WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Biden has made some very impressive “ad-libbed statements” in the past.
Asked if the US military would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, he replied “yes”, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “murderer” and insisting “he should not remain in power”. He announced that the coronavirus pandemic was “over”.
These expressions tend to be seen as problematic in Washington political circles as Mr Biden’s “gaffe”. However, this is often not the case.
It reveals Biden’s true thoughts behind the surface, and sometimes gives the public a much better idea of the direction of the administration than the official statements of President Jean-Pierre and key cabinet ministers.
Biden himself, by the way, said this month in a speech to steelworkers: “No one has ever questioned what I said. The problem is that sometimes I say everything I want to say.”
Of course, Mr Biden’s ad-libbed comments tend to have huge diplomatic repercussions, with White House staff busy trying to “put the fire out” of his comments, trying to calm the confusion without telling him mislead them.
For example, in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes earlier this month, after Mr. Biden took what appeared to be US military action to defend Taiwan, senior administration officials were quick to insist that the policy of the United States on Taiwan remains the same.
But Mr Biden professed a similar intention even before he became president. What it has clearly shown is the contradiction in the Taiwan policy that the United States has maintained for a long time.
Since the 1970s, successive US presidents have agreed to the “One China” policy, which treats Taiwan as part of China, but has also been obliged to assist Taiwan’s defense under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
In other words, Mr. Biden’s comments show the inconsistency that the United States simultaneously supports the idea of one China and the actual defense of Taiwan.
When Biden attacked Putin in March, a senior White House official was quick to say, “What the president was saying was that Putin should not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors.” That’s what it means,” he said, adding that he was not discussing “system change.”
But again, regardless of what the White House says, Biden personally believes that Putin is unfit to run the government and will use US policy to weaken Putin whenever the opportunity presents itself. It became clear that he intended to do so.
What about the pandemic “end” statement that came out at the Detroit Auto Show in September? The White House has long sent the message that it will decide “based on science” when to end the public health crisis surrounding the new coronavirus.
In fact, Biden made these statements at a time when hundreds of people are still dying every day in the United States.
Still, there is no doubt that the change in the administration’s response to the new coronavirus has been reflected. Government officials are trying to match the upcoming new vaccination with the annual flu shot. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also eased guidelines on mask-wearing requirements after Mr Biden’s comments.
In the first place, Mr. Biden’s “slipping” is not a new phenomenon. When he was vice president in the Obama administration, he famously voiced his support for same-sex marriage before he even tried to approve it.
“He was known as a man who always spoke his mind,” said former Senator Ted Kaufman, who worked with Mr Biden for half a century.
Biden’s candor can be a headache for younger aides dealing with the press. It has caused Mr Biden to sigh and shout involuntarily after “hanging up” to answer reporters’ questions. Mr. Biden himself enjoys this hanging, but it ends up causing some problems for his entourage.
Administration officials rarely hold long media interviews with Biden on “crisis management,” fearing that Biden’s smart, inaccurate and speculative comments will have to be accounted for later. “60 Minutes” is Biden’s first interview since a brief conversation with an Israeli television host in July.
Biden has received far fewer formal interviews than previous presidents, according to research by Martha Joint Kumar, professor emeritus of political science at Towson University.
Based on data collected by Kumar through July this year, Biden held 17 press conferences, 39 interviews and 300 informal exchanges with reporters as president, compared to before. The average of the six presidents was 41, 112, and 172, respectively.
Of course, there are times when Mr. Biden simply says the wrong thing. The 79-year-old said in July that he had cancer. An aide later said on Twitter that Mr Biden had been cleared of non-melanoma skin cancer before he took office in January last year, correcting that to be what the president was referring to.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt)