Nearly two weeks after President Joe Biden shrugged off a question on the devastating wildfires in Hawaii, the White House is claiming that the 80-year-old president did not hear the question.
"He didn’t hear the question," Olivia Dalton, deputy White House press secretary, said. "He absolutely didn’t say ‘no comment’ in relation to Maui. And in fact, he had already spoken to the nation about Maui at that point, in addition to being in daily contact with senior staff, FEMA, and state officials as he marshaled a whole-of-government response to the fires."
While Biden was vacationing in Rehoboth, Delaware, on Aug. 13, a reporter shouted a question about the rising death toll in Hawaii. "No comment," the president replied.
The White House's explanation that Biden didn't hear the question comes as the president is already facing scrutiny over his age and mental acuity. A majority of Americans believe Biden would not make it through a second term, according to a Harvard Caps/Harris poll conducted in May.
The administration has faced criticism for its response to the fires. After he first addressed the disaster at the beginning of the month, Biden went four days without commenting on it again. He finally visited the devastated island this week, where he spent roughly six hours and told stories about a small kitchen fire at his house years ago.
After his visit, Biden flew directly to Nevada to resume his vacation at billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer's $18 million lakefront mansion.
Former president Donald Trump said in a video statement that Biden's response to the reporter was "horrible."
"To say ‘no comment’ is oftentimes fine, but to be smiling when you say it, especially against such a tragedy as this, is absolutely horrible and unacceptable," Trump said the day after Biden's remark.