It was actually a harmless performance for Joe Biden. A conference on nutrition and hunger in Washington. The US President wanted to greet a few MPs who were present. "Jackie, are you there? Where are you?" The 79-year-old called into the hall. That meant Republican MP Jackie Walorski. But she had died in a car accident eight weeks earlier.
Shortly thereafter, Biden's spokeswoman tried to argue awkwardly that the president wanted to praise the MPs' "incredible work" on the subject of nutrition. Mockery and malice could not stop that.
Biden's misstep in late September is one of many. The most powerful man in the world regularly gets muddled at performances, searches for words, mixes up numbers, mixes up places and people. At the World Climate Conference in Scotland last year, his eyes closed several times while listening to the opening event. At the climate conference in Egypt this year, he stumbled heavily during his speech.
Slips of the tongue and small mistakes happen to everyone, but with Biden it accumulates - not only because he has had a stuttering problem since childhood and sometimes just cannot get difficult words over his lips. In terms of content, too, the White House often has to catch a statement from the boss afterwards. During an appearance in May, Biden joked about himself: "Every now and then I make a mistake (...) - well, once per speech."
The oldest US President of all time
Biden is the oldest US President of all time. He turns 80 this Sunday - and is faced with the decision of whether or not to run for a second term. With his regular faux pas, the Democrat constantly provides Republicans with fodder to publicly question his mental fitness for the highest office in the United States. But even within their own party, there are some who, because of Biden's age, are unsure whether he is the right candidate to run again in the 2024 presidential election.
Biden would be 81 in the election, 82 at the start of a second term, and 86 at the end of his presidency. Democratic MP David Trone (67) told CNN a few days ago: "I wish he were 30 years younger, 20 years younger, 10 years younger. But it is what it is." When asked if Biden was the right candidate for 2024, Trone said, "I think it would be better if we had someone with a little more momentum." But if Biden runs again, he will support him.
That is the language that can currently be heard from all high-ranking Democrats: Biden must make the decision himself. And if he wants to run for a second term, then you stand behind him. Enthusiasm sounds different.
Elected to Senate at 29
Biden was elected to the US Senate at 29 and moved in at 30, which is the minimum age. He was one of the youngest senators in US history, now he is the oldest president the country has ever had. Thanks to his long political career, the ex-US Vice President has more experience than most of his party colleagues.
And he also has a lot to show for his tenure: Biden pushed through several huge investment packages to steer the country through the Corona crisis, to modernize the US's outdated infrastructure and to combat the climate crisis. After four chaotic years in the government of his predecessor, Donald Trump, Biden repaired much of the damage done to relationships with allies around the world.
And in the congressional elections in early November, in the middle of Biden's term, his Democrats had a surprisingly good result. Usually, the president's party loses seats in both chambers in the midterms. But the Democrats held the Senate and could possibly even increase their wafer-thin majority there by one seat. And they narrowly lost their majority in the House of Representatives to the Republicans. In historical comparison, this stands out as a real success. After months of struggling with lousy poll numbers and high gas prices, Biden gave a boost and strengthened his possible position for 2024.
target for political competition
But when the published health check of a president - something like this is common in the USA - mentions his "stiff gait" and speaks of general "wear and tear", then age offers a target for political competition.
Biden's predecessor Trump - the only one who has announced a presidential candidacy for 2024 - is 76 himself and can't really afford to gloat on the subject. But someone like Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida who is now seen as a likely future presidential contender, would literally make Biden look old. The 44-year-old DeSantis recently mocked after Biden's campaign visit to his state: "I received a report that an elderly man was wandering aimlessly in South Florida. Maybe he needed help. It turned out to be Joe." Should it end in a race between DeSantis and Biden, jokes of this kind would probably be expected every day.
Biden has promised a decision at the beginning of the year as to whether he will run again. "My intention is to run again," he said. "But I have great respect for fate. And this is ultimately a family decision."
The constitutional lawyer Gregory Magarian from Washington University in St. Louis says that Biden is now considering this question. "But the reality is he has to think about what his energy and ability will be like six years from now if he were at the end of a second term." The job requires a high level of energy and perspicacity. "Being US President is certainly one of the toughest jobs in the world." Even at 80.