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Months before launching his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden acknowledged that he is a “gaffe machine,” prone to misstatements and embarrassing mistakes.
He lived up to that reputation this past weekend on a campaign swing in Iowa, renewing fears among some Democrats that the 76-year-old former vice president and current frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination may not have the stamina for what would likely be a brutal campaign against President Trump.
At a gun violence forum on Saturday, Biden recalled meeting with survivors of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., as vice president — a meeting that could not have taken place, as the attack occurred more than a year after he left office.
He repeated the account while talking to reporters after the event.
“Those kids in Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president,” Biden said, adding that Republican members of Congress refused to meet with the shooting survivors.
He did meet with some Parkland students following the shooting in 2018, just not as vice president. An official with the Biden campaign told Bloomberg News that Biden was thinking of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when he misspoke.
Speaking at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday, Biden suffered a minor slip of the tongue, saying: “We choose truth over facts.” He also briefly confused the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Biden had previously conflated Thatcher with one of her successors, Theresa May.
Thursday night, while speaking to the Asian & Latino Coalition in Des Moines, Biden accidentally said that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids” before correcting himself.
“Vice President Biden misspoke and immediately corrected himself during a refrain he often uses to make the point that all children deserve a fair shot, and children born into lower-income circumstances are just as smart as those born to wealthy parents,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director, said in a statement.
Biden’s stumbles came a week after his lackadaisical performance in the second round of Democratic debates where he misstated the cost of Medicare for All, confused an insurance deductible with an insurance co-pay and was unable to accurately direct viewers to text support for his campaign. He also recently misstated the locations of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, placing them in Houston and in Michigan, respectively.
Democratic officials took notice.
“The problem is that he is a part of a field of a number of extremely articulate people,” former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge told Vice News over the weekend. “He and his campaign are going to have to work hard to try to articulate their message without those kinds of gaffes [and run] a vigorous campaign in order to counter the idea that he’s too old.”
“But that’s just part of Joe,” she added. “We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
The Trump campaign has tried to paint Biden as having lost a step, as has the president — whose own misstatements, exaggerations and untruths have alarmed some psychiatrists.
“Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe,” Trump tweeted after Biden announced his presidential bid. “I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary.”
“I’d rather run against Biden rather than anybody,” Trump said of Biden in June. “I think he’s the weakest mentally.”
In December, Biden acknowledged that his history of bumbles could come into play should he seek the Oval Office. But the former vice president also said his shortcomings paled in comparison to those of its current occupant.
“I am a gaffe machine,” Biden said. “But, my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth.”
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