Concerns regarding 79-year-old President Joe Biden’s ability to weather a ten-day trip abroad were among the reasons why the White House decided to delay the Mideast portion of the tour, according to a Sunday report in The New York Times.
Biden was initially scheduled to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia last month after attending the G7 Summit in Germany. But a week before he left for Europe, the White House announced that the Mideast trip would be postponed for scheduling reasons.
Reports at the time said the administration was still trying to finalize details regarding the Saudi portion of the trip. The US is working to broker an agreement that would see Egypt transfer control of a pair of Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in an agreement that would also see Riyadh take steps toward normalizing ties with Israel, which has interests in those island. The agreement is still being finalized, with the White House hoping to seal the deal by the time Biden lands in Jeddah on Friday to attend a summit of Middle Eastern leaders. He’ll be in Israel and the West Bank for two days beforehand.
But while the White House hinted the delay had to do with factors regarding the host countries, a US official told The Times that it would have been “crazy” to put the oldest president in American history through a ten-day foreign trip.
More than a dozen current and former US officials interviewed by NYT uniformly insisted that the president remains intellectually engaged, regularly asking tough questions in briefing and calling aides late at night about a weak point buried deep in a memo.
The conduct contrasts with some reporting on former president Donald Trump who was said to rarely read his intelligence reports and easily lose focus in briefings. Trump was 70 when he entered office for a one-year term.
But Biden’s aides also acknowledged that the president has aged in recent years and that they quietly watch out for him. The president fell off his bicycle last month and has been known to stumble over words during public appearances.
Still Biden insists he plans on running again in 2024, even as his age becomes an increasing political liability for the Democratic Party.