On Tuesday, the top US diplomat attended a meeting of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where he testified on the administration’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, which has received severe criticism from both Democrats and Republicans as well as US allies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hummed and laughed nervously when asked to address the recent mic-cutting incident during Joe Biden’s press briefing on wildfires with federal officials. “Look, we’ve all seen this. Somebody in the White House has authority to press the button and cut off the president’s speaking ability and sound. Who is that person?”, asked senator Jim Risch.
“I think anyone who knows the president, including members of this committee knows that he speaks very clearly and very deliberately for himself. No one else does”, Blinken responded.
Risch pressed Blinken on the issue again, asking him to reveal who turned off the live feed when Joe Biden started asking a question. And again the secretary of state responded that there was “no such person”. “The president speaks for himself, makes all of the strategic decisions, informed by the best advice that he can get from the people around him”, he said.
Senator Risch seemed unsatisfied and irritated with the answer and asked a third question.
“Are you saying [the incident] didn’t happen?” “Senator, I really don’t know what are you referring to. All I can tell you is having worked with the president for now 20 years, both here on this committee and over the last nine months at the White House, the president very much speaks for himself”, Blinken replied.
During Monday’s briefing on wildfires with federal officials President Biden voiced his desire to ask George Geissler of the National Association of State Foresters a question. But when the 78-year-old started speaking the White House feed was cut off.
Blinken’s statement came several days after a Politico report cited current officials as saying that the White House staff will mute Joe Biden’s microphone during press briefings, when the Democrat’s remarks are filled with anxiety or when they deem that he may veer off course while answering questions from reporters.
“I know people who habitually don’t watch [Biden’s briefings] live for that reason”, one White House official told Politico.
Monday’s mic-cutting incident is not the first one. Last month, Joe Biden was “muted” when an NBC reporter asked what his administration would do if it fails to evacuate all US citizens from Afghanistan by the 31 August deadline. The audio on the White House’s feed was cut off as the president started responding to the question. A similar situation occurred in March, when the Democrat said he was “happy to take questions”, while addressing fellow party members at a virtual event, during which Biden briefed lawmakers on the administration’s work, including COVID-19 relief and vaccine rollout.
The latest “interruption” as well as the Politico report will likely cause a renewed wave of criticism from Republican lawmakers, who have been questioning Biden’s mental health and fitness for months.