Mr. Scott, a Republican senator from South Carolina weighing a 2024 bid, told a questioner that the president deserves to be criticized on his policies, not his age.
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Senator Tim Scott’s refusal to criticize President Biden on his age or mental fitness revealed a split between his campaign message and that of his possible primary opponents.
During a town hall on Monday at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina received a question about President Biden’s fitness for office, putting his stated desire to run a positive campaign to the test. Mr. Scott, who is expected to formally begin his presidential campaign at the end of the month, offered an answer that criticized Mr. Biden on the merits of his leadership, rather than his age or mental fitness.
A Question for Tim Scott
Paul Hardy, 77, a Republican voter and retired behavioral neurologist, first read Mr. Scott an excerpt from a message that President Lyndon B. Johnson sent to Congress about invoking the 25th Amendment, which lays out the presidential order of succession, should a president be deemed mentally or physically unable to serve. Mr. Hardy then lamented what he felt is a lack of action from Congress in providing standards for a president’s mental health.
“There’s no way of assessing the competency of the commander in chief. Any major league owner of whatever sports team demands a detailed report on their health and capabilities. We as American people should expect this of our commander in chief, to have a full understanding of what their medical record is. As a potential candidate for the office of the presidency, what is your opinion on that?”
Republicans have made Mr. Biden’s age and mental fitness a feature of their campaign messaging. If he is re-elected in 2024, Mr. Biden would be 82 at his second inauguration, and he is already the oldest president in U.S. history. Leagues of conservative commentators and several presidential candidates have used this fact to question whether Mr. Biden would be physically or mentally fit to serve a second term. And Mr. Biden himself has been presenting his age as an asset, not a hindrance. But his age is a major concern of voters across the political spectrum.
Tim Scott’s Answer
“I do not give the president a pass. I think he’s failing his job because he’s incompetent. I refuse to say it’s because he’s too old or he’s too frail. I think the bottom line is he has been co-opted by the radical left in his party. He ran as a uniter, he’s become a divider. You look at his policy positions. You look at the last State of the Union. What he said was that ‘I’m going to do what the radical left of my party wants to do.’ The problem that we have in the White House is an issue of competency. We just need an election. The 25th Amendment is one that takes into consideration folks who are unable to do their jobs. I believe he is unwilling to stand up to the party — the radical left of his party.”
Mr. Scott’s response was in keeping with his overall strategy at this point in his nascent campaign of not engaging in personal attacks. He was tossed a softball question on a personal and base-animating issue that both Donald J. Trump and Nikki Haley, another Republican presidential contender, have eagerly swung at in recent speeches and interviews. Mr. Scott instead chose to go after Mr. Biden for things the president has under his control, like his policies and his ideology, rather than all that’s out of his control.
Mr. Hardy, asked for his thoughts after the event, was less than satisfied with Mr. Scott’s answer: “He sidestepped it.”