(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked about the whereabouts of an Indiana congresswoman who was killed in a car crash earlier this year, prompting reporters to ask the White House to explain why he appeared confused and not be satisfied with the answer.
The misstep happened as Biden spoke at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, where his administration pledged $8 billion in an effort to end hunger and decrease diet-related diseases by 2030.
As he often does at such events, Biden was thanking the lawmakers involved in the issue when he mentioned late Rep. Jackie Walorski, who represented Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District as a Republican for nine years. Walorski and two of her aides were killed in a car crash on Aug. 3.
“I want to thank all of you here,” Biden said, “including bipartisan, elected officials like representative of government Sen. Braun, Sen. Booker, Representative Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? I think — she was gonna be here — to help make this a reality.”
It seemed like Biden perhaps realized mid-sentence, when he said, “I think — she was gonna be here.”
Walorski served as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, and worked with Sens. Cory Booker, Mike Braun and Jim McGovern to pass the bill to convene the White House conference on hunger — the first in 50 years.
After her passing in August, Biden released a statement commending Walorski’s work on food insecurity.
“We may have represented different parties and disagreed on many issues, but she was respected by members of both parties … My team and I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America,” Biden said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was hit with repeated questions on Biden’s mistake during Wednesday’s briefing.
“What happened in the hunger event today?” ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega asked. “The president appeared to look around the room for an audience member, a member of Congress who passed away last month. He seemed to indicate she may be in the room.”
Jean-Pierre responded by saying Walorski was “top of mind” for Biden as he mentioned those in Congress who championed the effort to convene the second-ever hunger conference, and because Walorski’s family will be at the White House on Friday to celebrate the bill signing in her honor.
“So, of course, she was on his mind,” Jean-Pierre said, adding Biden looks “forward to discussing her remarkable legacy of public service with them when he sees her family this coming Friday.”
“But he said Jackie, are you here?” Vega pressed. “Where’s Jackie? She must not be here.”
“I totally understand. I just explained, she was on top of mind,” Jean-Pierre responded.
Several other reporters in the room also pressed Jean-Pierre on the error, with one reporter asking if the late congresswoman were “top of mind,” why Biden appeared to think she may have been in the room. Jean-Pierre stuck to her answer that Walorski was top of Biden’s mind. The apparent gaffe comes as some Republicans question Biden’s mental acuity.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.
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