Biden campaign - Jill Biden’s frustration over special counsel report

Arlette Saenz, CNN | 2/12/2024, 1:21 p.m.
The renewed questions surrounding President Joe Biden’s age and memory sparked by a special counsel report last week were decidedly ...
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on December 2023. Mandatory Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The renewed questions surrounding President Joe Biden’s age and memory sparked by a special counsel report last week were decidedly unwelcome for the 81-year-old Democrat’s advisers.

Yet in one area, the president’s team has found a way of making political hay from one of the president’s deepest political vulnerabilities.

A fundraising appeal sent Saturday from first lady Dr. Jill Biden criticizing the special counsel and defending her husband was the second-most lucrative money-raising email since the president’s launch announcement, a source familiar with the figures said.

The source declined to offer an exact amount raised, but what made the email unique is that the first lady made no explicit ask for supporters to give money to the campaign in the body of her message. Instead, the message included a button with a link to donate after the first lady signed off, “Love, Jill.”

The success of the fundraising message, in which Jill Biden argued special counsel Robert Hur’s report contains “inaccurate and personal political attacks against Joe,” speaks to a silver lining amid the questions about Biden’s age, which had been festering well before the release of Hur’s report last week.

In many ways, the lengthy document forced Biden’s team to more forcefully address an issue that had been lingering uncomfortably for months, as voters expressed deep concerns about the president’s ability to serve a second term.

For months, White House aides have sought to avoid moments that might highlight Biden’s advanced years, like using a smaller flight of stairs to board Air Force One. The president has also conducted few sit-down interviews and held fewer news conferences, though he frequently answers reporters’ questions in less formal settings.

The president and his advisers have bristled at questions about Biden’s cognitive abilities and advanced age, and have claimed interest in the issue is a media obsession. Yet the release of Hur’s report thrust those questions to the center of the election, requiring the White House and campaign to tackle the age concerns more head-on.

Speaking to a group of county executives Monday, Biden himself seemed to make a veiled allusion to the report and its questioning of his recall abilities.

“I know I don’t look like it, but I’ve been around a while,” the president told the group in Washington.

“I do remember that,” he added with a smirk, to loud applause.

In voicing indignation at Hur’s treatment of the matter in his report – and in particular expressing frustration with the special counsel claiming her husband couldn’t remember when their son Beau died – Jill Biden struck upon a potent message for Democrats.

“Believe me, like anyone who has lost a child, Beau and his death never leave him. I hope you can imagine how it felt to read that attack – not just as Joe’s wife, but as Beau’s mother,” Dr. Biden wrote. “I don’t know what this Special Counsel was trying to achieve. We should give everyone grace, and I can’t imagine someone would try to use our son’s death to score political points.”

Yet she also sought to link Biden’s age – a number that will only get higher, and which no official has any ability to change – to experience, an argument that Biden himself has made only sporadically as the general election gets underway.

“Joe is 81, that’s true, but he’s 81 doing more in an hour than most people do in a day,” she wrote. “Joe has wisdom, empathy, and vision. He has delivered on so many of his promises as President precisely because he’s learned a lot in those 81 years. His age, with his experience and expertise, is an incredible asset and he proves it every day.”

The first lady was involved in crafting the response, which a source close to her said “was from the heart.”

Jill Biden felt the “Beau attack was beyond the pale and the attacks on his age were flat inaccurate,” the source said, noting the first lady “wanted to make clear that the American people benefit from his 81 years.”

Over the weekend, the president’s social media account also posted a photo of Biden playing football with his sons Beau and Hunter. “1987 with my boys,” the president’s account wrote.

Hur’s reference of Beau – who died from brain cancer in 2015 – angered the president the most, prompting him to tell Democratic lawmakers in private, “How would I f*ing” forget” a date etched in his memory.

The campaign for now seems to be trying to channel that anger into mobilizing its supporters and allies, including several who appeared on weekend television programs.

“As legal experts around the country are saying, it just goes off the rails. It’s a shabby piece of work,” Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, told CBS of the report.

Mitch Landrieu, who recently left a White House post to become a co-chair of Biden’s campaign, said the report was an “ad hominem attack that questioned the president’s capacity” and didn’t reflect his own experiences.

“This guy is tough. He’s smart. He’s on his game,” he said on NBC.