Yesterday's embarrassment, covered here by Katie, isn't the type of thing that will drive the news cycle for very long -- but it was truly cringeworthy in the moment. If you missed it, the backstory is that Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski was killed in a tragic traffic accident last month, along with two young staffers. At the White House yesterday, presiding over an event on hunger and nutrition, President Biden spent some time acknowledging various elected officials from both parties who'd worked on related issues. Some of whom were present in the room. Biden apparently that Walorski might be among them and asked out loud if she was there. Obviously, she was not
"Jackie are you here? Where's Jackie?"— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) September 28, 2022
Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) died in a car accident in August pic.twitter.com/cHc3b7zPmE
I saw this clip and winced. My best guess was that Walorski's name had been on a list of lawmakers that Biden had glanced at, forgetting that she'd passed away, so he name-checked her. That would be a bad mistake unto itself, partially attributable to bad staff work. But young members of Congress don't die in shocking accidents very often; he should have known better. In fact, he issued a solemn statement on the occasion of her passing. This was a Veep-level, profoundly Bidenesque gaffe. "Stand up Chuck," but worse. For the families of those killed, the grief is still fresh, and this probably wasn't very amusing. The obvious move would have been to recognize the error, admit it, and apologize. Instead, we got this:
Reporter: "What happened when Biden said where is Jackie Walorski?"— Greg Price (@greg_price11) September 28, 2022
Jean-Pierre: "The president was acknowledging her incredible work."
Reporter: "He said 'Jackie, Jackie, where is Jackie?'"
Jean-Pierre: "She was clearly on top of his mind." pic.twitter.com/y1TljVg1BW
REPORTER: "The confusing part is why, if she and the family is top of mind, does the president think that she's living and in the room?"— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) September 28, 2022
KJP: "I don't find that confusing."
R: "I have John Lennon top of mind just about every day but I'm not looking around for him anywhere." pic.twitter.com/pDDercPDEY
This makes no sense, as should have been painfully obvious. If the recently-deceased Congresswoman was "top of mind" for the president due to her work on these issues -- and because a White House event will soon be held in her honor, featuring her family -- he would not have asked if she was in the room. He forgot. Clearly. To pretend that this wasn't a mistake is remarkably dumb and counter-productive. A Democratic operative messaged me as the KJP spin videos were going viral: "Just admit he f***ed up, it isn't hard. 'Obviously the president misspoke and he regrets it.' Done!" He also offered an assessment of her job performance that was strikingly similar to what I've been saying for months. But that's how this administration operates. They make bad decisions (like elevating her to this role), then clumsily double down. Someone, or someones, made the call to tell the country that Biden didn't forget that Walorski had died, and shouted her out the way he did because he was thinking about her so much. It's ludicrous on its face, yet that's what they went with. If the pain and mourning weren't so recent for Walorski's family, this would be funny-bad. Instead, it's cringe on top of cringe.
Parting thought: This head-shaker would have been a small blip if they'd copped to it quickly and candidly, then moved on. They instead proactively chose to attempt this insulting spin. Why? They're often quite bad at politics and optics, sure, but this one is especially confounding. My suspicion is that they feared that Biden's mistake would be exploited by critics to further a narrative that he's forgetful and not 'all there.' Which it immediately was, naturally, because...he did what he did. But by denying plain reality with this stupendously idiotic explanation, they're drawing even more attention to the episode, and their defensiveness almost feels like at least a partial confirmation of the narrative they're trying to knock down. How thoroughly foolish of them. But rather on-brand, no?