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Opinion: Is Biden an out-to-lunch president?

Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN

(CNN) — Special counsel Robert Hur’s report on President Joe Biden keeping classified documents at his home from the time he was vice president in the Obama administration is notable for the details of that case but also for the devastating portrait it paints of an out-to-lunch president.

A quick tour of the report, released Thursday, highlights: “Mr. Biden’s memory was significantly limited, both … in 2017, and in his interview with our office in 2023.” The report, which recommended that the president not be charged, portrays Biden as someone who comes across as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

When he talked to officials in the special counsel’s office, Biden could not remember the years when he was vice president, nor did he remember, “even within several years” when his son Beau died.  The latter is fairly astonishing given how close Biden was to his son and what a wrenching pain Beau’s death in 2015 at the age of 46 was for the Biden family.

White House officials and Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer said the report made inappropriate and incorrect statements about the president’s memory, noting the interview with prosecutors took place in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attack on Israel and suggesting Biden’s attention was elsewhere. “The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events,” Bauer said in a follow-up statement to Hur.

In a press conference Thursday evening, the president slammed the special counsel for putting in the report that he did not remember the year of Beau’s death and that his “memory was significantly limited.” A seething Biden told reporters “I don’t need anyone. I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away.”

Yet the special counsel’s report hardly stands alone. Consider that during Thursday’s press conference, President Biden, right after defending his memory, mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the president of Mexico. And this week, speaking at a campaign event, the president confused French presidents François Mitterrand, who died in 1996, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president today.

On Wednesday, talking at another campaign event, Biden mixed up the German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who died in 2017, with Angela Merkel, who is still with us.

At a White House media event on Tuesday, Biden struggled to remember the name of the terrorist group Hamas and had to be prompted with the right word by a staffer.

None of this will be news to Fox News viewers who are treated to a steady diet of the president’s gaffes, memory losses and unsteady walks from place to place. And it certainly helps explain why nearly half of Democratic voters are seriously concerned about Biden’s age, according to a CNN poll released last week.

Americans have had presidents in the past who have had memory problems. Towards the end of President Ronald Reagan’s second term, he was forgetful, and in 1994, years after he left office, he disclosed that he had Alzheimer’s.

After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke, which his wife kept secret while she effectively ran the White House, but that was before TV, intrusive media and nuclear weapons.

So, do Biden’s memory lapses raise questions about whether he should have his finger on the nuclear trigger? I have no idea, since it is hard to determine his medical condition based on what we are seeing on TV and reading about his memory lapses in the special counsel’s report, but it certainly seems worrisome.

And yet, for the many Republicans, Democrats and independents who think Biden is a doddering old man, think back to the last State of the Union when Biden did a skillful end run around some of the more conservative Republicans attending by getting them to publicly assent not to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

On March 5 comes Super Tuesday, with 15 states voting for their delegates to the Republican Convention. If Trump sweeps the table on Super Tuesday, all eyes will be on Biden’s State of the Union two days later on March 7.

If Biden’s performance is as shaky as it was when he talked to the special counsel, his assertion that he is the right guy to defeat Trump will likely be greeted with considerable skepticism. But if he pulls off another State of the Union as good as his last one, Biden is back in the fight.

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