It might surprise Democrats to know that, despite their best efforts to conceal it, the whole world is aware of President Joe Biden’s cognitive decline. Aside from Chinese President Xi Jinping, perhaps no one is more aware of it than Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This is precisely why Biden’s likely embellished recounting of his private conversation with Putin, held during his 2011 state visit to Moscow, was a very bad idea. And the fallout has only just begun.
During Biden’s Tuesday interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, the host remarked, “You said you know he [Putin] doesn’t have a soul.”
Biden answered, “I did say that to him, yes. And — and his response was, ‘We understand one another.’ It was – I wasn’t being a wise guy. I was alone with him in his office. And that — that’s how it came about. It was when President Bush had said, ‘I looked in his eyes and saw his soul.’”
Biden continued, according to the transcript: “I said, ‘Looked in your eyes and I don’t think you have a soul.’ And looked back and he said, ‘We understand each other.’”
“Look, most important thing dealing with foreign leaders in my experience, and I’ve dealt with an awful lot of ’em over my career, is just know the other guy. Don’t expect somethin’ that you’re — that — don’t expect him to — or her to — voluntarily appear in the second editions of Profiles in Courage.”
“So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?” asked the ABC host, referring to Putin’s treatment of opponents.
“Uh-huh. I do.”
Putin reacted immediately to Biden’s remarks by recalling Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov.
Afterward, in an interview with a Russian state media reporter, Putin suggested that he and Biden should engage in a live televised debate.
“I’ve just thought of this now,” Putin said. “I want to propose to President Biden to continue our discussion, but on the condition that we do it basically live, as it’s called. Without any delays and directly in an open, direct discussion. It seems to me that would be interesting for the people of Russia and for the people of the United States.”
“I don’t want to put this off for long. I want to go the taiga this weekend to relax a little,” Putin continued. “So we could do it tomorrow or Monday. We are ready at any time convenient for the American side.”
The Russian leader knows that such an event would expose the President to public ridicule which would delight him as much as a separate incident which occurred during Biden’s previously mentioned 2011 state visit to Moscow, had.
This little known episode was not reported by the press at the time. Most of us only learned about it after former White House stenographer Mike McCormick published a book about his six years (2011-2017) spent at Biden’s side as he met with world leaders, delivered speeches and interacted with members of the news media. The book is entitled “Joe Biden Unauthorized: And the 2020 Crackup of the Democratic Party.”
McCormick first revealed this story in September, during an interview with The Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman. He added a good amount of detail in an article published on Thursday by The National Pulse.
It’s important to remember that, contrary to Biden’s current diminished condition, he was at the top of his game in 2011. But even in his prime, Biden was never considered a formidable or even a particularly strong leader. Putin’s lack of respect for the U.S. Vice President was unmistakable, even then.
An entire chapter of McCormick’s book is devoted to this incident. The chapter is entitled “B**ch Slapped in Moscow.”
Ahead of the meeting, McCormick notes that Biden’s staffers had “made a big deal about how Putin really dominated the conversation [with] Obama” during his visit to Russia. They were sure that Biden, because of his “decades of Senate foreign policy experience,” would never allow that to happen.
During a joint news conference with Putin, Biden “launched into a soliloquy about his visits to Russia during the Cold War,” McCormick said. Suddenly, Biden’s microphone was cut off. Then “the press lighting was switched off, and Putin’s aides ushered the media out of the room.”
Biden was saying, “I’ve been around a long time. The first time I was here…”
“Joe Biden got about one sentence further into that spiel when off went his microphone, off went the lights for the TV cameras, and stern Russian voices were commanding the press to leave. And leave they did,” McCormick wrote.
He added, “They went out quickly and efficiently, with videocameras popping off of tripods. Equipment snapping shut. Portable lights clattering down retractable poles. No one spoke, and no one dared linger.”
Putin had “publicly humiliated” Biden.
“He basically got body-slammed by Putin, really. I mean, I don’t know how else to describe it,” McCormick told Goodman. “To me it was like, here’s our great foreign policy expert and he just got punk’d. And Vladimir Putin just had no fear or respect for him.”
Unsurprisingly, news of this very public, very deliberate indignity “never made it into media coverage of the trip.”
Recounting this moment in his book, McCormick wrote: “[Putin’s] message was unmistakable: I’m in charge of the room, I’m in charge of my country, and I’m in charge of the reset. As you might imagine, the vice president’s staffers were furious with the Russians. I was instructed to have the transcript reflect how the vice president had been cut off in mid-sentence.”
The official White House transcript reads: “VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: There’s a reason, Mr. Prime Minister. Mr. Prime Minister, I’ve been around a long time. The first time I was here — the second time I was here, I was meeting with President Brezhnev. We were trying to pass SALT II — END”
McCormick described the scene in the immediate aftermath of the snub in his article. “This was Putin in all his KGB ruthlessness. Whether by some prearranged signal or simply an undisclosed time limit, he had pulled the plug and done the unthinkable: he’d stolen Joe Biden’s audience and rendered him speechless. Shut him down in mid-sentence with the flick of an invisible switch.”
“Across the table,” he wrote, “I could see Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, in the now dimly lit room, looking as duped as an exhausted fish in the bottom of a boat. No protest, no complaint. No, hey, I wasn’t finished. Nothing. He was humiliated.”
“To me, the revelation was the premeditated precision of the snub. Putin or his team had likely plotted this all out. They knew exactly what bait to use, exactly how Joe Biden would take it, and then when he did, they reeled him helplessly in.”
“The most powerful man in Russia had neither fear nor respect for Joe Biden. He had just played with him for sport.”
And Biden had allowed Putin to get away with this humiliation.
Perhaps the sting of that moment still resonates within him and may be why he spoke about Putin with such bravado to Stephanopoulos.
It was a serious gaffe. And it drew taunts about his cognitive ability from Putin and anger from his colleagues.
Asked by the state media reporter what he would say to Biden if they were to meet again, Putin said, “With regard to my U.S. colleague’s remark, we have, indeed, as he said, met in person. What would I tell him? I would say ‘stay healthy.’ I wish him good health. I say that without any irony, without jokes.”
ABC reported that Kremlin officials were angry when Biden told Stephanopoulos that Russia “would pay a price” for tampering with the 2020 election.
Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that “Biden’s words had confirmed for them that Biden has no interest in improving relations with Russia,” according to ABC.
Peskov said, “I’ll say only that these remarks by the U.S. president are very bad. He definitely doesn’t want to normalize relations with our country. And we’ll be acting based precisely on this premise.”
Biden, who has been prone to gaffes throughout his entire political career has just had his first major lesson as President that words matter.