Eight Words and a Verbal Slip Put Biden’s Age Back at the Center of 2024

When President Biden appeared at a last-minute news conference on Thursday night, he hoped to assure the country of his mental acuity hours after a special counsel’s report had devastatingly referred to him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Instead, a visibly angry Mr. Biden made the exact type of verbal flub that has kept Democrats so nervous for months, mistakenly referring to the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as the “president of Mexico” as he tried to address the latest developments in the war in Gaza.

The special counsel’s report and the president’s evening performance placed Mr. Biden’s advanced age, the singularly uncomfortable subject looming over his re-election bid, back at the center of America’s political conversation.

The 81-year-old president — already the oldest in the nation’s history — has for years fought the perception that he is a diminished figure. “My memory is fine,” he insisted on Thursday from the White House.

Yet in a single cutting phrase, the report from Robert K. Hur, the special counsel who had investigated Mr. Biden’s handling of classified documents, captured the fears of Democrats who hold their breath when Mr. Biden appears in public and the hopes of Republicans, especially former President Donald J. Trump and his allies. The Trump operation has made plain its intent to use Mr. Biden’s stiffer gait and sometimes garbled speech to cast him as weak.

The Biden campaign has built its strategy around telling voters that the November election is a choice between the president, whatever doubts the public has about his age, and an opponent in Mr. Trump, 77, whom they paint as a threat to democracy and personal freedoms.

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