Republicans are always on the lookout for their next attack on President Joe Biden, and on Monday, Fox News personality John Roberts pulled one out of thin air.
“With war raging in Israel, the @WhiteHouse called a lid for @JoeBiden at 11:46am,” Roberts tweeted. A “lid,” as Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary explains, “is what White House press secretaries use to indicate that there will be no news coming out of the White House that day.” Relevant to this manufactured controversy, the Political Dictionary goes on to say:
However, it’s important to note that calling a lid does not necessarily mean that the President’s workday is over or that no more newsworthy events will happen that day.
The President may still have private meetings, phone calls, or other activities that are not open to the press.
In fact, a lid may mean that the behind-the-scenes work of the presidency is particularly intense in ways that keep the president away from the news cameras.
For instance, on Monday afternoon, Axios reports, “Biden convened a call with the leaders of the U.K., France, Italy and Germany, who together issued a joint statement unequivocally condemning Hamas.” A five-nation joint statement doesn’t just happen. It takes work and back-and-forth and negotiation over the very exact wording. Much of that work was done after the White House called a lid.
Here’s another example of what might be going on: On May 1, 2011, the Obama White House called a lid in the early afternoon. Unusually, the lid was lifted in the late evening. In a 10:30 PM statement, then-President Barack Obama announced the operation that had killed Osama bin Laden.
As a former White House correspondent—including during the Obama years—Roberts knew that calling a lid did not mean work at the White House had ceased for the day. But he tweeted the implication that it did, and a number of Republicans took it and ran with it.
“Alabamians don’t work those kind of hours,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville commented in a quote-tweet of Roberts on Monday afternoon. The Senate is not in session this entire week, so Tuberville is at his leisure to be not working at home in Alabama or Florida or wherever he lives.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene quote-tweeted a different Fox News personality’s tweet about the lid. “We have Americans held hostage by Hamas and Joe Biden is taking the day off,” Greene wrote. “President Trump would never do this. He would not stop working until he got our people back.”
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer piggybacked on the general line of attack with a “Where is President Biden?” tweet, though he had the self-awareness not to pretend he didn’t know what a lid is. Other right-wing media personalities joined in on the claim that Biden wasn’t doing anything on Monday.
This attempt to paint Biden as missing in action came just hours before the joint statement with the U.K., France, Italy, and Germany went out. That wasn’t the only attack, of course. Republicans have also been busy trying to draw a line between the recent release of impounded Iranian funds and the attack. Although, as Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner noted, use of the money has to be approved by a third-party arbiter, it must be used for humanitarian purposes, and none of it has been spent yet anyway.
It’s true that the party of Donald Trump and his endless “executive time” may have forgotten that most presidents do work when the cameras are off. But mostly Republicans are just dishonest and desperate to turn every significant news event into an attack on Biden. This is why Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel saw the initial Hamas attacks on Israel as “a great opportunity for our candidates”: To Republicans, what’s happening in the world—even if it involves hundreds of people being killed—is always less important than the partisan advantage they might be able to leverage out of it. It’s a disgusting mindset, but they’re not backing off from it.