In a fleeting moment that nonetheless shot around social media — and onto the BBC — President Joe Biden was seen closing his eyes on camera while attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference this week.
Conservative critics pounced: They claimed Biden, 78, must have temporarily dozed off, reviving a question of stamina that came up regularly during last year’s campaign.
In the video, which was taken during an opening session of the summit (known as COP26) on Monday, Biden closes his eyes for roughly 30 seconds as a speaker can be heard telling the world leaders and other attendees, “You are in a position of extraordinary power.”
An aide then approaches Biden, who opens his eyes to listen to the person before turning back to the speaker.
Though a speech was ongoing, the video shows the president closed his eyes during what appeared to be a down moment for others at the conference, with a woman seated near Biden speaking on a cell phone at the same time.
The video was first shared by a Washington Post reporter, who wrote as a caption, “Biden appears to fall asleep during COP26 opening speeches.” That clip has been seen more than 5 million times.
Biden appears to fall asleep during COP26 opening speeches pic.twitter.com/az8NZTWanI— Zach Purser Brown (@zachjourno) November 1, 2021
Right-wing Twitter users were quick to criticize the president, with British political magazine The Spectator tweeting that “sleepy Joe can’t keep his eyes open at COP 26.”
The official Twitter account for House Republicans also tweeted the video, writing: “America is in crisis, and Joe Biden is asleep at the wheel.” (The White House did not respond to questions.)
Later on Monday, Biden discussed climate change for about 15 minutes with
Prince Charles, during which he praised the British royal family’s “dedication to climate issues, particularly Prince Charles’ environmental activism over the last half century,” according to a senior administration official.
On Tuesday, Biden gave his own speech at the summit, stressing the importance of investing in infrastructure abroad to limit long-term global warming.
Elsewhere in the speech, he said that his administration’s goal of limiting pollution by 2050 “demonstrates to the world the United States is not only back at the table, it hopefully can lead by the power of our example” — a veiled dig at his predecessor, an open skeptic of the dangers of climate change.
Biden’s detractors linked his caught-on-camera moment to the issue of stamina and age — both of which were debated during the 2020 presidential election, given that Biden and former President Donald Trump would each have been the oldest-ever president.
Biden will turn 79 this month. Trump was 70 at his inauguration in 2017.
“I think it’s totally appropriate for people to look at my age,” Biden said last year. “Just like when I was 29 [and elected to the Senate], was I old enough? And now, am I fit enough? I’ll completely disclose everything about my health. I’m in good shape.”
In December, Biden’s physician released a three-page summary of his health history describing him as “healthy” and “vigorous” while noting previous issues, including an aneurysm in 1988.
Trump, 75, had his own string viral incidents during his presidential tenure, including when he was filmed appearing to have trouble walking down a ramp in the rain and another instance in which he seemingly struggled to hold a glass of water.
He dismissed both episodes as overblown.