Biden gives up after botching acronym hosting Pacific Island forum

Not again! Biden gives up after botching Pacific Islands acronym and says it ‘doesn’t matter what we call it’ – and bizarrely says he and the Cook Islands leader are both from Baltimore

  • Biden touted a new program, calling it the ‘P … P.I. ..’ before moving on
  • ‘Anyway, doesn’t matter what we call it,’ he kidded
  • He thanked Papua New Guinea PM for presenting part of WWII aircraft 

President Joe Biden got briefly marooned while announcing a plan to invest $40 billion in infrastructure for Pacific islands – then skipped over the acronym for the new program he was touting after botching the name during delivery.

Biden announced the Pacific Islands Initiative at the start of a White House summit for Pacific island nations.

‘We call it the P … PI … anyway, doesn’t matter what we call it, but that’s what it is,’ he said.

Then he riffed, ‘I was going to get back to acronyms and I’m … not doing that,’ he joked, earning some laughs from participants in the East Room of the White House.

President Joe Biden (R) and Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown participate in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) at the White House. Biden stumbled over the acronym for an infrastructure initiative, but quickly moved on

Biden, 80, has spoken of the arduous task of overcoming a speech impediment during his youth, although his stumbles have been gaining increasing attention amid voter concerns about his age. Last week, he mentioned the name of the black caucus instead of the hispanic caucus at an event, and bumped into the Brazilian flag at an event at the UN, amid polls showing him essentially tied with Donald Trump. 

The acronym comment was just one of Biden’s flubs at the event.

In a bizarre comment, he said he and Mark Brown, the prime minister of the Cook Islands, were both from Baltimore, when neither of them are from Baltimore. Biden spoke of how the two nations would benefit from boosting ties, while announcing diplomatic relations.

‘The real reason is we are both from Baltimore, but that’s a long story,’ he said.

Biden was born in Scranton, which lies north of Baltimore, and attended the University of Delaware, and there was no apparent connection between Brown and Charm City. According to his official bio, Brown is a longtime government employee and former Agriculture minister who studied at Massey University in New Zealand and got an MBA at the University of the South Pacific.

Later at Monday’s meeting, Biden got to touting what some of the infrastructure investments he mentioned, with congressional buy-in, would be – at a time the U.S. is courting nations large and small in the region amid China’s muscle-flexing.

He said they included digital connectivity, global infrastructure investment, and micro-finance, along with sustainable fisheries and efforts to grapple with climate change and rising sea levels. 

‘I want you to know I hear you.. we hear your warnings of the rising seas,’ he said.

‘We hear your calls reassurance that you never never never will lose your statehood, or membership the UN as result of climate crisis,’ Biden said. Smaller nations represent and influential block at the UN.

At the top of his remarks, Biden thanked the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, who he said brought an ‘incredible gift.’

Biden is hosting the second Pacific Islands summit

‘Doesn’t matter what we call it, but that’s what it is,’ Biden said

Many of the nations are vulnerable to climate change, as well as China’s muscular advances in the region

It was a small piece of an A20 aircraft.

Biden then told a story, saying that ‘during World War II my … uncle was in the Army Air Corps’ having flown many missions across the Pacific. He ‘flew many missions in that A20,’ Biden said.

‘In 1944 during one of those missions his plane crashed off the coast of Papua New Guinea,’ Biden said. ‘My uncle’s remains were never recovered, never found.’

He said Gen. Douglas MacArthur sent a condolence letter. ‘He died serving in a crusade from which a better world for all will come,’ the general wrote. 

Biden apologized for having to cancel a planned trip to Papua New Guinea earlier this year amid talks over averting a debt limit default. 

According to the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which put out a call for proposals, the program Biden mentioned is called the Pacific Island Strategic Infrastructure Initiative. 

Biden hosted Pacific island leaders for a second White House summit on Monday, part of a three-day U.S. charm offensive to block further Chinese inroads into a strategic region Washington has long considered its own backyard.

Ahead of a White House welcome for the leaders, Biden announced U.S. diplomatic recognition of two more Pacific islands nations, the Cook Islands and Niue. The U.S. will also promise new money for infrastructure for the region, including to improve internet connectivity via undersea cables, and honor regional leaders at an NFL game.

Biden held an inaugural summit with the islanders at the White House a year ago and was due to meet them again in Papua New Guinea in May. That plan was scrapped when a U.S. debt- ceiling crisis forced Biden to cut short an Asia trip.

At last year’s summit with 14 Pacific island nations, Biden’s administration pledged to help islanders fend off China’s ‘economic coercion’ and a joint declaration resolved to strengthen their partnership, saying they shared a vision for a region where ‘democracy will be able to flourish.’

The White House said this year it would focus on priorities including climate change, economic growth, sustainable development, public health and countering illegal fishing.

In announcing recognition of the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign and independent states, Biden said the move would ‘enable us to expand the scope of this enduring partnership as we seek to tackle the challenges that matter most to our peoples’ lives.’

He said the U.S. had a long history of cooperation with the Cook Islands, dating back to World War Two, when the U.S. military built airport runways in one if the chain’s atolls. He said Niue played ‘a critical and constructive role in the Pacific,’ including by supporting sustainable development, security, and marine protection and ocean conservation.

In Baltimore on Sunday, Pacific island leaders visited a Coast Guard cutter in the harbor and were briefed on combating illegal fishing by the Commandant of the Coast Guard, an official said.

Pacific Island leaders taking part in Biden’s summit 

The Hon. Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum

The Hon. Sitiveni L. Rabuka, Prime Minister of the Republic FijiThe Hon. Hu’akavameiliku, Prime Minister of Tonga

H.E. Taneti Maamau, President of the Republic of Kiribati

H.E. Surangel Whipps Jnr, President of the Republic of Palau

H.E. David W Kabua, President of the Republic of the Marshall IslandsH.E. Russ Kun, President of the Republic of Nauru

H.E. Wesley W. Simina, President of the Federated States of Micronesia

The Hon. James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea

The Hon. Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu

The Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Prime Minister of Samoa

The Hon. Dalton Tagelagi, Premier of Niue

The Hon. Louis Mapou, President of New Caledonia

The Hon. Moetai Brotherson, President of French Polynesia

The Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs for New Zealand

Mr. Collin Beck, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & External Trade for the Solomon IslandsH.E Odo Tevi, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Vanuatu to the United Nations

H.E. Ewen McDonald, Special Envoy for the Pacific and Regional Affairs of Australia

They also attended Sunday’s National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts. Dozens of NFL players are of Pacific Islander heritage.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who has deepened his country’s ties with China, will skip the summit. A senior Biden administration official said the U.S. was ‘disappointed’ by Sogavare’s decision.

Washington appears to have made no progress on offers of substantial infrastructure funding and expanded aid to the Solomons. Sogavare visited China in July, announcing a policing agreement with Beijing that builds on a security pact signed last year.

The White House in 2022 said the U.S. would invest more than $810 million in expanded programs to aid the Pacific islands.

Meg Keen, director of Pacific Island Programs at Australia’s Lowy Institute, said that while the U.S. had opened new embassies and USAID offices in the region since last year’s summit, Congress had yet to approve the funds.

She added that Pacific island countries ‘welcome the U.S. re-engagement with the region, but don’t want geopolitical tussles to result in an escalation of militarization.’

Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman will also not attend the summit, his office told Reuters.

Kilman was elected by lawmakers two weeks ago to replace Ishmael Kalsakau, who lost a no-confidence vote for actions including signing a security pact with U.S. ally Australia.

The U.S. is still negotiating to open an embassy in Vanuatu, but has not significantly increased its engagement with the nation, which counts China as its largest external creditor. China last month sent police experts to Vanuatu and signed a policing agreement.

A senior Biden administration official said the U.S. was on track to open the Vanuatu embassy by early next year and that other Vanuatu officials would attend the summit.

Fiji has welcomed the stronger U.S. regional presence as making the Pacific ‘more secure,’ but Kiribati, one of the most remote Pacific island states, 2,500 miles (4,000 km) southwest of Hawaii, said this year it plans to upgrade a former World War Two airstrip with Chinese assistance.

Washington renewed agreements this year with Palau and Micronesia that give it exclusive military access to strategic parts of the Pacific, but has yet to do so with the Marshall Islands, which wants more money to deal with the legacy of massive U.S. nuclear testing in the 1940s and 50s.

A Biden administration official said it was confident of concluding a deal with the Marshall Islands.

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