Inside the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House, the tone was telling.
A news conference with a US president is typically a calm, controlled affair. Questions to Joe Biden, 81, about his mental sharpness have tended to be isolated and empathetic.
Not last night.
During a hastily arranged 8pm gathering, he faced the aggressive pursuit of a gathered media given legitimate grounds for enquiring into his mental fitness for office.
For Democrats watching their man at the lectern, it was knuckle-chewing stuff – even before he confused the Mexican and Egyptian presidents in one of his answers.
For this president, it reflects the damage this document could do. Legally, the special counsel’s report offers a (qualified) vindication – politically, it’s touch paper for the discussion he’d rather dodge.
People around the president are continually briefing about his mental sharpness, grasp of detail and suitability for the job.
The conclusions reached after lengthy sit-downs with the president challenge those assurances.
These findings present a formal framework for discourse around Biden’s frailties that will compound negativity around his campaign.
Repeatedly, opinion polls reflect concern about his age and they are worries shared widely in his own party.
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The president’s anger at the report findings is shared by Democrats who point to the author’s Trump connections (Robert Hur was appointed by Donald Trump as chief federal law enforcement officer in Maryland in 2018).
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He, and they, are furious at the political commentary presented beyond the legal findings – conscious, clearly, of how it could play into the election campaign.
Joe Biden believes his party needs him to beat Donald Trump. He is fond of the phrase: “You have to have someone to beat somebody.”
The risk for Democrats is that Biden could beat himself because of frailties increasingly exposed.