‘Puppeteer act’: Republicans question whether Biden is calling shots on Afghanistan

Cite times when White House staff cut president’s feed, suggest mysterious person making decisions

A top Senate Republican on Tuesday accused the White House of perpetrating a “puppeteer act” on the American people and suggested that President Biden isn’t the one making decisions on key policy matters such as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday examining that withdrawal, Sen. James Risch zeroed in on recent instances in which it appears administration staff cut off Mr. Biden’s microphone or live video feed while he was still speaking.

The most recent incident took place Monday, when the president was involved in a question-and-answer session with foresters in Idaho. The White House live video feed of the event stopped in the middle of the president’s sentence.

Mr. Risch, Idaho Republican, tied those instances to the disastrous U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

In questions directed at Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who appeared before the committee Tuesday, Mr. Risch suggested that other officials, not the president himself, may have been making decisions on Afghanistan.

“As recently as yesterday, in mid-sentence, he was cut off by someone in the White House who makes the decision that the president of the United States is not speaking correctly. I would like to know who this person is. This is a puppeteer act, if you would,” the senator said. “We need to know who is in charge and who is making these decisions.”

Mr. Risch and Mr. Blinken later engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth over the identity of the mysterious individual and whether he or she has any power over foreign policy in the Biden administration.

For his part, Mr. Blinken denied that the individual exists.

“There is no such person. Again, the president speaks for himself,” the secretary of state said.

A visibly exasperated Mr. Risch questioned how Mr. Blinken could make such an assertion in the face of video footage clearly showing the president’s feed being cut in the middle of a sentence.

“Are you unaware this is actually happening?” Mr. Risch said. “This didn’t happen yesterday? Or on the other occasions the media showed the American people that his sentence was cut off mid-sentence? Are you saying that didn’t happen?”

Mr. Blinken again offered a flat denial, even seemingly struggling to hold back a smile as he responded to the charges.

“Senator, I really don’t know what you’re referring to,” he said. “I’m telling you based on my experience with the president over the last 20 years, anyone who tried to stop him from saying what he wanted to say, from speaking his mind, probably would not be long for their job.”