‘Where’s Jackie?’ Biden Asks if Deceased Lawmaker Is at White House Event

WASHINGTON — President Biden searched the audience Wednesday for Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Indiana, during a White House conference on ending hunger, apparently forgetting that Walorski had died last month.

“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? Biden said as he thanked lawmakers who had sponsored hunger legislation. The president seemed to be confused by her absence and said something quietly about whether she had planned to be at the event.

In fact, Ms. Walorski was killed on August 3 in a car accident in her district, along with two of her congressional aides, when a vehicle she was riding in collided head-on with another. The driver of the car coming from the opposite direction was also killed.

Mr. Biden did not correct himself during the comments, but the incident quickly went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms, with some seizing the moment as evidence that the 79-year-old Mr. Biden lacks of the mental capacity to be president. .

The president’s political opponents have been pushing that attack since he took office. White House officials have consistently rejected the allegation, saying Biden remains intellectually engaged and sharp.

After Ms. Walorski’s death last month, the White House released a statement on behalf of Mr. Biden saying the president and first lady were “shocked and saddened” by her death. The statement, just hours after the accident, said that “my team and I appreciate your partnership as we plan a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by your deep concern for the needs of rural America. .”

It was at that Wednesday conference that Biden seemed to believe she was present.

After the president’s comments, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, refused to acknowledge that Biden had been wrong or had forgotten that Walorski had died.

Instead, Ms. Jean-Pierre repeatedly said that the congresswoman was “the most important thing” for Biden because she was honoring lawmakers who had worked on hunger.

She said Mr. Biden was not only aware of Ms. Walorski’s death, but also looked forward to reuniting with her family when he signs legislation to name an Indiana veterans’ health center after her.

“The president named congressional champions on this issue and recognized their incredible work,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre. “He had already planned to welcome the congresswoman’s family to the White House on Friday; they will be at the signing of a bill in her honor next Friday. So of course she was on her mind. She was the most important thing to the president.”

Reporters repeatedly asked why Mr. Biden would show up to look for Ms. Walorski at the hearing if her death was “the most important thing” and he was thinking about the next meeting with his family.

“The confusing part is, why, if she and the family are the most important thing, does the president think that she is living and in the room?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t find that confusing,” Ms. Jean-Pierre replied. “I mean, I think a lot of people can talk: sometimes when you have someone on your mind, it’s the most important thing, exactly that.”

Ms. Jean-Pierre seemed frustrated by repeated questions about Mr. Biden’s comments. When she was asked if there was anything written on the teleprompter that confused the president during his remarks, she said that was not the case.

“You’re jumping to too many conclusions,” he told the reporter. “I just answered the question. If that had been the case, he would have said so.”

Ms. Jean-Pierre said that she did not see the need to circulate the chairman’s remarks as they were prepared prior to delivery and said “I don’t understand why it would be necessary”.

At the end of her daily briefing, Ms. Jean-Pierre gave her final answer to the question.

“I’ve already answered it several times in this room, and my answer is certainly not going to change,” he said. “You all may have views on how I’m answering it, but I’m answering the question the way he saw it. And the way we see it.”