Biden to Indian-American NASA engineer: Boy, you guys are taking over the country, huh?

Consider this an answer to yesterday’s question of why Biden hasn’t held a proper press conference since he was sworn in.

I wonder if this was “classic Joe,” a politician prone to clumsy gaffes; “modern Joe,” an elderly politician who may or may not suffer be suffering from “low cognitive capacity,” in Dan Crenshaw’s words; or that odd iteration of Joe that seems to stumble into awkwardness whenever the specific subject of Indians and Indian-Americans is broached.

Yesterday he was scheduled to do a conference call with NASA’s team of engineers on the Perseverance Mars rover. Swati Mohan, an Indian-American, is in charge of operations, so that’s whom Biden spoke with. People of your race certainly are exerting a lot of cultural influence lately, the president cheerily informed her:

“It’s amazing. Indian-descent Americans are taking over the country — you, my vice president, my speechwriter,” Biden told Swati Mohan, NASA’s guidance and controls operations lead for the Mars Perseverance rover landing.

Biden made the seemingly tone-deaf effort at levity before telling the NASA group that diversity in the US allows for the betterment of “every single solitary culture.”

The president said, “One of the reasons why we’re such an incredible country is we’re such a diverse country. We bring the best out of every single solitary culture in the world, here in the United States of America, and we give people an opportunity to let their dreams run forward.”

His party ID and his natural geniality will work to tamp down the criticism, just as they once did when he famously called Barack Obama “articulate and bright and clean.” (He was criticized for that but it proved no obstacle to his VP chances.) He was all smiles during the exchange with Mohan, exploiting a loophole in the rule that a politician shouldn’t make an issue of someone’s race when it’s not clearly germane to the subject. It’s okay if you do it to compliment them — if you’re a liberal in good standing:

Everyone remembers the most famous “Joe being Joe” gaffe involving Indian-Americans. From 2006, when he was gearing up for his second run for the presidency:

Not as many people remember this one from 2012, as he caught himself early before embarking on what would surely have been a deeply cringy attempt at an Indian accent:

The punchline is that Americans’ sensitivities to making an issue of race aren’t universally shared, of course. Indian media today seems pleased that Biden went out of his way to recognize Mohan’s racial heritage and to tie it to a rising tide of Indian-American influence in the U.S. The Hindustan Times posted a four-minute-long clip of his remarks to YouTube, highlighting the “you’re taking over” bit, and the Times of India marveled at how many Indian-Americans Biden has appointed to his administration — a nice bit of PR for a White House that just saw its most prominent Indian-American nominee tank. They really shouldn’t encourage him, though: Joe being Joe, he may end up trying out that accent on camera after all.