President Biden on Tuesday went off-topic multiple times and repeated “all kidding aside” during a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda to reaffirm both leaders’ support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.
The meeting was to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is just days away, and marshal solidarity for the war-torn country among NATO allies.
But Mr. Biden switched topics, talking about his 1980s-era meeting with Pope John Paul II and growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He peppered his comments by repeating “all kidding aside” four times in remarks that lasted roughly five minutes.
Mr. Biden, who is Catholic, said John Paul, who was Polish, spent the bulk of their meeting talking about Poland and never discussed their shared faith.
“And we’re walking from one end — if you’ve been to the papal library — it’s about as wide and as long as this room with a simple desk at one end and nothing much else,” Mr. Biden said, going into detail about the meeting, which happened when he was a senator. “We are having a photograph and he put his hand on my arm and said, ‘Remember I spoke to you today as a Pole, a proud Pole, and not as your pope.’”
Mr. Biden then laughed and said, “all kidding aside.”
The president then told a rambling story about his youth in Delaware, noting that he was one of the few Irish Catholics in his neighborhood.
“When coal died we moved down to Delaware into a town called Claymont, Delaware, which was a working-class town,” Mr. Biden recalled. “But everyone in town was either Polish or Italian. I grew up feeling self-conscious my name didn’t end in a ‘ski’ or an ‘o.’”
“All kidding aside … the overwhelming demonstrative pride that the Polish Americans feel about Poland and the role you are playing now. We are talking about it. It’s extreme.”
Mr. Biden also remarked about efforts by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, apparently making a joke about the matter. He said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Finland would join the military alliance despite objections from Moscow.
“And turns out, I didn’t know Sweden was coming along as well, but all kidding aside,” Mr. Biden said.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.