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‘President Harris’: Biden Misspeaks During Vaccine Update

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On March 18 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden described Vice President Kamala Harris as "President Harris."

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Just after 3:30 on March 18 2021, “President Harris” trended on Twitter alongside short clips of United States President Joe Biden’s larger remarks about the vaccine rollout status:

In the above 53-second long clip, Biden said, in part:

“This is really important, because we believe speed and efficiency must be matched with fairness and equity. Now, when President Harris and I took, uh, a virtual tour of a vaccination center in Arizona, not long ago, one of the nurses on that tour …”

Viewers of the live speech observed that Biden’s misstep would likely “trend on Twitter”:

Others read very deeply into the flub:

We found a version of Biden’s remarks in their entirety on YouTube (“WATCH LIVE: Pres. Biden to give updates on COVID-19 vaccinations”) streamed by NBC affiliate WSLS. That clip was nine minutes and 55 seconds long; just after 4:49, Biden said:

“This is really important, because we believe speed and efficiency must be matched with fairness and equity. Now, when President Harris and I took, uh, a virtual tour of a vaccination center in Arizona not long ago, one of the nurses on that — on that tour, injecting people giving vaccinations said that each shot was like administering a dose of hope.

“A dose of hope, that’s how she phrased it. Behind these 100 million shots are millions of lives changed when people receive that dose of hope …”

President Biden has openly discussed a lifelong struggle with stuttering; criticism of Biden sometimes describes his speech patterns as a “gaffe” when incorrect usage of a word is common for those who stutter. A 2020 InStyle editorial written by someone who explained they had “had a stutter for as long as [they] can remember included context from an expert about Biden’s “gaffes”:

Stuttering — a communication disorder that is characterized by involuntary interruptions within a person’s speech pattern — is part of my family’s very own cadence. The constant support was vital to give me the confidence to speak freely within our home from a young age. Despite this, I still felt largely alone in my experience as a woman. According to The Stuttering Foundation, women are four times less likely than men to stutter long term.

Over the course of the debate, Biden fell victim to what the media would consider one of his “gaffes.” He appeared to stumble over his words, sometimes changing them at the last minute. Other times, he would begin to say something, pause as if in thought, and then proceed. What the public saw was not a series of mistakes, but a series of blocks caused by Biden’s stutter.

“He definitely switches up his words, and other times he just stutters through it,” Dr. Heather Grossman, the executive director at the American Institute for Stuttering, tells me about Biden’s speech patterns. “What a lot of people would think is him tripping over a word is the way he stutters.”

It’s true that Biden misspoke during March 18 2021 remarks about the milestone of 100 million vaccinations, describing his vice president as “President Harris.” Some predicted — acurately — that the misstep would be framed as “confusion” (or even a secret plan to place Vice President Kamala Harris in charge, as some conspiracy theories would have you believe.) However, speech experts have noted that Biden’s “tripping over a word is the way he stutters.”