Why do people keep pointing out the president?


Now, all the cleanup is calling into question whether the walk-ons are doing more damage than the President’s initial outspokenness by undermining his authority.

Biden is a self-confessed gaffe machine — his loose tongue often got him into hot water in the Senate and was initially distrusted by some Obama administration aides as vice president. But Biden is now the commander-in-chief and can say whatever he wants – until the cleanup operation is launched.

Often, this comes across as disrespectful to the president. It seems that he does not know his mind, or that he has deviated from a script set by subordinates. It provides an opening for Republicans who question his cognitive ability and suitability for prime time. But the problem is also deeper: the words of a president resonate. In times of crisis, lives can be at stake. Their words move the markets. The constant targeting creates confusion about Biden’s authority and leadership.

Politicians often run for office promising to tell it like it is. Biden’s friend, former Arizona senator John McCain, for example, went to the 2008 Republican nomination on a “Straight Talk Express.” But honesty and integrity are often not conducive to governance. When the big guy goes off message, it can short-circuit the political machinery and undermine nuanced positions on Capitol Hill. That was the case this week, when Biden’s declaration that the pandemic was over during a “60 Minutes” interview undermined a push by House and Senate Democrats to ask the White House for billions of dollars more in Covid-19 funding.

Biden in Taiwan: strategic confusion or a stroke of genius?

Biden sparked an international controversy over his latest pledge in an interview on Sunday to defend Taiwan if China invaded. He has said something similar at least three times, undermining the principle of “strategic ambiguity,” which leaves opaque how the U.S. would respond. The policy is designed to make China think twice, but also not to give the Taiwanese a sense of security that might prompt a declaration of independence.

But every time Biden has seemingly moved the ball to Taiwan, his officials put it back.

The White House says that while Biden was responding to a hypothetical, he did not announce any policy changes on Taiwan

There’s no doubt that Biden knew exactly what he was doing when he answered “yes” to a specific question from CBS’ Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” about whether he would deploy U.S. men and women to defend Taiwan if it were invaded.

But national security adviser Jake Sullivan insisted Tuesday that Biden had not changed policy and dismissed it as an answer to a “hypothetical” question, even though US intelligence believes China is building a force capable of taking over Taiwan.

“The president is a fair and honest person. He responded to a hypothetical. He has responded in a similar manner before. And he has also been clear that he has not changed US policy toward Taiwan,” Sullivan told reporters.

Biden reaffirmed his support for the “One China” policy and other core diplomatic texts with China in the dialogue. But Sullivan’s comments suggest there is a gap between what US policy toward Taiwan is and what Biden says it is. This will create fears of potentially dangerous misunderstandings.

Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill argued Tuesday that strategic confusion can be a virtue; after all, if the Americans can’t figure out what the policy is, China has no choice.

“Even walking back, it becomes a strategic ambiguity, so I think it’s part of the strategic ambiguity,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said Tuesday. His Connecticut Democratic colleague, Sen. Chris Murphy, called it less of a disconnect within the White House than an example of strategic caution.

“Whether it’s intentional or not, China certainly has the goal of continuing to figure it out. And that’s the point, to be in a position to defend Taiwan without making an explicit promise in advance,” said Murphy.

But Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the uncertainty was harmful.

“You know, what are they going to think our policy is if the president of the United States says we’re going to war and that doesn’t match what anybody else is saying?”

“So it’s not a good thing for China to have to look.”

Mark Esper, the former Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration, however, tried to put the president in the camp of hawks who want a tougher Taiwan policy.

“He’s said four times now, I think he’s fine and they’re not trying to undermine him, they’re trying to completely undermine him to say there’s no policy change,” Esper told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “We must move away from strategic ambiguity if we are to prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.”

Tough talk about Putin

It is not the first time that the ordinary speech of the President resonates abroad.

In March in Warsaw, Putin said that he “cannot stay in power”. The White House hastily explained that the president was not talking about regime change. And foreign policy experts faulted him for personalizing the conflict with Putin over Ukraine. But Biden’s comment has aged well, at least as a moral judgment. And the president has effectively avoided testing Putin’s invisible red lines that could lead to a clash with NATO.

Indeed, the blow to Putin pales in comparison to the excesses of some of his predecessors, including former President Donald Trump, who boasted of having a “much bigger” and “stronger” nuclear button than North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. And in 1984, President Ronald Reagan’s leaked joke during a microphone test about the US beginning to bomb Russia in “five minutes” caused an uproar.

Biden offers to open GOP after declaring pandemic over

But Biden’s bluntness isn’t just causing trouble abroad. His remarks in the “60 Minutes” interview that the “pandemic is over” confused government public health officials, seemed to annoy Democrats on Capitol Hill who advocated for more aid and offered an opening to Republicans. Biden qualified his statement by saying that Covid-19 is still a problem and there is much work to be done. But once again trying to reconstruct exactly what he meant to officials drew criticism from epidemiologists.

Biden has declared the pandemic over.  People are behaving this way too

“What the president is reflecting is that we’ve made tremendous progress against Covid-19. We’re in a very different place now than we were at the beginning of this pandemic,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on MSNBC. Try to get rid of Biden’s remark without contradicting it.

The impression that Biden’s remarks were sidelined rather than considered strategy was reinforced Tuesday night when Biden took on Murthy’s framing at a fundraiser in New York.

Some medical experts warned that the president had discounted the number of deaths from the coronavirus roughly every week since September 11, 2001. They said their measures did not justify declaring the pandemic over. And they were worried that Biden had undermined efforts to promote people.

However, Biden may also be right. For many Americans, the sick and vulnerable aside, the pandemic — as it was originally experienced in the depths of 2020 — is over. The disease is becoming endemic and thanks to vaccines, life is returning to normal for many people. Sports stadiums are full of fans without masks. Nations such as New Zealand and Australia, which have been cut off from the rest of the world, have eased travel restrictions. Only China is sticking to its “zero-Covid” policy, ostensibly to remove the embarrassment of the hard-line leaders.

However, Biden created a major political headache as the administration asks Congress for an additional $22.4 billion for Covid mitigation efforts.

“We need more sources to make sure it’s done,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday.

“Covid is not over,” said Kain, a Virginia Democrat, “we need help.”

GOP leaders say getting support for Covid will be even more difficult for Biden

But Republicans like Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is a member of his party’s leadership, seized the moment: “If that ends, I wouldn’t suspect they need more money.”

Biden’s habit of making bold statements that come to light could also spoil him on the campaign trail. In a no-nonsense commentary last month, he described Trump’s “extreme MAGA philosophy” as “semi-fascism.”

Even Democrats thought he went too far, and Biden seems to agree that he was included in a Hillary Clinton-style “basket of deplorables” gaffe. He hasn’t used the construct since and insists that only extreme MAGA voters are bad, not all Republicans.

But everyone now knows what he really thinks. The same may happen in Taiwan, although Sullivan insisted at the White House that what Biden said doesn’t count.

“When the president of the United States wants to announce a policy change, he will. He hasn’t,” said the national security adviser.

But after so many declarations and backtracking, how will anyone know for sure if they do?