WASHINGTON — President Biden cluelessly joked “no firecrackers tonight!” while hosting a Lunar New Year event at the White House turned heads Thursday following two recent mass shootings of mostly Asian-American victims in California.
The president made the remark in a light-hearted tone after speaking about the murder of 11 people in Monterey Park, Calif., on Jan. 21, followed by the murder of seven people in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Monday.
“It’s a time of renewal and reflection, hope and possibilities — for good over evil, for sharing meals, for celebrating firec — no firecrackers tonight!” Biden said, apparently improvising an edit to prepared teleprompter remarks.
“Fire — no, I’m serious. I was thinking about that, you know. If things hadn’t been like they’d been the past couple years, we should have fireworks outside.”
Biden, appearing to return to his script, said, “But you know, celebrating with firecrackers and dance — we got dance.”
Biden’s largely Asian-American audience laughed and didn’t seem to be upset by his remark, though online critics blasted it as offensive. One wrote that first lady Jill Biden, who was standing behind her husband, looked liked she was “sitting on a cushion of pins and needles” when he made the crack.
Biden also joshingly called himself a “very temporary” resident of the White House — drawing laughs as he reportedly intends to run again in 2024 — and spoke of his cat Willow after noting that it was the Year of the Cat in Vietnamese culture.
“Willow may walk in here any time now. She has no limits. You think I’m kidding, I’m not. Especially in the middle of the night when she climbs up and lays on top of my head,” he said.
The president also condemned anti-Asian hate crimes and mourned the deaths in California — after calling Monterey Park shooting hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the shooter in that massacre, earlier Thursday.
Biden said that he asked Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) if he should visit the massacre sites, as presidents often do following tragedies, but was encouraged to forge ahead with the White House East Room party for the Lunar New Year, which began Sunday.
“I spoke with Judy several days ago and said, ‘Judy, what should I do? Should I continue to — should I be in California? Or should I still have this celebration?’” Biden said.
“And she felt very strongly. She said we have to move forward. Her message was don’t give into fear and sorrow. Don’t do that, stand in solidarity, in the spirit of toughness that this holiday is all about.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, a former California senator and state attorney general, visited the shooting site at Monterey Park on Wednesday.
In both mass shootings, the alleged perpetrator and most victims were elderly and Asian. Huu Can Tran, 72, fatally shot himself in a van after being confronted by Tsay at a dance studio. Chunli Zhao, 66, is accused of committing the second killing spree.
Monterey Park victims included Xiujuan Yu, 57, Hongying Jian, 62, Lilan Li, 63, Mymy Nhan, 65, Muoi Dai Ung, 67, Diana Man Ling Tom, 70, Wen-Tau Yu, 64, Valentino Marcos Alvero, 68, Ming Wei Ma, 72, Yu-Lun Kao, 72, and Chia Ling Yau, 76.
Half Moon Bay victims include Zhishen Liu, 73, Qizhong Cheng, 66, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, Yetao Bing, 43, Aixiang Zhang, 74, and Jingzhi Lu, 64. The seventh victim has not yet been identified.