WASHINGTON — President Biden looked in the audience on Wednesday for Representative Jackie Walorski, Republican of Indiana, during a White House conference on ending hunger, apparently forgetting that Ms. Walorski had died last month.
“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” Mr. Biden said as he thanked lawmakers who had sponsored legislation on the hunger issue. The president appeared to be confused at her absence and said something under his breath about whether she had planned to be at the event.
In fact, Ms. Walorski was killed on Aug. 3 in a car accident in her district, along with two of her congressional aides, when a vehicle she was in collided head-on with another. The driver of the oncoming car was also killed.
Mr. Biden did not correct himself during the remarks, but the incident quickly went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms, with some people seizing on the moment as evidence that Mr. Biden, who is 79, lacks the mental capacity to be president.
She said Mr. Biden was not only aware of Ms. Walorski’s death, but that he was also looking forward to meeting with her family when he signs legislation to name an Indiana veterans health facility in her name.
“The president was naming the congressional champions on this issue and was acknowledging her incredible work,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “He had already planned to welcome the congresswoman’s family to the White House on Friday — they will be at a bill signing in her honor this coming Friday. So of course, she was on his mind. She was top of mind for the president.”
Reporters asked repeatedly why Mr. Biden would appear to look for Ms. Walorski in the audience if her death was “top of mind” and he was thinking of the upcoming meeting with her family.
“The confusing part is, why, if she and the family is top of mind, does the president think that she’s living and in the room?” one reporter asked.
“I don’t find that confusing,” Ms. Jean-Pierre responded. “I mean, I think many people can speak to: Sometimes when you have someone top of mind, they are top of mind, exactly that.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre appeared to get frustrated by the repeated questions about Mr. Biden’s remarks. Asked whether there was something written in the teleprompter that confused the president during his remarks, she said that was not the case.
“You’re jumping to a lot of conclusions,” she said to the reporter. “I just answered the question. If that had been the case, I would have stated that.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre said she did not see the need to distribute the president’s remarks as they were prepared ahead of delivery, saying, “I’m not understanding why that would be necessary.”
At the end of her daily briefing, Ms. Jean-Pierre gave her final answer to the question.
“I’ve answered it multiple times already in this room, and my answer is certainly not going to change,” she said. “All of you may have views on how I’m answering it, but I am answering the question to the way that he saw it. And the way that we see it.”