President Biden faced an awkward moment at a White House event on Tuesday, when he twice read a short poem incorrectly and made an off-color joke about putting medals on women with long hair.
The event was meant to recognize the 12 recipients of the National Humanities Medals, and the president sought to honor one of the winners, poet Richard Blanco, by reading one of his works. The poem was written for the second inauguration of President Obama, whom Mr. Biden served as vice president.
However, Mr. Biden’s attempt to read the poem was a disaster, as he twice misread the words, and stumbled over the lines.
“I’m getting so intimidated by you being here,” the president told Mr. Blanco, a Spanish-born poet who lives in Maine.
The gaffe was not the only awkward moment during the event. Mr. Biden also made an off-color joke about putting medals on women with long hair.
“Any woman who I’m giving one medal to — please don’t get angry with me if I mess up your hair,” he joked.
The comment brought up uncomfortable memories of women during the 2020 presidential race who accused Mr. Biden of improper advances, including sniffing their hair. A former Nevada state assemblywoman and former Democrat aide have both accused the president of getting too close to their hair years ago.
Mr. Biden has denied their claims, insisting that he “never” acted inappropriately.
The president’s gaffe and off-color joke are another reminder of the difficulties he has faced since taking office. The incident comes at a time when Mr. Biden is already facing criticism from Republicans for his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While the president has tried to project a sense of normalcy, it appears his stumbles are making it difficult for him to move beyond the controversies of the past.