President Biden said during a press conference Monday that "nobody believes" he was actually calling for regime change in a speech he delivered in Warsaw on Saturday.
"For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin toward the end of his speech. The White House quickly walked back the ad-libbed statement, claiming Biden's "point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region."
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Biden said Monday he is "not walking anything back," and was "expressing the moral outrage I felt" toward Putin and his "brutality" in Ukraine. "But I want to make it clear, I wasn't then nor am I now articulating a policy change," he added. "I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it."
"Whether those are your personal feelings or your feelings as president, do you understand why people would believe you ... saying someone 'cannot remain in power' is a statement of U.S. policy?" a reporter asked Biden. "And also, are you concerned about propaganda use of those remarks by the Russians?"
"No and no," Biden replied.
"Tell me why! You have so much experience. You are the leader of this country," she persisted.
"Because it's ridiculous. Nobody believes I was talking about taking down Putin. Nobody believes that," Biden answered.
"The last thing I want to do is engage in a land war or a nuclear war with Russia. That's not part of it," he continued. "I was expressing my outrage at the behavior of this man ... And it's more an aspiration than anything. He shouldn't be in power ... People like this shouldn't be ruling countries, but they do ... That doesn't mean I can't express my outrage about it."
Biden did not respond to the reporter's question about Russian propaganda.
On Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) warned that Biden's rhetorical "mistake" would "play into the hands of the Russian propagandists."
Biden previously denied calling for regime change while returning from mass on Sunday. "Two steps from the altar, he would hardly have begun to lie," Russian journalist Mikhail Sheinkman wrote for the state-owned Radio Sputnik.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.