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Biden bests Republicans yet again with debt ceiling deal

Republicans deride the president as deep in dementia. If he is senile, how does he keep outwitting his Republican rivals?

President Joe Biden talked with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on May 31 before traveling to Colorado.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

House Republicans have just been outmaneuvered again with the debt ceiling deal — and by a man who, to hear some conservatives tell it, is so deep in his dotage that he isn’t competent to be president.

Has President Biden lost a step or two in his late 70s and early 80s? No doubt. Who doesn’t? But is he somehow cognitively unfit to be president?

That has long been a staple of Fox News coverage and a particular theme of Sean Hannity, who for years has charged that “sippy-cup” Biden is “obviously not capable of leading.”


It’s not just the pugnaciously partisan Hannity, who has comported himself as Donald Trump’s sycophantic toady, making the claim, however. “I don’t think there’s any doubt Biden’s senile,” Fox political analyst Brit Hume said in September 2020.

Nor has holding elected office curbed that kind of rhetoric. “He’s plainly diminished, far below the threshold needed to be a functioning and effective president,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, opined in January.

“He’s incoherent, incapacitated, and confused,” Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, said in February. “He doesn’t know where he is half the time. He’s incapable of leading and he’s incapable of carrying out his duties.”

Decency-defying dimwit Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, has reprised another’s insult, calling Biden “a mentally incompetent, feckless, dementia-ridden piece of crap.” It takes a region like northwestern Georgia to grow a rancid peach like Greene.

Others are politer but still snide. “Republicans got outsmarted by a President who can’t find his pants,” Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, tweeted this week.

Now, let’s be honest. It is far from ideal to have a president who is 80 seeking reelection. It would be preferable if both parties had younger, more compelling 2024 front-runners than Biden or Trump, now 76. Further, the issue of age is legitimate when it comes to an older politician. Senator Dianne Feinstein, for example, is clearly in cognitive decline and obviously struggling to perform her duties as a senator.


It’s the tone, the ridicule, the facts-don’t-matter mockery of conservative claims about Biden that are so off-putting. Republican partisans isolate each and every Biden stutter or verbal stumble, every instance of faulty recall, to drive the narrative that he is mentally incompetent.

Which is why Mace’s tweet was so instructive. Snide though it was, it also unwittingly illustrated something important: Republicans have just been bested again by someone they deride as deep in dementia.

In 2020, Trump’s campaign ran an ad portraying Biden as senile. Trump himself claimed his Democratic opponent couldn’t “put two sentences together.” Then, according to national polls, Biden beat Trump in both general election debates. He also defeated him handily in the 2020 election, though Trump continues to claim otherwise, thereby forcing his supporters into an, um, demented denial of reality.

Biden then proceeded to pass a major piece of infrastructure legislation, something that had defied Trump’s supposed deal-making ability.

Dealing with a narrowly divided House and a Senate where not a single vote could be spared, Biden then managed to pass far and away the most significant climate bill this nation has yet seen.


When Biden does well, the conservative explanation has been that he was simply well-programmed or well-scripted. Indeed, Hannity tried to prospectively pre-empt any praise for the president’s February State of the Union speech that way, saying before its delivery that the format was “perfectly suited for the weak and struggling” because Biden could simply read from a teleprompter. Although viewers might take that as evidence Biden was fine, “Anyone with eyes and ears can see and hear Joe is not fine,” Hannity declared.

What anyone who watched saw and heard was Biden, in an impromptu and unscripted exchange, maneuver congressional Republicans to commit to taking Social Security and Medicare off their short-term budget-cutting agenda.

Now Biden has negotiated a raise-the-debt-ceiling deal that has largely defanged the GOP’s domestic-spending-decimating dragon. There will be no repeal of the climate package, no deep cuts in domestic discretionary spending, and a two-year respite in debt-ceiling brinkmanship.

As befits any compromise, no one is particularly happy with the deal, but it’s the House right-wingers who are livid. Why? Because Biden got Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy to drop the House’s draconian demands and embrace a reasonable package — even while giving McCarthy enough of what he needed to spin it as a Republican victory. Ah, the fruits of supposed senility.

Biden’s latest accomplishment obviously won’t keep age from being an issue in the 2024 campaign. But intelligent voters should judge Biden by what he’s accomplished, not the GOP’s hyperpartisan nastiness.

And as they listen to the Republican mockery, they should ask this question: If Biden is senile, how does he keep outwitting his Republican rivals?


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.