As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability

US President Joe Biden looks on during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 04 March 2024
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As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability

  • Roughly 6 in 10 say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president
  • Nearly 57 percent Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021

WASHINGTON: A poll finds that a growing share of US adults doubt that 81-year-old President Joe Biden has the memory and acuity for the job, turning his coming State of the Union address into something of a real-time audition for a second term.
Roughly 6 in 10 say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s a slight increase from January 2022, when about half of those polled expressed similar concerns.
By the same token, nearly 6 in 10 also say they lack confidence in the mental capability of former President Donald Trump, the 77-year-old Republican front-runner.
For many voters, this year’s election looks like a showdown for the world’s toughest job between two men who are well beyond the standard retirement age. The next president will probably need to steer through global conflicts, fix domestic emergencies and work with a dysfunctional Congress.
Biden is likely to address those challenges and more in his State of the Union address on Thursday as he tries to convince Americans that he deserves another term.
Going into the big event, just 38 percent of US adults approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, while 61 percent disapprove. Democrats (74 percent) are much likelier than independents (20 percent) and Republicans (6 percent) to favor his performance. But there’s broad discontent on the way Biden is handling a variety of issues, including the economy, immigration and foreign policy.
About 4 in 10 Americans approve of the way Biden is handling each of these issues: health care, climate change, abortion policy and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But people are less satisfied by Biden’s handling of immigration (29 percent), the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians (31 percent) and the economy (34 percent) — all of which are likely to come up in the speech before a joint session of Congress.
Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021. Only 3 in 10 adults say it’s better under his leadership. Still, people are more optimistic about the state of their own bank accounts: 54 percent say their personal finances are good.
Many respondents to the survey were deeply pessimistic about their likely choices in November because of age and the risk of cognitive decline.
Paul Miller, himself 84, said Biden is just too old — and so is Trump.
“He doesn’t seem to have the mental whatever to be a president,” Miller said of Biden. He added that Trump is “too old, too, and half crazy.”
The retiree from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said he voted for Trump in 2020 but he wouldn’t do so again.
“I don’t think I’m going to vote for either one of them,” he said. “I hope somebody else is available.”
The president faces added pressure about his age after unflattering descriptions of him contained in a special counsel’s report that did not recommend criminal prosecution of Biden for his mishandling of classified records, unlike Trump who was indicted for keeping classified material in his Florida home. The report said that Biden’s memory was “hazy,” “fuzzy,” “faulty,” “poor” and had “significant limitations.”
Biden has tried to deflect concerns by joking about his age and taking jabs at Trump’s own gaffes. Yet the president’s age is a liability that has overshadowed his policy achievements on infrastructure, manufacturing and addressing climate change.
About one-third of Democrats said they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability in the new survey, up from 14 percent in January 2022. Only 40 percent of Democrats said they’re extremely or very confident in Biden’s mental abilities, with approximately 3 in 10 saying they’re “somewhat” confident.
And in a major risk for Biden, independents are much more likely to say that they lack confidence in his mental abilities (80 percent) compared with Trump’s (56 percent).
Republicans are generally more comfortable with Trump’s mental capabilities than Democrats are with Biden’s. In the survey, 59 percent of Republicans are extremely or very confident that Trump has the mental abilities to be president. An additional 20 percent are somewhat confident, and 20 percent are not very or not at all confident.
But if there is one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree upon, it’s that the other party’s likely nominee is not mentally up to the task. About 9 in 10 Republicans say Biden lacks the mental capability to serve as president, while a similar share of Democrats say that about Trump.
Part of Biden’s problem is that his policies have yet to break through the daily clutter of life.
Sharon Gallagher, 66, worries about inflation. She voted for Biden in 2020, but believes he has not done enough for the economy. She also feels Trump is a bit too quick to anger. The Sarasota, Florida, resident said she doesn’t have the bandwidth to really judge their policies.
“I don’t pay enough attention to politics to even know,” Gallagher said. “I have grandchildren living with me and I have children’s shows on all day.”
Justin Tjernlund, 40, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, said Biden “seems like he’s mostly still there,” but even if he was in decline he has “a whole army of people to help him do the job.” Trjenlund said he voted for Trump in 2020 and plans to do so again because the Republican is “interesting” and “refreshing.”
Still, because of both candidates’ ages, Greg Olivo, 62, said he plans to focus on Vice President Kamala Harris and whomever Trump, if he’s the nominee, picks for a running mate.
“Keep a close eye on the vice president,” said the machinist from Valley City, Ohio, who voted for Biden in 2020 and would do so again. “Because that person will probably be the president in four years, one way or another.”


UK Conservative Party to announce new leader Nov 2, Times report says

Former British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech at Number 10 Downing Street, following the results of the elections.
Updated 22 July 2024
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UK Conservative Party to announce new leader Nov 2, Times report says

  • The Times said up to eight candidates were expected to put their name forward
  • Contest would last almost four months, culminating in a ballot of rank and file members to select one of the final two candidates, Times political editor said

LONDON: Britain’s Conservative Party will name its new leader on Nov. 2, the Times reported on Monday, following the party’s worst ever election performance earlier this month that prompted former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to say he would stand down.
The contest would last almost four months, culminating in a ballot of rank and file members to select one of the final two candidates, Times Political Editor Steven Swinford said in a post on X.
Sunak’s election campaign ended in failure on July 4, when the center-left Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, won a landslide election victory that ended 14 years of Conservative-led government.
Sunak said in his final speech outside the Prime Minister’s Downing Street office that he would quit as leader of the party once the formal arrangements for his successor were in place.
The Times report came ahead of the formal announcement of those arrangements later this week. The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
The Times said up to eight candidates were expected to put their name forward.
Conservative Party leadership contests usually involve a series of ballots among its elected lawmakers to whittle down the number of candidates, before the whole party gets to choose between the final two.


Blinken headed to Asia to reaffirm US leadership

Updated 22 July 2024
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Blinken headed to Asia to reaffirm US leadership

  • Secretary of State will visit Laos, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Mongolia
  • Blinken will also travel to Vietnam to attend the funeral of late communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Asia this week in a bid to assert US leadership against the backdrop of China’s rising influence, an official said Monday.
The message of Blinken’s trip, which starts Wednesday, is that “America is all in on the Indo-Pacific from day one of this administration,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
“We have significantly and dramatically stepped up our engagement,” he added.
Blinken will visit Laos, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Mongolia.
He will also travel to Vietnam to attend the funeral of late communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong, and will separately meet with government officials in Hanoi in an effort to boost diplomatic relations.
In Laos, he will attend a ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the event.
Blinken will then visit Japan for a four-party meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese counterparts, which will focus on defense deterrence, according to the State Department and Japan’s foreign ministry.
He is also due to take part in a meeting of the so-called Quad — a strategic security dialogue of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
In the Philippines, Blinken will have talks with the country’s diplomatic and defense chiefs that will center on Chinese behavior in the South China Sea.
Kritenbrink said Monday that the United States welcomed efforts to ease tensions in the South China Sea, after the Philippines and China agreed to a provisional arrangement for resupplying Filipino troops stationed on a disputed shoal.
After a stopover in Singapore focused on strengthening bilateral relations, Blinken will conclude his Asia tour in Mongolia for a meeting with the country’s foreign minister.


France’s Macron praises Biden’s ‘courage’ and ‘sense of duty’

Updated 22 July 2024
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France’s Macron praises Biden’s ‘courage’ and ‘sense of duty’

  • In early June, Biden traveled to France on a state visit and attended commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday praised US counterpart Joe Biden’s “courage” and “sense of duty,” and called for the “spirit of partnership” between the two countries to continue beyond the next presidential election.
Biden, 81, announced on Sunday that he was dropping out of the US presidential race following intense pressure to step aside after a dismal debate performance last month. He has since endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as candidate.
“I appreciate the courage, the spirit of responsibility and the sense of duty that led you to this decision,” wrote Macron in a letter to Biden, extracts of which were made public by the Elysee Palace.
“At a time when we have just celebrated the 80th anniversary of D-Day together, I hope that this spirit of partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic will continue to drive the historic relations between our two countries,” Macron said.
In early June, Biden traveled to France on a state visit and attended commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings that changed the course of World War II.
At that time Macron emphasized unity with the United States under Biden and expressed gratitude for his counterpart’s approach to Europe.
“I thank you, Mr.President, for being the president of the world’s number one power but doing it with the loyalty of a partner who likes and respects the Europeans,” he said in June.

Harris makes first appearance since launching Democratic presidential campaign

US Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to speak from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024.
Updated 22 July 2024
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Harris makes first appearance since launching Democratic presidential campaign

  • Harris has moved swiftly to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination, after Biden announced on Sunday he was stepping aside
  • Virtually all of the prominent Democrats who had been seen as potential challengers to Harris have lined up behind her

WASHINGTON: US Vice President Kamala Harris made her first public appearance on Monday since entering the presidential race after President Joe Biden, 81, abruptly abandoned his reelection bid and endorsed her as his successor.
“Joe Biden’s legacy over the last three years is unmatched in modern history,” Harris said, before delivering remarks at a White House event to honor college athletes.
Harris has moved swiftly to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination, after Biden announced on Sunday he was stepping aside, bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats.
Virtually all of the prominent Democrats who had been seen as potential challengers to Harris have lined up behind her, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.
Campaign officials and allies have already made hundreds of calls on her behalf, urging delegates to next month’s Democratic Party convention to join in nominating her for president in the Nov. 5 election against Republican Donald Trump.
Biden’s departure was the latest shock to a White House race that included the near-assassination of former President Trump by a gunman during a campaign stop and the nomination of Trump’s fellow hard-liner, US Senator J.D. Vance, as his running mate.
“My intention is to earn and win this nomination,” Harris said in a statement on Sunday. “I will do everything in my power to unite the Democratic Party — and unite our nation — to defeat Donald Trump.”
Harris, who is Black and Asian American, would fashion an entirely new dynamic with Trump, 78, offering a vivid generational and cultural contrast.
The Trump campaign has been preparing for her possible rise for weeks, sources told Reuters. It sent out a detailed critique of her record on immigration and other issues on Monday, accusing her of being liberal than Biden.
The Trump campaign accused Harris of favoring abolishing the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and decriminalizing border crossings, backing the so-called Green New Deal, supporting the administration’s electric vehicle mandates and encouraging “defund the police” efforts.
Some of those were positions Harris adopted as an unsuccessful presidential candidate in the 2020 election when she was running on a more liberal agenda than Biden but were not ones that the administration assumed, particularly with regard to border security and law enforcement issues.
Biden, the oldest person ever to have occupied the Oval Office, said he would remain in the presidency until his term ends on Jan. 20, 2025, while endorsing Harris to run in his place.
Biden’s shaky June 27 debate performance against Trump led the president’s fellow Democrats to urge him to end his run, but senior Republicans have demanded he resign from office, arguing that if he is not fit to campaign, he is not fit to govern.
Harris spent Sunday working the phones, dressed in a Howard University sweatshirt and eating pizza with anchovies as she spoke with Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, a potential vice presidential running mate, House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, and Congressional Black Caucus chair Representative Steven Horsford, according to sources.
Biden’s withdrawal leaves less than four months to wage a campaign.
Trump, whose false claims that his 2020 loss to Biden was the result of fraud inspired the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol, on Monday questioned Democrats’ right to change candidates.
“They stole the race from Biden after he won it in the primaries,” Trump said on his Truth Social site.
Despite the early show of support for Harris, talk of an open convention when Democrats gather in Chicago on Aug. 19-22 was not totally silenced.
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama did not announce endorsements, although both praised Biden.
With Democrats wading into uncharted territory, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said the party would soon announce the next steps in its nomination process.
Abortion rights leader
Biden won the party’s nomination in 2020, picked Harris to be his vice president, and went on to beat Trump. She is a former California attorney general and a former US senator.
Harris is expected to stick largely to Biden’s foreign policy playbook on such issues as China, Iran and Ukraine, but could strike a tougher tone with Israel over the Gaza war if she tops the Democratic ticket and wins the November election.
She has been outspoken on abortion rights, an issue that resonates with younger voters and more liberal Democrats.
Proponents argue she would energize those voters, consolidate Black support and bring sharp debating skills to prosecute the political case against the former president.
But some Democrats were concerned about a Harris candidacy, in part because of the weight of a long history of racial and gender discrimination in the United States, which has not elected a woman president in its nearly 250-year history.
Polling shows that Harris performs no better statistically than Biden had done against Trump.
In a head-to-head match-up, Harris and Trump were tied with 44 percent support each in a July 15-16 Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted immediately after the July 13 assassination attempt on Trump.
Trump led Biden 43 percent to 41 percent in that same poll, though the 2 percentage point difference was not meaningful considering the poll’s 3-point margin of error.
Biden’s campaign had $95 million on hand at the end of June, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. Trump’s campaign ended the month with $128 million. Campaign finance law experts disagree on how easily that money could be shifted to a Harris-led campaign.
Harris’ campaign had raised $49.6 million in less than 24 hours after Biden’s exit, a campaign spokesperson said on Monday.
More than 44,000 Black women and allies, including Representatives Maxine Waters, Jasmine Crockett and Joyce Beatty, joined a three-hour call on Sunday evening in support of Harris’s bid, raising more than $1.5 million for her presidential campaign, organizers told Reuters.
Biden has not been seen in public since testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. He was isolating at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and tentatively plans to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday if he has recovered.


Scores killed in clashes between Somali forces and Al-Shabab

Updated 22 July 2024
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Scores killed in clashes between Somali forces and Al-Shabab

  • Al-Shabab militants tried to overrun three army bases, government forces repulsed the attacks and detonated four car bombs
  • Videos posted by Jubbaland officials showed at least 35 bodies in a mix of military fatigues near the village of Buulo-Xaaji

MOGADISHU: Dozens of fighters were killed in clashes on Monday in the southern tip of Somalia when Al-Shabab militants tried to overrun three army bases, officials and the insurgent group said.
A local security official said government forces repulsed the attacks and safely detonated four car bombs around 80 km (50 miles) southwest of the port city of Kismayo in Jubbaland state.
Videos posted by Jubbaland officials on social media showed at least 35 bodies in a mix of military fatigues near the village of Buulo-Xaaji.
“We thank the federal and Jubbaland forces who killed over 80 Al-Shabab fighters and took their weapons,” the government said in a statement on the state-owned Somalia National News Agency (SONNA).
The government and Al-Shabab often provide wildly differing accounts of the casualties on each side.
Farah Hussein, a military official, said five soldiers were killed.
“We got the information that Al-Shabab was coming, we deserted the three bases and then encircled their fighters, killing dozens of them. I counted 30 dead Al-Shabab and I could see even more bodies lying ahead of me,” Hussein told Reuters.
Al-Shabab said on an affiliated radio station that it had stormed the bases and killed dozens of soldiers.
The area near the Kenyan border, in the traditional heartland of Al-Shabab’s territory, was captured by government forces three months ago. The Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab has been fighting to impose a strict form of Islamic law throughout the country since 2007.