It’s been a few days but President Biden’s marathon news conference still is on my mind. It bothers me because he and his staff seemingly do not understand how debilitating it is for a 79- year-old man to stand up in floodlit room in front of a group of self-important media representatives firing volleys of questions –many of the “gotcha” variety–for nearly two hours.
What were they thinking?
Were they–or was he–trying to show that the president could outmatch President Putin (69) or President Xi (68) for a public speaking endurance prize?
Or that his mental reflexes are just as sharp today as they were when he entered the Senate 49 years ago?
As that interminable press conference dragged on, anyone watching could see him begin to slip, to tire, to grasp for words and ideas as it neared its end.
For example, his harmful off-hand suggestion that the United States might not react strongly to a “minor incursion” into Ukraine by Russian troops came toward the conclusion of that endless afternoon, as did his extraordinary comments concerning the potential illegitimacy of the elections later this year.
Whatever the outcome, it was an embarrassment to the president and the country.
As many in the media reported the following morning, Mr. Biden had to “clean up” his remarks from the previous afternoon.
Most of the president’s closest advisors on matters of communications and public affairs are so much younger than he is. His chief of staff, Ron Klain at 60, is one of the oldest. Klain’s deputy, Jean O’Malley Dillon, is 45. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, is 43 and the White House director of communications, Kate Bedingfield, is 40. Yes, they are bright, capable and dedicated to the man they serve. But, at their ages, they cannot appreciate what it takes to function under extreme pressure when one is almost 80. They need to understand that despite good reports from annual physical check-ups and Biden’s own can-do spirit, his time and duties need to be managed with his age in mind.
The president simply is not up to a no-holds-barred, nearly two-hour press grilling.
Fortunately, there is someone, age 70, who could, if she would, step up and help save the president from himself and his staff. And that is Jill Biden.
No one knows Joe Biden better than she does. And no one has his best interest at heart more than she does. She needs to know, in advance, what the staff has planned for him as well as what he, himself, wants to do each day. She can shine the spotlight of reality on his schedule and help him avoid pitfalls that the younger members of the team may have unwittingly arranged for him. And she can assure–demand–breaks in his schedule for relaxation. If she is willing to be more assertive on matters related to his schedule, he needs to listen to her and follow her advice. It may not be easy for him to do that. If he doesn’t, he will place serious risks on his physical and mental health, on the office of the president and on his long-term reputation as president.
Dr. Jill Biden can begin today by insisting that press conferences be limited to one hour.
Ross Jones is a former vice president and secretary emeritus of The Johns Hopkins University. He joined the University in 1961 as assistant to President Milton S. Eisenhower. A 1953 Johns Hopkins graduate, he later earned a Master’s Degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.