US media take dim view of Biden’s ‘taxpayer-funded family reunion’ in Ireland

US president’s five-day visit to Ireland regarded as more a personal trip than political manoeuvre

Joe Biden addresses wellwishers outside St Muredach's Cathedral in Ballina, Co Mayo. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

US president Joe Biden’s trip to Ireland was light on substance but heavy on symbolism, the US press has concluded.

The vast press entourage was rather underwhelmed by the visit though they were charmed by the warmth of welcome afforded to the president.

“When presidents travel abroad, they are traditionally tight, focused affairs calibrated with a specific goal in mind,” wrote Adam Cancryn of the influential Politico website.

“To advance the White House’s interests and shape the place they will soon leave behind. But for three days in Ireland, as Biden roamed the countryside by motorcade with his sister Valerie and son Hunter in tow, the president seemed content to exist within it.

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“Biden had come to Ireland to reaffirm its close relationship with the US — and to reaffirm his own personal relationship with a place he credits for shaping him. It was here that the criticisms he faces at home seemed to fade away: His age didn’t make him old, it provided him wisdom. His gaffes didn’t make him shaky, they gave him charm.

“Yet Biden spent only a handful of hours in Northern Ireland before jetting off to his ancestral homeland. Combined with the dearth of policy announcements or apparent progress on political priorities, the move raised questions over whether the trip was, as one reporter put it, “a taxpayer-funded family reunion”.

USA Today reporter Joey Garrison, Francesca Chambers and Michael Collins stated that his visit was “largely overshadowed by the arrest of Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman from Massachusetts who is accused of leaking highly classified documents about the war in Ukraine and US spying. The Justice Department announced Teixeira’s arrest on Thursday.”

The people of Ballina, Co Mayo are preparing for a visit from US president Joe Biden, whose ancestors hail from the town.

Matt Viser and Tyler Pager in the Washington Post contrasted President Biden’s lofty rhetoric about his immigrant forbearers with “his administration’s gritty, sometimes volatile struggle to manage illegal migration across the southern border of the United States.

“The trip contained few policy objectives and mostly amounted to a journey abroad focused on his own personal history. He met with distant cousins, returned to sites where his ancestors once lived and visited local bars and restaurants.”

Earlier in the week Vizer noted how often Mr Biden described Ireland as being like “home”.

“It was a notable message for the president of the United States, whose job description includes repeatedly extolling it as the greatest country in the world, as he wondered aloud at times why his ancestors ever left,” he said.

New York Times reporters Katie Rogers and Michael Shear said Mr Biden got “kind of raw, unanimous shows of approval” that few American politicians get.

“Mr Biden drank it up, delivering a short but energetic speech that faces almost none of the policy scrutiny that may greet him when he returns to Washington,” they wrote.

“His speech was the emotional conclusion of a three-day tour that has been something of a personal interlude as he tries to maintain global support for defending Ukraine amid low approval ratings and an embarrassing series of leaks of classified Pentagon materials.

“He is also facing persistent questions about his political future as he puts off an official announcement on a re-election bid.

“While on Irish soil, Mr Biden mostly kept quiet about his political plans. Instead, he relied on Ireland — the distant backdrop of all of his most-told folk tales — to help make the case on his behalf, by highlighting a life story that has centered around resilience.”

Has Biden found the right balance on his Ireland visit?

Listen | 32:43

The US broadcast media was mostly focused on the absence of any substantial announcement or speeches on the visit. Fox News broke protocol by asking the president at Ireland West Airport whether he intended to run again. Mr Biden replied that he would make an announcement soon.

Fox News was incredulous at the length of the trip — the longest of President Biden’s time in office.

“Five days, Karl, five days, what’s this all about?” presenter Jesse Watters asked former George W Bush strategist Karl Rove.

“I cannot remember in this case the two leaders of Ireland and the US having a formal news conference when a certain number of questions are asked by the host country and by the US press. Why are we not doing that?” asked Mr Rove.

“This guy [Biden] being coddled. It is painful to watch. This guy is mangling every single sentence and Hunter is having to interpret. It is embarrassing.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times