Passing the buck: 5 times Biden tried to shift blame for his problems to Trump

"Do I take any blame for inflation? No. It was already here when I got here, man," Biden said.

Published: February 16, 2023 6:20pm

Updated: February 17, 2023 11:53pm

The awesome responsibilities of the presidency can be a heavy weight to shoulder, a lonely burden of ultimate decision-making authority enduringly encapsulated in the words of the iconic sign President Harry Truman kept on his desk in the Oval Office: "The buck stops here."

President Joe Biden, however, has time and again sought to sidestep the weighty burden of history through the simple expedient of passing the buck for presidential choices gone awry to his predecessor.

With Biden's job approval rating remaining well underwater, his administration is redoubling efforts to blame its perceived failures on former President Trump — a practice dating back to its botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and stretching right up to the present, with its much-panned responses to the Chinese spy balloon and the Ohio toxic train derailment.

In the five examples that follow, administration officials have made at least some effort to blame their problems on the decisions of their Trump administration predecessors. These efforts have varied in their level of directness, but at the core of each is an insinuation that the last administration dealt the current one a bad hand.

Here are five leading examples of Biden administration blame-shifting:

1. "We're constrained"

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg this week appeared to blame Trump's policies for the East Palestine, Ohio, train disaster. The episode saw a number of train cars containing toxic chemicals derail, leading officials to evacuate the town and order a controlled burn of the toxins to prevent an explosion.

The environmental fallout and possible harm to residents has focused critical scrutiny on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The incident is merely the latest in a string of infrastructure and travel fiascos that have dimmed the former presidential candidate's once bright political star.

Buttigieg attempted to explain his agency's efforts to improve rail safety via a Twitter thread this week, when he appeared to cast blame for the Ohio incident on the prior administration.

"We are making historic investments on rail safety through funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, work that accelerates this year and continue [sic] in the years to come," Buttigieg wrote. "In June we announced $120 million in grants to help improve railway safety."

The secretary went on to list DOT efforts, both funded and planned, to improve rail safety and respond to hazmat incidents — but he did not directly identify a cause of the recent derailment.

Instead, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor conceded that "[w]e’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe."

Buttigieg did not directly blame the Trump administration's 2018 rule change for the derailment, and an ongoing investigation has not yet made any such determination. However, Buttigieg's inclusion of the rule change in an explanation offered "[i]n the wake of the East Palestine derailment and its impact on hundreds of residents" led major news outlets such as Fox News to infer that the Transportation Secretary had attempted to shift the blame to Trump.

The 2015 law prompting the Trump-era rule change was signed by former President Barack Obama.

2. "Chinese balloons briefly transited the continental United States at least three times"

Earlier this month, Biden allowed a suspected Chinese spy balloon to traverse the continental United States for several days, allowing the military to shoot it down only once it had drifted out over the Atlantic Ocean. The lag drew jeers from Republicans, including Trump, who demanded the government shoot it down.

Amid public backlash over Biden's handling of the balloon, a Biden Defense Department official cloaked in anonymity was quick to let slip that "Chinese balloons briefly transited the continental United States at least three times" under the previous administration.

After Trump himself and senior members of his administration vehemently denied any such incidents, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) chief Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck later confirmed that the military had failed to detect the previous balloons in real time and that the Trump administration was, accordingly, not aware of the issue.

"We had gaps on prior balloons," VanHerck said. "I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that's a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out."

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby this week more pointedly attempted to contrast an alleged failure of the Trump administration with the purported success of Biden's on the matter, saying the Chinese surveillance operation "was operating during the previous administration, but they did not detect it," The Independent reported. "We detected it."

3. "It was already here when I got here"

Biden falsely claimed earlier this month that inflation was on the rise during the Trump administration, a preexisting trend that spilled over into his own presidency through no fault of his own.

"Do I take any blame for inflation? No. It was already here when I got here, man," he said, per the Washington Examiner. "Remember what the economy was like when I got here? Jobs were hemorrhaging. Inflation was rising. We weren't manufacturing a damn thing here. We were in real economic difficulty. That's why I don't, thank you."

Inflation was low and declining during the Trump administration. The inflation rate for 2019 was 1.8% and fell to 1.2% in 2020, Trump's final year, before rising to 4.7% in 2021 and 8.0% in 2022. In December 2020, the rate stood at 1.36% and remained a low 1.4% in January 2021. Following Biden's inauguration, the rate rose consistently throughout 2021, except for a period of relative stabilization in the summer. By December 2021, however, that figure was 7.0% and would go on to peak at 9.06% in June of 2022.

Republicans, by contrast, have pointed to the Biden administration's gargantuan spending packages, such as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the ironically named Inflation Reduction Act, as driving the increase in consumer prices.

4. "...Because of what the last administration did"

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre last month claimed that Biden's attempt to overhaul the U.S. immigration system was a response to chaos left in the wake of Trump administration immigration policies.

"The president inherited a mess because of what the last administration did," she said in January, per Fox News. "We inherited a mess. And, you know, Republicans in Congress made it worse by blocking comprehensive immigration reform. And so what you're seeing from this president is he's acting. He's acting to protect, to continue to protect the border, secure the border, and also deal with irregular migration."

Fiscal year 2020 was the last full fiscal year of the Trump administration. In that time U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded 458,088 encounters with undocumented aliens at the nation's land border with Mexico. Fiscal year 2021 was largely dominated by the beginning of Biden's tenure in office and saw that figure soar to a record 1,734,686.

Even that record was smashed by the fiscal year 2022 number of 2,378,944. With the numbers for FY 2023 thus far at 874,449, more than 4 million migrants have entered the U.S. illegally via Mexico since Biden took office.

Biden's Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has moved to eliminate both the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (the "Remain in Mexico" policy) as well as the Title 42 immigration enforcement order, both of which have allowed border authorities to swiftly expel migrants from the American interior. Many Trump administration officials and Republicans had contended that the policies further acted as deterrents to would-be illegal migrants.

In 2022, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn warned that the lifting of Title 42 would unleash a human "tsunami" of illegal migration across the southern border, a prediction which appears to have materialized.

5. "We Inherited a Deadline, we did not inherit a plan"

In September 2021, one month after the Taliban's complete takeover of Afghanistan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the disastrous withdrawal of the U.S. from the country was the product of former President Trump committing to a withdrawal deadline without devising a plan to meet it.

"We inherited a deadline, we did not inherit a plan," he said at the time. Former Trump administration officials, however, have contradicted Blinken's narrative.

Kash Patel, former chief of staff to acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, told the John Solomon Reports podcast shortly after Blinken's remarks that the nation's top diplomat was wrong.

"We actually did not leave them a deadline," he said. "It was a negotiation between the U.S. government, the Taliban, and the Afghans. And if that date was not to work for this incoming administration, they could have moved it."

That specific plan involved extracting American civilians out before withdrawing military forces from the country and abandoning critical military installations such as Bagram Air Base. The Biden administration executed the withdrawal in reverse order, resulting in a lengthy siege of the Kabul airport and a hastily organized airlift to extract lingering U.S. citizens and Afghan contractors following the collapse of the U.S.-allied government.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.

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