Israel goes to war, Joe Biden disappears

At 11:52 a.m. Eastern, today’s pool reporter for the president, USA Today White House correspondent Francesca Chambers, reported “the White House has called a lid for the day, before the pool call time. We will not be seeing the president today.”

Now, the president doesn’t have to make a public appearance during an ongoing foreign crisis. At 2:48 Saturday, Biden spoke for three minutes about the terrorist attacks against Israel, and the White House issued a written statement. He hasn’t done any interviews or press conferences since then. The only thing on Biden’s public schedule today is receiving the presidential daily briefing. President Biden attended a barbeque in the Rose Garden for the White House executive staff last night.

The president could, if he wished, partake in all kinds of public events designed to demonstrate the U.S. government’s support for Israel. He could go to a synagogue to pray with the Jewish community. He could bring his national security team together for a meeting and media avail. He could visit the Israeli embassy. But Biden will spend today behind closed doors in the White House.

You may recall that during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan, Biden made no public appearances for four days. Most presidents make even more public statements during a crisis, but Biden does the opposite. As the New York Times noted in May:

And despite his press secretary pledging that Mr. Biden would “bring transparency and truth back to the government,” in his first two years, the president granted the fewest interviews since Mr. Reagan’s presidency: only 54. (Donald J. Trump gave 202 during the first two years of his presidency; Barack Obama gave 275.)

More than any president in recent memory, Mr. Biden, 80, has taken steps to reduce opportunities for journalists to question him in forums where he can offer unscripted answers and they can follow up. The result, critics say, is a president who has fewer moments of public accountability for his comments, decisions and actions.

It is bad if President Biden is making no public appearances yesterday or today because he doesn’t want to do them, or sees no point in making a public demonstration of support for Israel.

But it is even worse if Biden is making no public appearances yesterday or today because he can’t, and that for either physical or mental reasons, he’s just in no shape to appear before the cameras and answer questions. In recent months, we’ve seen Biden appear with foreign leaders and seem particularly lethargic and mumbling his words, relying on notecards when making boilerplate remarks welcoming his guest.

At some point, it stops being believable that these are all deliberate scheduling decisions, and it is more plausible to conclude these are the inevitable consequences of a president who turns 81 next month.

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