- White House clarifies that the president praised the ‘incredible’ community in a video conference call with Dr. Swati Mohan of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover team, earlier this month.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that President Joe Biden meant no offense when he said last week that Indian Americans are “taking over the country,” and clarified that he was actually “honoring and valuing” their contributions to American society. Psaki was speaking at her daily press briefing on March 12, when she was asked by journalist Lalit Jha of the Press Trust of India if she could “clarify” Biden’s remark, after it had met with some criticism.
“The president was just recognizing and honoring and valuing — or this was his intention — the incredible contribution of Indian Americans to science, he was speaking to an Indian American woman who is, of course, a scientist and an important part of the NASA team. And he also was, of course, recognizing the incredible contribution of his own vice president,” Psaki said. “And he just believes — that was a reflection of his belief that Indian Americans make a great contribution to the fabric of society, whether it’s science or education or the government. And that was what he was trying to convey.”
Biden made his remark during a March 5 webcast congratulating the NASA team responsible for the success of the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars last month. He lauded the team at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology, including Dr. Swati Mohan, the Indian American aerospace engineer, who was one of the many people who spearheaded the development and the landing system for the rover. Mohan, who landed the spacecraft is one of the many Indian women scientists, engineers and missile developers, “who are leaving a trail for future generations.”
Biden, while speaking to Mohan in a video conference call said: “This is an incredible honor. Indian — of descent — Americans are taking over the country. You (Mohan), my Vice President (Kamala Harris), my speechwriter (Vinay Reddy) I tell you what. But thank you. You guys are incredible.” Biden made the seemingly tone-deaf effort at levity before telling the NASA group that diversity in the U.S. 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.”
Biden, 78, concluded his webcast remarks by describing himself as “a poor relative … when I’m invited, I show up.”
In under 50 days of presidency, Biden has appointed as many as 55 Indian-Americans to key posts in his administration, nearly half of whom are women. Last month, NASA named Bhavya Lal as acting chief of staff for the agency. As the senior White House appointee at NASA, Lal served as a member of the Biden Presidential Transition Agency Review Team for the agency.
Biden has previously drawn criticism for awkward remarks about racial minorities, including comments about Indian Americans. He said in 2006, ruffling some feathers, “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”As a presidential candidate last year, Biden also struggled with controversial remarks about ethnic minorities. In May, he walked back comments telling voters they “ain’t black” if they supported a candidate other than him. He said in August that blacks are less diverse thinkers than Hispanics.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio humorously suggested on March 12 that Biden should “seek training on unconscious bias” after he used the word “Neanderthal” to criticize Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi for ending COVID-19 mask mandates.