Biden mentally capable - Congressman

Democrat dismisses speculation on Biden's ability to govern

15 Feb 2024 11:09am
US President Joe Biden speaks during the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference at the Washington Hilton, in Washington, DC, on February 12, 2024. - Photo by AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks during the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference at the Washington Hilton, in Washington, DC, on February 12, 2024. - Photo by AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden may not have the stamina for a conventional campaign but he's up to the task of governing, influential House of Representatives lawmaker Adam Smith told AFP Wednesday, dismissing speculation over alternative candidates.

"I do not have a single doubt the president is mentally on point and capable of doing the job," said Smith, weighing into recent debates around the 81-year-old president's ability to govern.

A member of Biden's Democratic Party and the number two on the House Armed Services Committee, Smith sat down for an interview as he was preparing to head to the Munich Security Conference, starting Friday.

In Germany, he will seek to reassure US allies after comments made by Biden's likely election rival Donald Trump downplaying his commitment to NATO. But Smith warns that he won't be making any promises about approving new aid for Ukraine.

Biden: No triathlete

While confident in Biden, Smith acknowledges that the president won't be able to run a traditional campaign, working "12-hour days and doing 15-20 different interviews."

"At his age, he does not have the physical stamina to do all of that. I just think that is obvious and pretending that it is not doesn't really help us."

It is rare for Democrats to speak so openly about the challenge of the president's advancing years, with much of the Biden camp refusing to be drawn in publicly on the issue.

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"What are you supposed to say -- 'Oh, he's fine, he's going to run a triathlon tomorrow'? I mean he's 81 years old," says Smith.

The congressman, who represents a district in the northwestern state of Washington, dismisses the notion that a plan is in the works for a Democratic alternative to Biden ahead of November's election.

"There is not a plan here in the sense that there's some mystical group of people who are selecting who our nominee is," says the 58-year-old.

"The president decided to run and all of us decided he's probably the person for the job right now," he continues. "Nobody of note decided to run against him, so here we are."

No promises on Ukraine

On Ukraine, Smith is well aware of the concerns of US allies, at a time when $60 billion in financial aid to Kyiv is being blocked by Trump's lieutenants in Congress, including House speaker Mike Johnson.

"I don't make promises I can't keep, but I can tell you there's a ton of people who are determined to get this done," he tells AFP of the challenge of freeing up the aid.

"It is not an easy path because the speaker has enormous power and he has decided to placate the most dangerous, extreme elements of his party, rather than meeting the national security interests of the United States.

"We're going to try to convince him to change his mind."

The congressman, who has been in office for over 25 years, is also expecting questions from his partners in Munich about Trump's comments on NATO.

The former Republican president, 77, has said he would "encourage" Russia to attack members of the alliance who had not met their financial obligations.

"The world needs to understand that there is a strong consensus in America between both Democrats and Republicans that that approach by Trump is wrong, and we are going to fight back against it," Smith said.

Trump 'empowering' China

"But the second thing, that is more complicated to explain, is that the world is shifting," he adds.

"The US will continue to be a leading partner... but this isn't 1960 or 1970 anymore," says Smith, calling for the establishment of a "different global security architecture that shares the responsibility better."

He worries that Trump's comments on NATO could be interpreted by China as an invitation to attack Taiwan.

"I think the thing that's such a joke, it's the notion that Trump wants to present himself as being tough on China," he said.

"If you're just handing Putin Ukraine -- and Lord knows how many other Eastern European countries -- you're empowering China.

"He is incentivizing Xi to take Taiwan, without question. It is a horrible message." - AFP

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