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US elections
Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

A blow to candidate Joe Biden

The Attorney General’s Office exonerated the president for retaining secret documents but damaged his image with impertinent comments about his age and mental condition

Joe Biden
Joe Biden at an event in Washington.KEVIN LAMARQUE (REUTERS)
El País

The special counsel appointed a year ago to investigate Joe Biden for a possible crime over his handling of confidential papers declined last Thursday to file charges against the U.S. president. In his report, prosecutor Robert Hur based his decision not to indict on the fact that there was insufficient evidence, in addition to the policy of the Attorney General’s Office not to indict sitting presidents. The good news for Biden, however, came wrapped in a rhetorical bombshell. The special counsel paused to explain that it would be difficult for a jury to convict Biden, 81, as they would see him as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” Hur claimed that in his deposition, the president had trouble remembering the dates of his tenure as vice-president and the death of his son Beau in 2015.

“My memory is fine,” Biden said at a press conference, visibly emotional. “How the hell dare he raise that? I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away.” Empathizing with Biden on a human level should be beyond politics. The comment is an impertinence in such a document. Hur is a prosecutor with a conservative background and held a top Justice Department post under Donald Trump, but he has an impeccable reputation for being impervious to politics.

Democrats came out to defend Biden. Kamala Harris said the comments were “gratuitous” and “politically motivated.” But the damage has been done. The Republican media machine is hammering the idea that Biden is mentally unfit to remain in the White House. Hur’s report is political gold for Trump’s campaign, even though he himself shows daily signs of incoherence and is barely three years younger than the president. The Democratic electorate’s main reservation about voting for Biden again is precisely his age. He is the first octogenarian U.S. president in history. In the same press conference in which defended his memory, Biden said Mexico instead of Egypt, a slip of the tongue that in another context would have been minor, but which, delivered at that very moment, set off alarm bells.

President Biden came out of the legal imbroglio clean, but candidate Biden has been hurt. It is difficult to predict the impact of Hur’s comments on voters between now and November, but it has brought the most uncomfortable debate for the Democratic campaign into the national conversation. Only Biden can halt the spiral of doubt. The demand to publicly demonstrate his ability to remain in office has increased several times over. And now he must respond to it.

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