WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre offered a surprising excuse after President Biden abruptly left a ceremony honoring a Vietnam War veteran on Tuesday, insisting it was to “downplay ” exposure to COVID.
The 80-year-old president was criticized for being disrespectful when he rushed out of the East Room of the White House before the conclusion of the ceremony, in which retired Army Capt. Larry Taylor received a Medal of Honor.
In a controversial press conference on Wednesday, Jean-Pierre said it was to protect attendees from COVID-19 after first lady Jill Biden tested positive for the virus on Monday.
However, Biden chose not to wear a mask when presenting the award to the 81-year-old veteran, undermining the official explanation for his early absence from the event.
“He left when there was a break in the program to minimize his close contact with attendees who were about to participate in a reception,” Jean-Pierre said. “And when everyone reported that, I noticed that he left when there was a break in the show because, again, I wanted to certainly minimize his impact on the people who were there.”
Biden’s spokesman also offered a baffling response to the COVID-exposed president who broke mask rules while awarding the elderly vet the country’s highest military decoration, insisting it was to “honor the captain.”
“The president took off his mask, as I said he would, to make incredibly powerful comments about this captain, Captain Taylor, and what he did in service to our nation. And he wanted to honor the captain,” he said at the briefing.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre offered a surprising excuse after President Biden abruptly left a ceremony honoring a Vietnam War veteran on Tuesday.AP
Biden was maskless Tuesday as he stood about 6 inches from the elderly war hero for about four minutes as Taylor’s award citation was read aloud.
He had entered the Medal of Honor ceremony wearing a mask, but took it off to speak and did not put it back on.
Jean-Pierre even insisted to reporters minutes earlier that Biden would cover his face indoors unless he spoke.
Meanwhile, Biden joked Wednesday about not wearing a mask.
The president has tested negative for the virus since his wife’s diagnosis, but spoke with a noticeably gurgling intonation on Wednesday and cleared his throat more frequently than usual during brief remarks about a labor contract for dockworkers.
“Today I was tested again and I am clear across the board,” Biden said after entering the State Dining Room of the White House.
“But they keep telling me that since it has to be 10 days or something like that, I have to keep using it. But don’t tell them I didn’t have it on when I came in,” the president joked, holding up a black surgical-style mask, rather than a more protective KN95 or N95-style mask.
Biden was not very close to his audience when he made the joke.
The 80-year-old president was maskless Tuesday as he stood about 6 inches from the elderly veteran for about four minutes as Taylor’s award citation was read aloud.Getty Images
The first lady’s diagnosis cast doubt on Biden’s planned departure Thursday for an international trip to India and Vietnam. Many American journalists and officials are already on their way to Asia.
Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that Biden will wear a mask when around other world leaders at the G-20 summit in New Delhi and during a subsequent relations-building stop in Hanoi on Sept. 10.
Biden’s spokesman also offered a baffling response to the COVID-exposed president flouting mask rules while awarding the 81-year-old vet the highest military decoration in the country. AFP via Getty Images
“When it comes to the 10 days, CDC guidelines recommend a combination of masking, testing, and monitoring for symptoms. And the president will do all that in close consultation with his doctor, as he has been doing for the last three days,” Jean-Pierre said.
Although COVID-19 deaths have decreased dramatically, hospitalizations and deaths are progressively increasing after July’s record lows. Hospitalizations increased 15.7% and deaths increased 17.6% in the most recent weekly data reported by the CDC.
The CDC estimates that the virus has killed 1,139,457 Americans since the beginning of 2020.