Dems rip Kevin McCarthy’s about-face on Biden’s mental fitness

Republicans are looking to revive questions about Biden’s abilities after Trump is convicted on 34 felony counts

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
,Eric Garcia
Thursday 06 June 2024 02:28 BST
Biden 'can hardly wait to compare' his cognitive ability with Trump's

A top Republican who once praised President Joe Biden’s mental acuity during high-stakes negotiations has changed his tune as the GOP hopes to revive questions over whether the 81-year-old is fit to serve another four years as America’s chief executive.

Though 78-year-old convicted felon and former president Donald Trump has had his share of gaffes and exhibits evidence that he, too, is nearly a decade older than he was when he first ran for president during the 2016 election, Biden’s mental agility comes under fire in a Wall Street Journal story based on interviews with Republicans and a small number of Democrats who’ve met with him in recent months. “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 WSJ story says.

The article quotes just one Republican who was willing to attack Biden — the oldest person ever to serve as president of the United States — on the record: former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who resigned from Congress last year but is reported to be seeking a top role in a potential second Trump administration.

McCarthy accused Biden of having exhibited diminished cognition during negotiations over government spending last year, telling the Journal Biden “would ramble” during the negotiations and used pre-printed notes.

“He always had cards. He couldn’t negotiate another way,” he said.

The ex-congressman’s comments are consistent with how Trump and his allies have spent years denigrating Biden, who is a mere three years older than his potential successor, as unable to function, frequently confused, and allegedly suffering from dementia. They’ve often highlighted out-of-context video clips of the president or made note of his use of notecards even though Trump at times used nearly identically sized crib sheets during public appearances.

Those attacks picked up steam after a Department of Justice special counsel declined to charge Biden with any crimes for having classified documents at his Delaware home and a former office in Washington, citing the possibility that Biden’s lawyers would successfully convince a jury that the president was a “sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.” But they largely dissipated after Biden turned in what most observers acknowledged to have been a tour de force performance during his State of the Union address in March.

Now, after Trump’s conviction, those same attacks are being revived by McCarthy, the former California representative who has reportedly been trying to return to Trump’s good graces after being thrown off the job by members of his own party for averting a government shutdown last year,

His statements about Biden to the Journal are contradicted by sources who tell The Independent how he privately praised Biden’s acuity on multiple occasions, particularly when the two were engaged in negotiations over the country’s statutory debt limit last year. McCarthy’s praise of the president was also reported by TheNew York Times and Politico at the time.

Joe Biden giving his State of the Union address in March.
Joe Biden giving his State of the Union address in March. (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

During those talks just over a year ago, on May 23, 2023, he told reporters that Biden was “very professional, very smart [and] very tough at the same time” during a question-and-answer session in the Capitol following a meeting at the White House.

Just nine days earlier, McCarthy had praised Biden’s conduct during the marathon talks, including in one 90-minute meeting he described as “better than any other time we’ve had discussions.”

His about-face on Biden’s mental state comes at a time when Trump’s campaign is looking to reset the board and renew attacks on Biden after the ex-president’s conviction put him on the back foot heading into his June 27 debate with Biden, the first of two planned face-to-face sessions between the candidates.

Republicans who aren’t vying for places in a second Trump White House have told The Independent privately that they have reason to doubt the former House speaker’s veracity.

One GOP figure who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the matter was blunt, calling McCarthy “a f***ing liar” who is “desperate to please” Trump in hopes of reviving his moribund political career with a White House or cabinet post should the ex-president win another term.

“It’s utter bulls**t,” they said.

And Democrats who have met with Biden more recently than the former House speaker were quick to rally behind the president, vouching for his acuity and engagement.

John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania freshman senator who was also accused of declining cognition after a stroke left him with audio processing difficulties, told The Independent that Biden has been “absolutely clear” and “absolutely lucid” in the one-on-one interactions he’s had with him.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who holds the Senate seat which Biden held for three decades before he became Vice President during the Obama administration and has known Biden for decades, said the descriptions of Biden as addled and unengaged “do not reflect my experience with him in person, in public, in Delaware or here in Washington.”

Coons dismissed the attacks on Biden as political fodder, noting that “clearly the campaign is underway.”

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who was a key figure in talks that led to Biden signing the first bipartisan gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades, said he’s watched Biden “run circles around senators inside the Oval Office” and credited the president’s “direct involvement” for the success of that legislation, which was enacted after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The Connecticut senator dismissed questions over Biden’s abilities as a “Fox News trope” but he acknowledged that the issue was “not going to go away.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in