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Biden calls out for late Rep. Jackie Walorski at White House hunger event

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) sits between Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) during a meeting between President Donald Trump and congressional members on Feb. 13, 2018.
Alex Wong
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Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) sits between Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) during a meeting between President Donald Trump and congressional members on Feb. 13, 2018.

Updated September 29, 2022 at 2:42 PM ET

President Joe Biden mistakenly called out for the late Rep. Jackie Walorski, the Indiana Republican who died in a car crash in August, while giving opening remarks at a White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health.

Walorski was one of four cosponsors on a bill to fund the conference and had been an advocate for reducing hunger in America.

"Jackie, are you here? Where's Jackie," he said looking out into the audience on Wednesday morning. "She was going to be here." According to a White House transcript from the event released Wednesday evening, Biden said he "didn't think she was — she wasn't going to be here — to help make this a reality."

At a briefing Wednesday afternoon, before the transcript was released, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not acknowledge that Biden had misspoken. Jean-Pierre told reporters, many of whom pressed her to elaborate, that Walorski had been top of mind for Biden as he named the the hunger conference's congressional champions. And the president, she said, will be honoring Walorski on Friday with a signing of bill to rename a VA clinic in Indiana after her. "That is what he was thinking of. He was thinking about her," Jean-Pierre said.

In August, Biden and first lady Jill Biden issued a statement extending their condolences following Walorski's passing.

"I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America," Biden said in an August statement. "We send our deepest condolences to her husband, Dean, to the families of her staff members, Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson, who lost their lives in public service, and to the people of Indiana's Second District who lost a representative who was one of their own."

The White House also flew flags at half-staff in memoriam of Walorski and her aides who were also killed.

Condolences for Walorski, who had been a member of the House Hunger Caucus, were extended during the event by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) in remarks following Biden's speech. And White House policy adviser Susan Rice said she "of course" misses Walorski, "who passed away in August" at the start of a panel session with lawmakers following the president's remarks.

And a pre-produced video tribute to Walorski was played on the main stage of the conference in the afternoon. The video featured Walorski's advocacy for solutions to hunger on the Hill both on the floor and in hearings.

Biden has a history of making gaffes

Biden has previously called himself "a gaffe machine" — a nod to his long history of verbal missteps.

As president, Biden has made a number of gaffes. For example, a year ago, he forgot the name of Scott Morrison, the then-prime minister of Australia, as he spoke to him during a video conference on a new defense partnership, calling him "that fellow Down Under."

Critics have questioned whether his age is an impediment for Biden, the oldest person to hold the office. In an interview this month with 60 Minutes, Biden said that people should look not at his age but the job he's doing.

"I think it relates to how much energy you have, and whether or not the job you're doing is one consistent with what any person of any age would be able to do," he said.

"There's not things I don't do now that I did before, whether it's physical, or mental, or anything else," Biden said. When interviewer Scott Pelley noted his string of legislative successes, he joked: "How'd an old guy do that?"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 28, 2022 at 11:00 PM CDT
Following release of the White House transcript this story was updated to more accurately reflect the president's remarks.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.