WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre offered an eyebrow-raising excuse after President Biden abruptly left a ceremony honoring a Vietnam War veteran Tuesday — insisting it was to “minimize” COVID exposure.
The 80-year-old present was blasted as disrespectful when he quickly exited the East Room of the White House before the conclusion of the ceremony, in which retired Army Capt. Larry Taylor was presented with a Medal of Honor.
At a contentious press briefing Wednesday, Jean-Pierre said it was to protect attendees from COVID-19, after First Lady Jill Biden tested positive for the virus on Monday.
“He left when there was a pause in the program in order to minimize his close contact with attendees who are who are about to participate in a reception. And as you all reported that, noticed that he left when there was a pause in the program because, again, he wanted to minimize certainly his impact on folks who were there.”
The Biden spokesperson also offered a baffling response for the COVID-exposed president flouting mask rules while awarding the 81-year-old vet with the nation’s highest military decoration — insisting it was to “honor the captain.”
“The president took off his mask, as I said he would, to deliver incredibly powerful remarks about this captain, Captain Taylor, and what he did in service to our nation. And he wanted to honor the captain,” she said at the briefing.
The 80-year-old president was maskless Tuesday as he stood roughly 6 inches from the elderly veteran for about four minutes as the citation for Taylor’s award was read aloud.
He had entered the Medal of Honor ceremony wearing a mask but removed it to speak and failed to put it back on.
Jean-Pierre even insisted to reporters minutes earlier that Biden would be covering his face indoors unless speaking.
Meanwhile, Biden joked Wednesday about failing to wear a protective face mask despite being exposed to COVID-19 by his wife.
The president has tested negative for the deadly virus after the first lady’s diagnosis but spoke with a noticeably gurgly intonation Wednesday and cleared his throat more often than usual during brief remarks on a labor contract for port workers.
“I’ve been tested again today and I’m clear across the board,” Biden said after walking into the White House State Dining Room.
“But they keep telling me because it has to be 10 days or something, I gotta keep wearing it. But don’t tell them I didn’t have it on when I walked in,” the president cracked, holding up a black surgical-style face mask — rather than a more protective KN95-style or N95 mask.
Biden wasn’t in close proximity to his audience when he made the joke.
The first lady’s diagnosis plunged into doubt Biden’s planned departure Thursday for an international trip to India and Vietnam. Many American journalists and officials are already en route to Asia.
Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that Biden will wear a mask when in close proximity to other world leaders at the G-20 summit in New Delhi and during a subsequent relations-building stop in Hanoi on Sept. 10.
“When it comes to the 10 days, the CDC guidelines recommend a combination of masking, testing and monitoring for symptoms. And the president is going to do all of that in close consultation with his physician, as he has been doing the last three days,” Jean-Pierre said.
Although deaths from COVID-19 are down dramatically, hospitalizations and deaths are creeping higher after all-time lows in July. Hospitalizations increased 15.7% and deaths rose 17.6% in the most recent weekly data reported by the CDC.
The CDC estimates that the virus has killed 1,139,457 Americans since early 2020.