President Joe Biden is making headlines following his awkward mispronunciation of the United Kingdom’s new prime minister’s name at the White House’s Diwali celebration earlier this week.
Rishi Sunak, 42, took office on Tuesday after his rival Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the Conservative Party election. The race sought to replace former Prime Minister Liz Truss, who resigned after a botched tax-cutting budget that has placed Britain on the brink of an economic collapse.
Sunak, who previously served as chancellor of the exchequer, is now the first person of color, first British Asian and first Hindu to hold the post.
Sunak’s victory came as the White House held its biggest Diwali celebration on Monday. There, Biden decided to congratulate the new prime minister, but the moment turned into a point of criticism as the president uttered a completely different name.
“Diwali is a reminder that each of us has the power — has the power to dispel darkness and bring light to the world. It’s a choice. And we make that choice every day,” Biden said. “It’s true in our lives and in the life of this nation, especially in the life of a democracy, whether here in America or for the families back in India marking 75 years of independence.”
“And whether it’s the United Kingdom, where just today we’ve gotten news that Rashi Sanook [sic] is now the prime minister. As my brother would say, ‘Go figure.’ And the Conservative Party. Expected to become the next prime minister I think tomorrow, when he goes to see the King.”
News reports spelled Biden’s mispronounced version of Sunak’s name differently. Some interpreted it as “Rashi Sanook,” while others wrote it as “Rasheed Sanook.”
Still, the official White House transcript shows that the 79-year-old president identified Sunak correctly. U.S. reports of the gaffe have also been scarce.
The gaffe sparked criticism on social media, with some accusing Biden of racism.
“U.S. President Biden- who is never done pontificating about the UK’s internal affairs- thinks our Prime Minister is called Rasheed Sanook,” loyalist activist and author Jamie Bryson tweeted. “I think that tells you all you need to know about how seriously we should treat the bumbling Biden contributions about Northern Ireland.”
“Racist Biden calls new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘Rashid Sanook’ and says it’s surprising he’s a Conservative,” author, broadcaster and entrepreneur Steve Hilton tweeted. “Biden is a disgrace, a divider, a global embarrassment.”
The blunder also brought back to mind an offensive joke Biden made in 2006.
“You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” he said at the time.