President Biden is struggling to provide a message of strength and confidence amid international scorn and uncertainty over his handling of the U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan — showing up late to speeches, refusing to answer reporters' questions, and largely avoiding the White House press corps ever since Taliban insurgents took over the country in a matter of days.
Biden's remarks Tuesday from the White House were delayed more than four hours after being rescheduled twice, and the U.S. evacuation effort in Afghanistan was the last topic he addressed after touting his Build Back Better agenda.
"He made us wait a number of hours and then touted a $5 trillion liberal wishlist that will increase greater inflation and transform our country in the worst way possible," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy fumed during a press briefing Wednesday morning.
"The most embarrassing part though, was that he refused to take questions, and he turned his back and walked away — an image that has come to define him and his presidency," McCarthy said. "He turned his back on our own citizens stranded in Afghanistan, he’s turned our back on our allies and partners, he’s turned his back on his duties as commander in chief."
Biden has repeatedly defended his plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, while tens of thousands of U.S. citizens, allies and Afghans vulnerable to Taliban reprisal are desperately trying to flee the country through Kabul's airport, which has been surrounded by militants.
Biden assured Americans just last month that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not likely and that he trusted "the capacity of the Afghan military." The president largely avoided cameras during the debacle, watching the Aug. 15 fall of Kabul unfold last weekend from the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
Three days later, Biden was fiercely criticized after he gave public remarks about COVID-19 and failed to address the situation in Afghanistan or take any questions. He later sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and said the "chaos" in Kabul was inevitable. It was only the ninth cable news interview of his presidency and the second with Stephanopoulos, placing him far behind his predecessors in terms of TV appearances.
On Friday, Biden was nearly an hour late to give remarks further defending his Afghanistan withdrawal.
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had an "out of office" email message for one week starting the same day Kabul collapsed.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who previously said she had a key role in Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, has also managed to stay relatively silent on the crisis, embarking on her first official visit to Southeast Asia this week.
"The president never shies away from taking questions," White House communications director Kate Bedingfield insisted during a Friday appearance on MSNBC.
The White House didn't immediately return a request for comment.