White House officials and Democrats rallied Sunday to defend President Biden’s mental capacity, reflecting growing concern in the president’s administration over a special counsel report that raised concerns about his age.
“This is a report that has gone off the rails,” Bob Bauer, Mr. Biden’s personal lawyer, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Shabby work product.”
The report, released on Thursday, cleared Mr. Biden of any wrongdoing in handling classified documents after he left the vice presidency. But the special counsel in the case, Robert K. Hur, characterized Mr. Biden, 81, as a “well-intentioned, elderly man with a failing memory” who was “declining in his old age.”
Democrats have gone on the offensive to discredit what they say is a partisan hit that potentially violated Justice Department policy, particularly taking issue with descriptions that question Mr. Biden’s memory.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Mr. Biden’s homeland security secretary, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “it is the responsibility of a federal prosecutor to investigate and find the facts and apply the law to those facts.”
“The special prosecutor did that in the case, concluded that there was no case – case closed – then made unnecessary, unnecessary and inaccurate personal remarks, and they are inappropriate,” Mr. Mayorkas said.
While the report found that Mr. Biden “does not warrant criminal charges,” the descriptions of his memory put the spotlight on what was already a primary concern of voters: his age. In fall New York Times/Siena College polls, more than 70 percent of battleground voters agreed with the statement that Mr. Biden is “too old to be an effective president.”
“We have to face the fact that when you get to that age, you become diminished,” Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential candidate who also attacked former President Donald J. Trump’s mental acuity, said on “Face the Nation.” “These are the people who decide on our national security. These are the people who decide the future of our economy. We need to know that they are at the top of their game.”
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said the contents of the report were not a surprise.
“Look, there are no new bombshells in this about President Biden,” he told Fox News Sunday. “The American people have seen for years that he is a man with a weak memory. What this report indicates is that you have a blatant double standard: If Joe Biden won’t face criminal charges, then Donald Trump shouldn’t face criminal charges either.”
Biden’s allies have also doubled down on a campaign strategy framing the election as a choice between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, who is seen as a threat to democracy and faces accusations over his own handling of classified documents. Mr Trump, 77, recently baffled the leaders of Hungary and Turkey, warned that the country was on the brink of World War II and claimed he had defeated Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
White House officials were also quick to highlight Mr Trump’s remarks at a campaign event on Saturday, when he said that while he was president he had told NATO leaders that he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever they want” to countries that did not pay up money owed to the military alliance.
“What our nation should be focusing on is the way Donald Trump is undermining the rule of law, democracy and our security as a nation,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said on ABC’s “This Week” when asked about report of the special counsel. .
But it was clear on Sunday that Biden’s aides and allies also felt an urgency to attack Mr. Hur’s report and win over voters worried about Mr. Biden’s age.
“The real problem is not going away,” Quentin James, co-founder of Collective PAC, an organization that aims to elect black officials, said in an interview. “I think the only way we can beat him again is to go out on the road and campaign really hard. And that’s what we expect from every other candidate, regardless of your age or experience.”
Mitch Landrieu, Biden’s campaign co-chairman, said on “Meet the Press” that Mr. Biden has already traveled around the country during his presidency to outline his domestic agenda.
“It was this ad hominem attack that called the president’s capacity into question,” Landrieu said of Mr. Hur’s report. He added: “This guy is tough. He’s smart. He’s on his game.”
The White House also decided to send officials with prosecutorial experience to attack the credibility of the report. A day after it was released, Vice President Kamala Harris cited her time as prosecutor as she described the report as “incomplete” and “politically motivated.”
Erica L. Green and Karoun Demirjian contributed to the reporting.