Over the last couple of years, Joe Biden's critics, especially on the right, have targeted his age and his faculties with varying degrees of subtlety. The point has long been obvious: Americans are supposed to question whether the nation's oldest elected president is really up to the job.
Biden has repeatedly cleared every hurdle and passed every unnecessary test, but some Republicans nevertheless appear convinced that this is a presidential vulnerability to be exploited.
"The president is not doing cable news interviews," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), copying text from a Politico piece on Biden's low profile. "Tweets from his account are limited and, when they come, unimaginably conventional. The public comments are largely scripted. Biden has opted for fewer sit down interviews with mainstream outlets and reporters." Then Cornyn got to the point: "Invites the question: is he really in charge?"
Asked yesterday whether the White House had a response to the Texas Republican, Jen Psaki, Biden's press secretary, told reporters, "Well, I can confirm that the President of the United States does not spend his time tweeting conspiracy theories. He spends his time working on behalf of the American people."
In fairness, plenty of Republicans steer clear of the kind of cheap nonsense Cornyn peddled yesterday. Politico recently reported, for example, that while some on the far-right remain fixated on trying to characterize the president as an addled old man, "seven GOP senators who've met with Biden lately described him as cogent and well-versed on the issues they discussed."
"In the two meetings I was in with the president, he was as sharp as a tack," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who also met with Biden in February added, "I visited with him in the Oval Office, and he seemed well-prepared and well-briefed for the meeting."
We heard similar talk yesterday from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who met with the president yesterday to discuss infrastructure, and who told reporters after the discussion, "The president was highly engaged, did most of the talking -- or, did a lot of the talking."
Republicans who've actually engaged Biden directly have raised no questions about his abilities.
But it was this observation from a Washington Post analysis that struck me as the most significant response to Cornyn's ugly "question."
[T]here is no legitimate reason to believe he is not making all the kinds of decisions a president usually makes behind closed doors. Biden's familiarity with the issues is significantly more demonstrated than his predecessor's was. Trump often seemed unaware of basic policies and key legislative initiatives, and he repeatedly contradicted his own officials. Despite this, Trump's involvement in making key decisions was never questioned by Republicans like Cornyn.
Exactly. To hear the senior senator from Texas tell it, if Biden wants to avoid questions about whether he's "in charge," he should do as Donald Trump did: tweet nonsense and lie uncontrollably while bumbling through media interviews.
I'm mindful of the circumstances: Biden has achieved a level of popularity his Republican predecessor never reached, and partisans like Cornyn are clearly eager to undermine the president's public standing. The GOP senator apparently believes targeting the president's media strategy will make Biden look worse.
What Cornyn doesn't seem to understand is the degree to which he made himself look worse.