conference is set.’
The campaign was dominated by Trump dubbing Biden ‘Sleepy Joe’ and claiming that he was in mental decline – ‘he’s gonzo, folks.’
Biden’s team tried to allay fears by suggesting that he had made a career of these mental blunders and Biden himself described how he had struggled with a stutter since childhood.
In 2008, he introduced his running-mate as ‘Barack America’ and in a 2012 ‘Meet the Press’ he accidentally revealed he supported gay marriage – before Obama had publicly set out a position on it.
Last month, he swapped China for Canada in his opening remarks with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
His use of the phrase ‘Neanderthal thinking’ this week to describe the decision by the governors of Texas and Mississippi to lift mask mandates dominated a new cycle and drew ire from Republicans.
That created the type of distraction his aides have tried to avoid and, in a pandemic silver lining, were largely able to dodge during the campaign because the virus kept Biden home for months and limited the potential for public mistakes.
Firmly pledging his belief in freedom of the press, Biden has rebuked his predecessor’s rhetoric toward the media, including Trump’s references to reporters as ‘the enemy of the people.’
Peter Funt, writing in USA Today, said: ‘But at a time when true transparency is desperately needed in government, especially on the heels of Trump and an administration that favored “alternative facts,” Biden is making a mistake by being so guarded with White House reporters.’
Biden restored the daily press briefing, which had gone extinct under Trump, opening a window into the workings of the White House. His staff has also fanned out over cable news to promote the COVID-19 relief bill.
And while Biden’s own Twitter account, in a sharp break from Trump’s social media habits, usually offers rote postings, his chief of staff Ron Klain has become a frequent tweeter, using the platform to amplify messages and critique opponents.
Delaying the news conference and joint address also, symbolically, have kept open the first chapter of Biden’s presidency and perhaps extended his honeymoon. His approval rating stood at 60% in a poll released Friday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
President Joe Biden walks with U.S. Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, left, and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson before speaking at an event to mark International Women’s Day
President Biden, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, said combating sexual assault in the military will be an all hands on deck effort
Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, 55, of the Air Force, left, and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, 57, of the Army
The president yesterday approved nominations for Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, of the Air Force, and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, of the Army.
If confirmed by the Senate, General Van Ovost and Lieutenant General Richardson will become the second and third women to lead a Combatant Command, according to the White House.
Biden’s appointment comes after their promotions were held up over fears then-President Donald Trump would resist them because they weren’t white men.
‘Each of these women have led careers demonstrating incomparable skill, integrity, and duty to country. And at every step, they’ve also helped push open the doors of opportunity to women in our military blazing the trail, a little wider, a little brighter for all proud women following in their path,’ the president said in announcement the appointments.
He also noted Van Ovost, the daughter of Dutch immigrants who owned a flying business, flew herself, at age 16, to see Sally Ride lift off as the first woman in space. He praised her career as a test pilot and noted she flew Air Force Two when he rode on it as vice president.
And he noted Richardson, in her position, oversaw the military medical personnel deployed to help the response to the COVID pandemic.
‘More than 4500 military medical personnel deployed in hospitals across 14 states and the Navajo Nation to treat COVID-19 patients,’ Biden said.
Biden also tackled the issue of sexual harassment in the ranks in his remarks, calling it a ‘threat to our national security.’
‘We have to take on sexual assault harassment and violence against women in the military. Sexual assault is a abhorrent and wrong at any time. And our military so much of unit cohesion is built on trusting your fellow service members to have your back. There’s nothing less than a threat to our national security,’ he said.
The president was accompanied at the event by Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Austin.
‘This is going to be an all hands on deck effort. Under my administration to end the scourge of sexual assault in the military. And we’re going to be focused on that from the very top,’ Biden said.