The White House and Biden themselves have been quick to downplay the president’s remark, which was made at the end of a capstone in Warsaw. The government and allies say Biden did not call for regime change to remove Putin from power. Instead, they claim Biden said Putin should not exercise power over neighboring countries.
The comment, which came at the very end of a two-country visit to Europe and was intended to strengthen alliances, was unplanned and surprised aides watching Biden’s speech on television or on the event grounds. And the words weren’t something Biden may have brought up in his speech — rather, US officials were adamant that changing the government in Moscow wasn’t one of their goals. In closed meetings earlier this week, Biden told fellow leaders at NATO that he did not want to escalate the West’s confrontation with Russia.
But his ad-libbed line did more to pit him directly against Putin than anything to date in the conflict.
Now Biden and White House officials are expected to be questioned about the comments.
The White House took the rare step of announcing that the president expects to answer questions when he comments on his budget proposal Monday afternoon. And later Monday, economic officials will brief the press in Washington.
‘He’s a butcher’
People who spoke to Biden before and after the speech described him as personally affected after visiting refugees at the National Stadium in Warsaw, where women asked him to pray for the men – husbands, sons and brothers – who had been left behind to fight. .
When asked by reporters traveling with the president, what made him think when he saw the refugees as he interacted with Putin every day, Biden replied: “He’s a butcher.”
Immediately before the speech, the president had also been briefed by officials about a series of rocket attacks on a fuel depot in Ukraine’s Lviv, a western city not far from the Polish border. The timing hardly seemed coincidental, as Biden visited Warsaw.
Despite the Biden administration’s swift withdrawal from comments about Putin’s power, they obscured the rest of Biden’s speech, which aimed to reassure NATO allies that the US would come on the defensive if Putin pushed further into Europe. White House officials spent days writing the speech, including in the hours leading up to the speech.
Vinay Reddy, Biden’s top speechwriter, and Mike Donilon, his senior adviser who helps draft the president’s key speeches, both traveled with Biden to Europe and were involved in writing the speech.
A pattern is created
The clarification provided by the White House on Saturday marked at least the third time a government official has felt compelled to clean up comments by Biden that were in themselves surprising and inconsistent with US foreign policy.
Praising the heroism of the Ukrainians, Biden told US troops: “You’ll see when you get there” – even though he has vowed that US troops will not enter the conflict directly. Afterwards, a spokesman said nothing had changed: “The president has been clear that we are not sending US troops to Ukraine.”
And after Biden said he would respond “in kind” to Russia’s use of chemical weapons in Ukraine, Sullivan assured reporters that the United States “does not intend to use chemical weapons under any circumstances.”
Biden has a well-established pattern of speaking out of hand, though perhaps never at such a high stakes. White House officials said before Biden’s speech that the president had been working intensively behind the scenes to strengthen cooperation among his colleagues.
“He sleeps a lot less on these kinds of trips than maybe other trips because he just goes, goes, goes — wants to talk to the next leader, you know, take the next briefing,” Sullivan said Friday halfway through Biden’s flight from Brussels to Rzeszów, in southeastern Poland, where he met American soldiers.
‘I wouldn’t use such terms’
Despite the White House’s swift withdrawal, the comments continued to provoke reactions from world leaders.
Before the White House issued its clarification, the Kremlin issued its own response, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the Russian ruler’s fate “is not decided by Mr Biden”.
Peskov said Monday the comments are “certainly worrying,” adding: “We will continue to monitor the US president’s statements closely. We take note and will continue to do so.”
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, told NBC News’ Meet the Press on Sunday: “We have heard President Biden loud and clear that the US will help and assist Ukraine in this battle.”
“We clearly understand in Ukraine that anyone who is a war criminal, who attacks a neighboring country, who commits all these atrocities along with all the Russians involved, absolutely cannot stay in power in a civilized world. stop,” she added.
French President Emmanuel Macron — who last week said France was “stepping up” work to avoid escalating the war in Ukraine, but ruled out direct participation by the French military — suggested Biden’s comments were not helpful for diplomatic efforts. .
“I would not use such terms because I am still in talks with President Putin,” Macron said on Sunday during an interview with France’s Channel France 3.
“Our goal is to stop the war that Russia has started in Ukraine, while avoiding war and escalation,” the French president added.
On the domestic front, Democrats largely echoed the White House clarification. But some Republicans criticized the president for the careless comments.
“This administration has done everything it can to stop the escalation,” Risch said, adding, “There isn’t much more you can do to escalate than to call for regime change.”
Representative Michael McCaul, who heads the Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the State of the Union, “I know it was a bull’s eye, but whatever the president says, it carries a lot of weight. … In this case, it sends a very provocative message to Mr. Putin.”
And Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio also told Meet the Press on Sunday that Biden’s comment “plays into the hands of Russian propagandists and puts into Vladimir Putin,” later adding that “we are in a war situation.” . , so clarity is extremely important.”
DailyExpertNews’s Sarah Diab, Fred Pleitgen, Sarah Fortinsky and Ali Main contributed to this report.