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Biden abroad: a gaffapalooza

The president's week-long trip provided him ample opportunity to go off-script.

Published: June 16, 2021 3:58pm

Updated: June 17, 2021 2:21pm

President Biden has ended his inaugural trip abroad following Wednesday's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the president has received some positive coverage for a constructive exchange with his Russian counterpart, his first diplomatic foray abroad as president was marred by multiple gaffes.

The president traveled to Cornwall, England for the G7 summit, where he met with the leaders of major allied democracies to discuss a range of issues, including climate change, the global economy, and the continued recovery effort from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Likening the president's role at the gathering to that of "an elderly grand uncle at Thanksgiving," Newsweek's Peter Roff told "Just the News AM": "He's welcome in the house, you're happy to have him at the table. But he's not quite in sync with everything that's going on."

Here are 10 of Biden's more conspicuous gaffes during his presidential debut on the international stage:

1. Attention must be paid — On arrival in Great Britain, Biden's address to U.S. soldiers at the Royal Air Force Mildenhall began things on wobbly footing. Not only did he tell the troops, "I keep forgetting I'm president," but first lady Jill Biden at one point said to her husband, "Joe, pay attention."


2. Saving lives in Lyria — Perhaps the president's most substantively significant verbal (mental?) misstep was repeatedly mixing up Libya and Syria during a NATO press conference. 

"As long as [Russia is] there without the ability to bring about some order in the region, you can't do that very well without providing for the basic economic needs of people," Biden said. "So, I'm hopeful that we can find an accommodation where we can save the lives of people in, for example, in Libya." Biden meant to refer to the people of Syria, a population that has been suffering through civil war and humanitarian crises for approximately a decade.

3. Disappearing Republicans — The U.S. president who came to office pledging to seek national unity and bipartisanship took a swipe at his domestic political opposition from the podium at a NATO press conference. "The Republican Party is vastly diminished in numbers," claimed Biden. "The leadership of the Republican Party is fractured, and the Trump wing of the party is the bulk of the party, but it makes up a significant minority of the American people."

"I really don't know why a NATO summit is the proper venue for the president to ruminate on failings of the party out of power in the United States," wrote MSNBC commentator Noah Rothman.

It was "totally inappropriate, at a gathering of international leaders, to inject domestic partisan politics into the conversation," said Roff.

Questions of tact and propriety aside, Biden's assertion was factually incorrect by most measures. At present, Republicans picked up one governorship in November to increase their lead over Democrats to 27-23. Republicans control 30 state legislatures vs. 18 for the Democrats, with two split. The Senate is divided 50-50. Democrats hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives of 222-213, down from a commanding 232-197 lead heading into the 2020 elections, with Republicans expected to make gains in 2022. More people voted for the Republican candidate for president in 2020 than for any presidential candidate in history, barring Joe Biden. The president may wish to run his numbers again.

4. Pardon his French — In closing remarks at the Cornwall Airport following the G7 summit, the president mixed up two common French terms. When discussing what makes America unique, Biden said that any president "who doesn't act consistent with what the — the raison d'état for the nation is, cannot be sustained that — the support of that country." Aside from his syntactical jumbling, the president likely meant to say "raison d'être," a French phrase meaning "the most important reason or purpose for someone or something's existence." The French phrase Biden employed means justification for state action in terms of hardheaded national interest, "especially where a departure from openness, justice, or honesty is involved." 

5. Where did the time go? — At the end of his address, a reporter asked the president about Trump-era steel and aluminum sanctions. Biden, appearing frustrated, cut off the reporter and said: "A hundred and twenty days. Give a break. I need time." The questionable optics of that answer notwithstanding, the president had, at that point, been in office for 144 days, not 120. 

6-8 Rules for royals: Later on, Jill and Joe Biden went to Windsor Castle to meet with Her Majesty the Queen of England, where the U.S. leader reportedly broke (or at least bent) several rules of royal protocol:

6.  First, the president's 18-car convoy arrived at the venue after the queen’s arrival, in contrast to royal etiquette, which dictates that all guests should arrive before the queen.

7.  Then, Biden disclosed to some members of the media details of the conversation he had with the monarch. Evidently, she had inquired about Biden's forthcoming meeting with Putin, as well as his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Typically, according to royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams, it is improper to disclose specifics about any discussion  between oneself and the queen. "Biden's revelation of what the Queen asked was surprising," he told the Daily Caller.

8.  And finally, Biden committed a diplomatic faux pas when he kept his signature aviator sunglasses on while meeting with Elizabeth II face-to-face. "It's fine for Biden to have had sunglasses on, but he should have removed them when he actually met the Queen," noted a former butler to Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla in Newsweek. "Everyone else has to, it doesn't matter who you are, even royals remove sunglasses when they meet royals."

9. False equivalency falsehood — The final stop on Biden's tour was Geneva, Switzerland, where he met for hours with Vladimir Putin, following which the two leaders held separate press conferences. ("I'll take your questions, and as usual, folks, they gave me a list of the people I'm going to call on," Biden admitted.) 

During Putin's press conference, the Russian leader alluded to social unrest in America, saying that he did not want to see his own nation suffer at the hands of organizations like BLM, or endure events like January 6. Biden, in response, laughed at the false equivalence, claiming that the "criminals" who breached the Capitol killed Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick — despite the official ruling by the D.C. medical examiner that Sicknick died of stroke, not as a result of injuries suffered in the line of duty on Jan. 6. 

10. Pressing a nerve — At the very end of his post-summit presser, as he was leaving the podium, Biden appeared to lose his temper at a reporter who asked why the U.S. leader was so confident that Putin will change his behavior in the coming months.

"When the hell?" spluttered the president. "What do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?"

As the reporter, Kaitlan Collins of CNN, continued pressing the matter, President Biden snapped, "If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong business," before turning on his heel and walking away. According to Collins, the president later apologized to her. 

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