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Democrats sought to rally around Joe Biden on Friday after they were left reeling by a special counsel’s report that cast the US president as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.
As the party struggled to overcome the likely blow to Biden’s political fortunes in an election year, some lawmakers tried to come to the 81-year-old president’s defence.
Dan Goldman, a congressman from New York, told MSNBC on Friday morning he did not have “any concerns” about Biden’s age or ability to do the job. “President Biden is incredibly experienced, knowledgeable, wise, and I don’t have concerns about his age,” Goldman said.
“Remember, the job of the president is to guide our country,” he added. “It is, you know, not to be a cheerleader for the United States. It is to govern our country.”
Jen Psaki, who served as Biden’s press secretary and is now a TV commentator, acknowledged that the president’s age was a significant concern for the public but highlighted that Donald Trump was “only a little bit younger”.
“So the choice ultimately is going to be between somebody who . . . was guilty of trying to overturn the  election, overturn the will of voters, and somebody who was not — and they’re three years apart,” she said on MSNBC.
But other figures were more circumspect, warning of the lasting political impact of the report by Robert Hur, a former federal prosecutor and registered Republican who oversaw the investigation into the president’s handling of classified materials found at his private residences and offices.
Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to former president Barack Obama, wrote in a newsletter on Friday morning he feared the special counsel’s descriptions of Biden’s memory would “break through to the public at large”.
“The president must repeatedly demonstrate that Hur is wrong and that he is up to the job,” Pfeiffer said. “The only way around is through, which means doing more interviews and more press conferences.”
Hur concluded this week that Biden had “wilfully retained and disclosed” sensitive documents.
While his report said Biden would not face a criminal case, it argued the president’s “memory was significantly limited” during interviews with Hur’s office in 2023, as well as with a ghostwriter working on his memoir in 2017.
The president is facing mounting concerns about his advanced age as he tries to convince voters to give him another four years in the White House.
“My memory is fine,” Biden declared at a press conference Thursday night that grew increasingly hostile as reporters shouted questions about his age and mental acuity.
The report said that, in interviews with the special counsel’s office, the president “did not remember when he was vice-president” and could not remember, “even within several years”, when his son, Beau Biden, died.
It added that, coupled with Biden’s “co-operation” with the probe, jurors in a potential trial could be easily convinced Biden “made an innocent mistake” and did not intend to break the law.
“We have also considered that, at trial, Mr Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” the report said.
“It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him — by then a former president well into his eighties — of a serious felony that requires a mental state of wilfulness.”
The report came after several recent gaffes by the president. Speaking last weekend at an event in Nevada, Biden confused François Mitterrand, the former president of France who died in 1996, with the current president, Emmanuel Macron.
Biden subsequently referred to the late German chancellor Helmut Kohl while recounting a story about former German chancellor Angela Merkel.
In Thursday’s press conference, Biden referred to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as the leader of Mexico in response to a reporter’s question about the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.