Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) had a burning question for Secretary of State Antony Blinken at Tuesday’s anticipated oversight hearing on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan: Who keeps silencing Joe Biden?
Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asserted in the hearing that someone in the White House hit a “button” to stop Biden from speaking at a Monday event on the threat of wildfires in Idaho.
“Somebody in the White House has the authority has to press the button and cut off the president’s speaking ability. Who is that person?” Risch asked Blinken, citing reports about the event.
“Senator, I really don’t know what you’re referring to,” the top Biden official replied. “There is no such person. … The president speaks for himself.”
Risch appeared to be referring to an article published by The New York Post that suggested a White House livestream of Biden’s remarks was cut off abruptly in order to prevent the president from committing a gaffe. Biden wasn’t actually prevented from speaking at the Idaho event; reporters were allowed in the room to listen to his remarks at a meeting with local officials. The public portion of the meeting ended as Biden began questioning officials. The White House often imposes such rules for correspondents covering the president.
Republicans have been trying to depict the 78-year-old president as somehow not in control of his own presidency or his own mental and physical faculties. That effort has included pointing out any time Biden coughs or loses his train of thought while speaking.
Last month, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) even suggested that Biden’s handling of the collapse of the Afghan government was grounds to consider removing him under the 25th Amendment. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly tried to make Biden’s mental state an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Risch doubled down when asked about the exchange after the hearing. Asked if he was suggesting that someone in the White House went rogue, the senator maintained that he was just asking questions.
“I don’t know the answer, that’s why I asked the question. He gets halfway through a sentence and somebody pushes a button,” Risch said.
The White House pushed back in a statement to HuffPost.
“Senator Risch is cheapening this hearing by peddling baseless and bizarre conspiracy theories,” White House spokesman Mike Gwin said. “Sec. Blinken and the Administration will continue to engage in good faith with Congress in hopes of having a serious conversation about the President’s decision to end our military presence in Afghanistan – instead of re-escalating it – after 20 years and more than 2,400 American servicemembers lost.”
Several other Republicans did focus on the Afghanistan withdrawal in Tuesday’s hearing. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) pressed Blinken on why administration officials didn’t postpone their Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops after having postponed it once before, from May, when the Trump administration originally negotiated the pullout date with the Taliban. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) grilled Blinken about a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan that allegedly killed an aid worker.
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