Joe Biden’s first address to the nation shortly after state electors declared him president-elect was overshadowed by persistent bouts of coughing and throat-clearing, as he mounted a scathing attack on President Donald Trump for his efforts to undermine the election.
“It should be celebrated, not attacked,” Mr Biden said, as he acknowledged his victory in the presidential race. “More than 81 million of those votes were cast for me and Vice President-elect Harris. That too is a record, more than any ticket has received in the history of America. It represented a winning margin of more than seven million votes over the number of votes cast for my opponent.”
Mr Biden sounded hoarse and stopped several times to clear his throat during his speech on Monday night, prompting reactions from social media users.
“Jeez! Somebody hand him a glass of water!” tweeted filmmaker and activist Michael Moore.
Jeez! Somebody hand him a glass of water!
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) December 15, 2020
“Joe Biden had a hard time delivering his speech with a throat problem,” tweeted conservative journalist Bill O’Reilly. “He would have been wise to say he will look into election fraud allegations to reassure angry voters. He did not. Lost opportunity.”
Joe Biden had a hard time delivering his speech with a throat problem. He would have been wise to say he will look into election fraud allegations to reassure angry voters. He did not. Lost opportunity. Best news analysis on https://t.co/rryWmyXe7C.
— Bill O’Reilly (@BillOReilly) December 15, 2020
In a live stream after his speech, Mr Biden insisted a minor cold was to blame saying: ‘Thank you, I have a little bit of a cold, I’m sorry, but look, you know, you did it, you did it, not a joke.’
NPR’s political correspondent Scott Detrow wrote, “To the main theme of the Twitterverse right now: Biden regularly clears his throat and coughs in speeches – especially at the beginning of remarks. That’s the most sustained coughing I’ve heard though.”
To the main theme of the Twitterverse right now: Biden regularly clears his throat and coughs in speeches – especially at the beginning of remarks. That’s the most sustained coughing I’ve heard though.
— Scott Detrow (@scottdetrow) December 15, 2020
It’s not the first time that a major speech has been overshadowed by a distracting coughing episode. In 2017, UK prime minister Theresa May’s speech during the Conservative Party conference was famously marred by irrepressible coughing fits. It was the first conference since her party lost its majority during a general election.
Ms May struggled through her address, with the audience periodically giving her protracted applause to allow her time to rest her voice. She repeatedly drank from a glass of water. The chancellor at the time, Philip Hammond, handed her a cough lozenge, yet still at times her voice was almost reduced to a faltering whisper.
The occasion was also used by the then-foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to undermine her strategy for negotiating Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.