Biden’s biggest gaffes: Muddling up wars, forgetting names and dozing off mid-event

Democrat has a well-documented history of embarrassing blunders

Rachel Sharp,Joe Sommerlad
Friday 09 February 2024 12:28 GMT
Biden appears to confuse Emmanuel Macron with deceased French president Francois Mitterrand

Joe Biden looks all but certain to be the Democratic nominee for president again in 2024, having picked up huge support in New Hampshire even without appearing on Granite State ballot papers and storming the subsequent primaries in South Carolina and Nevada as his rather half-hearted challengers fell away.

The 81-year-old is determined to secure a second term in the White House and insists he is confident he can beat the likely Republican nominee Donald Trump once again. Mr Biden insists he is not deterred by his consistently poor polling and points to the robust success of the US economy under his stewardship, for which he deserves great credit.

However, there is no question that the 46th president’s age is a cause of particular concern to voters, who are less than enthralled by the prospect of a rematch of the 2020 presidential election between two men who have a combined 158 years between them.

Republican underdog Nikki Haley has repeatedly tried to break through by drawing attention to the advanced ages of her competitors, and the issue has provided plenty of material for America’s late-night TV hosts, with Stephen Colbert recently joking that President Biden’s South Carolina primary vote count would also serve as a fine campaign slogan: “Very close to 100.”

Mr Trump has certainly worked hard to suggest that his rival is too old, warning at one stage that President Biden’s propensity for gaffes could lead to nuclear war and referring to him as “a guy who can’t put two sentences together” in a February Newsmax interview.

Mr Trump even posted a rather cruel spoof commercial for “White House Senior Living” on social media, an outrageous attack given that he is just four years his enemy’s junior.

President Biden has fought back, however, producing his own gaffe reel of bizarre remarks Mr Trump has made at his campaign rallies, which came in the wake of the Republican falsely claiming that Ms Haley had been in charge of Capitol security on 6 January 2021, seemingly confusing her with then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But there’s no denying that President Biden has made more than his fair share of mistakes and blunders over the years, a selection of which from his tenure in the White House follows.

Mistaking Egypt for Mexico

Giving a press conference after Justice Department special counsel Robert Hur had published a report on 8 February 2024 exonerating the president over his retention of classified Obama-era documents but calling him an “elderly man with a poor memory” in the process, Mr Biden was in angry and animated form and keen to hit back.

He was particularly incensed by the prosecutor, a Republican, making personal remarks about his faculties, especially the claim that he could not remember what year his son Beau had died of brain cancer.

Unfortunately, President Biden rather undermined his claim to rude mental health by appearing to confuse Egypt with Mexico while making reference to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East.

“The president of Mexico did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in,” he said.

“I talked to him. I convinced to open the gate.”

President Biden mixes up Mexico and Egypt while addressing hostage situation

Confusing world leaders with their long-dead predecessors

Perhaps the consequence of having been in politics for so long (Mr Biden was first sworn into the Senate in January 1973), the president twice mixed up fellow heads of states with their much earlier predecessors that same February.

First off, he confused French president Emmanuel Macron with Francois Mitterand, who died in 1996, during a rally address to supporters in Las Vegas, Nevada, while recounting a G7 meeting in Cornwall in June 2021.

“Mitterrand from Germany – I mean, from France – looked at me and said, ‘You know, what... why… how long you back for?” President Biden told his puzzled listeners.

Biden appears to confuse Macron with dead French president Mitterrand

Speaking subsequently in New York a few days later, he claimed to have discussed the Capitol riot with German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who passed away in 2017, four years before it took place.

He was thinking of Angela Merkel.

Forgetting the name of Hamas

Also that same month, President Biden appeared unable to recall the name of the terror group being fought by Israel in Gaza, stumbling awkwardly over his words during a press conference at the White House.

Biden appears to forget the word Hamas during key speech

Tripping on the steps to Air Force One

The president stumbled awkwardly on the stairs of Air Force One in July 2023, a “watch your step” warning that had recently been placed on the jet’s steps proving no help at all.

He took a slight stumble while boarding the presidential airplane in Helsinki, Finland, where he had met with Scandinavian leaders after a two-day Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“About half way up he appeared to stumble very slightly but kept walking on up. He turned to wave to the staff out on the tarmac and went in,” a pool report noted.

Muddling up the wars in Ukraine and Iraq

In an infamous slip-up from June 2023, the president muddled up the ongoing war in Ukraine with the Iraq war, which ended in 2011.

President Biden was speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before heading to Chicago when he was asked whether he believed Russian president Vladimir Putin had been weakened by the Wagner Group’s mutiny that summer.

He responded by saying that President Putin was “clearly losing the war in Iraq”.

Joe Biden says Putin is 'losing the war in Iraq'

‘God save the Queen’

That same month, President Biden made another verbal gaffe when he bizarrely closed out a speech on gun control with the proclamation: “God save the Queen, man.”

The president was speaking to a group of gun safety advocates at the National Safer Communities Summit in Connecticut at the time.

The slip-up certainly raised eyebrows and provoked confusion over whether he had been referring to Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September 2022, or King Charles III’s wife Queen Camilla, who had just been crowned a month earlier at a grand coronation ceremony in London that President Biden had declined to attend.

Neither were in Connecticut, in any case.

The White House later sought to explain away the bizarre reference by saying that he was merely “commenting to someone in the crowd”.

Biden says ‘God save the Queen’ as he wraps up his gun safety speech

‘Mr President?’

When President Biden first hosted Rishi Sunak as UK prime minister at the White House in June 2023, he accidentally addressed him by his own moniker: “Mr President.”

The British PM had travelled to Washington DC, for a two-day trip where the two leaders held a meeting in the Oval Office.

As they smiled and posed for photos, the commander-in-chief began: “Well, Mr President...”

Quickly correcting himself, he joked: “I just demoted you, Mr Prime Minister.”

The two laughed off the slip-up and continued with their business.

Biden mistakenly calls Rishi Sunak ‘Mr President’

Taking flight at an Air Force graduation

President Biden took another rather worrying tumble while on stage at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony that same month.

The president delivered the commencement address at the event and stayed on stage as graduates were handed their diplomas.

As he walked off, he then stumbled and fell to the ground.

He was helped up by Air Force officials and appeared to point at a nearby sandbag as the reason for the mishap.

White House communications director Ben LaBolt later tweeted that he was “fine” and that “there was a sandbag on stage while he was shaking hands”.

Biden falls at Air Force graduation

Confusing the All Blacks with the Black and Tans in Ireland

The president, a proud Irish-American, was given a hero’s welcome when he returned to the Old Country in April 2023, meeting the president and taoiseach, addressing the Irish Parliament, attending a banquet held in his honour at Dublin Castle, and visiting County Louth to trace his ancestors’ roots.

He also made a staggeringly embarrassing blunder while speaking in a pub, the Windsor Bar in Dundalk, when he appeared to confuse the New Zealand international rugby union side, known as the “All Blacks” for their dark shirts, with the Black and Tans, a hated police unit from Ireland’s War of Independence era with a reputation for violence.

“See this tie I have, this shamrock tie?” Mr Biden said.

“It was given to by one of these guys right here, who’s a hell of a rugby player who beat the hell out of the Black and Tans.”

Rugby star Rob Kearney, a distant relative of Mr Biden’s, was more than a little perplexed by this excruciating moment, which the president hurried to correct.

Napping at COP26

In a video that went viral on social media, President Biden was caught sleeping on the job at the COP26 climate change conference in Scotland in November 2021.

In the clip, the president was seen appearing to doze off during the opening remarks of the climate summit, with his eyes shut at one point for more than 20 seconds.

An aide was seen popping over and nudging him awake.

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