Awkward Presidential Moments That Were Caught On Camera

Thanks to the easy access of technology, everyone's bound to experience the occasional embarrassing mishaps on camera. Still, if you're the president, those odd moments can truly stick with you longer than the average citizen. While some clips, like former President George H. W. Bush's unfortunate vomiting on Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, were clearly accidental, others like former President Donald Trump's bizarre fake movie trailer of himself and Kim Jung Un as heroes were the intentional results of planning and left social media shocked by the strange display.

But, of course, these instances are far from the only strange antics caught on film. From President Joe Biden's literal stumbles to former President Richard Nixon's embarrassing resignation, no leader is exempt from having their fair share of awkward media moments over the years. While these odd instances don't take away from these presidents' many other contributions, there are still more than a couple of uncomfortable times that these leaders wish their actions weren't caught on camera.

President George W. Bush dodges flying footwear

On December 14th, 2008, then-President George W. Bush met up with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a news conference in Baghdad. Bush's visit came six years after the U.S. invaded Iraq to look for weapons of mass destruction (via The Washington Post). After stating that the United States' actions were necessary for "world peace," journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi stood up and shouted at the president in Arabic, "This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!" Zaidi then threw one of his shoes at Bush, who ducked.

Continuing, the journalist yelled, "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!" and hurled his other shoe at the president, who avoided that flying footwear as well. Zaidi was tackled to the ground and removed as he screamed in protest. "So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?" Bush remarked afterward (via CBS).

In 2018, Buzzfeed reported that in the aftermath of the event, Zaidi was sent to prison for the offense and stayed there for nine months before being released early for good behavior. He then left the country before later returning in 2011 and, in 2018, Zaidi officially announced that he was running for the parliament in Iraq (via CNN).

President Donald Trump's very long handshake with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

On February 10th, 2017, then-President Donald Trump sat down with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and shared a 19-second handshake that was truly an awkward occurrence. As noted by Quartz, the former president reportedly doesn't like to shake hands with others, which only made the lengthy greeting even stranger. After Prime Minister Abe initiated the greeting by asking the U.S. president, "Shall we shake hands?" President Trump was then seen patting, holding, and yanking around the Japanese leader's hand. Still, according to the outlet, that wasn't the only bizarre thing about the photo-op.

As the pair shook hands, Trump asked the Japanese Prime Minister, "What are they saying?" in reference to the Japanese-speaking photographers. "Please, look at me," the Prime Minister translated. Appearing to misunderstand, President Trump then began to stare at the Japanese leader, offering him a big smile. At the same time, Prime Minister Abe gestured toward the cameras in an attempt to point Trump in the right direction. The awkward handshake finished with President Trump patting the back of Abe's hand before releasing him. Naturally, social media had plenty of feelings about the bizarre interaction and reacted accordingly. "I felt sorry for the Japanese leader. During their handshake, he tried to get his hand back, but Trump was having a love affair with it," one poster said in a since-deleted tweet (via BuzzFeed News).

President Joe Biden repeatedly tripped trying to board Air Force One

As reported in December of 2021 by the Independent, President Joe Biden had a bit of a struggle while attempting to climb the steps to board Air Force One. President Biden fell not once or twice but three times before he was finally able to make his way to the top of the stairs and give a salute before departing to meet with Asian American community leaders. After the fall, The Guardian reported that Karine Jean-Pierre, deputy White House press secretary, had told reporters, "It's very windy. I almost fell coming up the steps myself. He is doing 100% fine." When pressed further about whether President Biden had sought medical care, Jean-Pierre simply repeated that he was "doing fine. He's doing great."

In response to the incident, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted about Biden's stumbles, writing, "Pay no attention to the fact that the President of the United States is so frail that he got knocked over repeatedly by a gust of wind. Nothing at all to see here, folks!" Trump Jr. also uploaded a spoof video mocking the president. On the other hand, actor and activist Jeffery Wright made it clear that he wasn't bothered by the president's literal misstep. "I don't care if Joe Biden trips on the Air Force One stairs stone drunk after an all-nighter, so long as he keeps pounding COVID with this vaccine rollout," Wright tweeted.

President Donald Trump stared at an eclipse

On August 21st, 2017, a total solar eclipse, dubbed the Great American Eclipse, had many Americans excited to witness the remarkable occurrence. Vox noted that with plenty of people eager to get a glimpse, many scientists and public health officials were busy reminding everyone to acquire the special protective glasses necessary for looking at the sun during the event. Still, when it was time for President Donald Trump, his wife Melania Trump, and their son Barron to watch the eclipse from the White House's Blue Room balcony, the former president decided to forgo the warnings and take a peek at the sky without his protective glasses.

While Trump didn't stare at the sun for too long, staffers nearby still gave the former president a warning shouting, "Don't look!" as Trump squinted above and even pointed up at the eclipse. As stated by the outlet, the protective glasses were considered necessary for viewing the eclipse because staring directly at the sun (whether there's an eclipse or not) could damage your vision. Similarly, Dr. Neil Bressler, a professor of ophthalmology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told Live Science that even just "staring directly at the sun for a few seconds without eye protection at any time ... can cause damage to the center of the retina."

President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin's awkward lunch

As reported by ABC News in 2015, former President Barack Obama attended a United Nations luncheon and had a seemingly tense toast with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the event, President Obama and President Putin, who were one seat apart, were pictured clinking their glasses with visibly different expressions on their faces. President Obama's expression was solemn and, in contrast, President Putin had a grin on his face. While the news source stated that a separate photo from the event did appear to show the former U.S. president smiling at Putin, the actual toast definitely looked awkward.

Similarly, an article by Vox reported that the tense image spoke for itself, with the outlet reminding readers that the world leaders were known to have a frosty relationship and had a history of weird photo-ops. Politico expressed a similar sentiment, noting the pair's dislike for one another and adding that the leaders were obviously uncomfortable with each other during the lunch. Additionally, a senior administration official told the outlet that during the duo's 90-minute meeting after the luncheon, the presidents did not pretend that their talk was for anything beyond business, and Putin himself reported that their encounter was "businesslike and frank."

The mock movie trailer about President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Singapore and showed the North Korean leader a four-minute mock movie trailer that depicted the pair as heroes. As reported by The Atlantic, the short clip, titled "A Story of Opportunity for North Korea," was a very different approach to the idea of denuclearizing North Korea; however, there was one big problem with the trailer. According to Mike Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the clip — which pushes for Kim Jong Un to trade in his nuclear weapons for a peace deal — "shows pretty much zero understanding of how [North Korean leaders] think about the economy."

The expert stated that North Korean leadership doesn't want outside influences to impact their citizens, saying, "They want to open up enough to get the appearance and experience of being a rich country for the elite, and to get cash." Still, despite the backlash, Vox reported that Trump was convinced that Kim truly enjoyed the video. "I think he loved it," the former president stated in a press conference, adding that he didn't believe the trailer would be negatively used to promote propaganda by North Korea. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kim Jong Un reportedly liked the video and compared it to a "science fiction movie."

President Joe Biden's unpresidential remark about a reporter

In late January, towards the end of a White House Competition Council meeting, Fox News White House reporter Peter Doocy called out, "Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?" Appearing amused by the question and seemingly not realizing his mic was still hot, President Joe Biden gave a seemingly sarcastic response saying, "It's a great asset. More inflation," before adding the surprising comment, "What a stupid son of a b****." 

Business Insider revealed that the White House didn't respond to the outlet's request for a response on the matter, but noted that Doocy later said on "The Five" that he didn't actually hear the president's remark when it was made. "I couldn't even hear him because people were shouting at us to get out, but somebody came up to me in the briefing room a few minutes later and said, 'Did you hear what the president said?'" Doocy stated. Seemingly unfazed, the Fox News reporter didn't appear to take the comment too seriously, and he even joked around with Fox News host Jesse Watter about the insult.

Still, according to CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, President Biden later apologized to the Fox reporter for his words. Similarly, Doocy also confirmed the claim on Fox News, saying that the president had called him within an hour of the incident and alleged that the pair had a good chat. "He cleared the air and I appreciate it," Doocy said (via Business Insider).

President George H. W. Bush vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister

On January 8th, 1992, then-President George H. W. Bush infamously made history for vomiting on the Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. According to Newsweek, the shocking incident occurred during the middle of President Bush's 12-day trip through Asia while he was attending a state banquet in Tokyo. Prior to the meal, the former president had played tennis with the Emperor of Japan. However, it was reported that he'd already thrown up before the dinner even started, so perhaps what happened next wasn't a big shock for the Secret Service. Between the second and third course, President Bush pushed back his chair and fainted before his body fell to the left, and he vomited on the lap of the host, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

Clearly stunned, the president's wife, Barbara Bush, jumped up to assist her husband as a member of the Secret Service also rushed over to help the unconscious U.S. leader. Bush was then laid out and soon after regained consciousness, reportedly telling his physician Dr. Burton Lee, "Roll me under the table until the dinner's over." Similarly, History stated that President Bush also apologized for the commotion before leaving the dinner.

Later, doctors claimed that the president's short-lived sickness was nothing more than a simple stomach bug, adding that he was fine after taking anti-nausea medication and was able to resume his scheduled plans the following day.

President Donald Trump pointed out the obvious about a hurricane

In 2018, Hurricane Florence devastated the lives of many Americans in the Carolinas, prompting then-President Donald Trump to issue a message for those dealing with the natural disaster. After praising the efforts of disaster relief workers, Trump declared that Florence was a "tough hurricane" before going on to say that the violent storm was "one of the wettest we've ever seen from the standpoint of water." The former president added that the tragedy "certainly is not good" but that those taking action were amazing.

As reported by ABC News, the response to Trump's speech was fairly comedic, with many people making fun of the former president for pointing out the obvious about a hurricane. "Water, the American President Explained, Is Wet," an article by Esquire headlined. The article continued, saying the President was addressing the American public as if everyone were at a grade-school comprehension level. Similarly, plenty of people on social media offered cheeky remarks about Trump's statement. "Today is one of the driest we've ever seen, from the standpoint of air," one Twitter user commented. Another applied the president's remark to caffeine, stating, "This coffee is hot — one of the hottest cups I've ever had from the standpoint of coffee."

President Bill Clinton avoided questions about Monica Lewinsky

In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton made a baffling statement during his grand jury testimony. In a clip, the former president questioned the meaning behind the word "is" in regards to a false affidavit in which Monica Lewinsky stated, "There is no sex of any kind, in any manner, shape or form with President Clinton." Rather than give a simple reply to the question, President Clinton instead chose to give a bizarre response, saying, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If 'is' means is and never has been, that is not — that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement."

As noted by the Daily Mail, Clinton's statement (which the outlet claimed appeared to be made with a smirk on his face) that he did not have an affair with White House intern Lewinsky would later be revealed to be completely false. Additionally, President Clinton would go on to address the relationship with Lewinsky in a televised statement admitting that his involvement with her was "wrong."

As 1998 came to an end, Clinton became the second president to be impeached; however, he was later acquitted by a Senate trial in February of 1999 (via History).

President George Bush's Mission Accomplished banner

As noted by U.S. News & World Report back on May 1, 2003, then-President George W. Bush arrived at the USS Abraham Lincoln to give a speech on the aircraft carrier beneath a large "Mission Accomplished" banner. "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," the president said to the crowd before continuing his remarks. "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." In a clip uploaded on YouTube, the crowd can be heard clapping and cheering in response to Bush's words.

The article noted that many Democrats were let down by the seemingly warm reception that Bush received during the speech and feared that images from the event would be used for future Republican campaigning purposes. But, of course, those worries turned out to be pointless, as the image of Bush below the "Mission Accomplished" banner would instead become a reminder of the disfavored war that would continue for eight more years. U.S. News added that even President Bush later acknowledged the mishap during his final press conference. "Clearly, putting a 'mission accomplished' on an aircraft carrier was a mistake," he stated before admitting that "it sent the wrong message."

President Obama's awkward handshake with President Raul Castro

On March 21, 2016, then-President Barack Obama visited Havana and met with Cuban President Raul Castro. The trip was considered extremely noteworthy as the former American leader was the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years. Still, despite the historical significance, President Obama's meeting with President Castro left plenty of people stunned for an entirely different reason. As reported by ABC News, there was a strange occurrence between the two leaders that looked more than a little odd. Referred to as an "awkward handshake," the encounter showed the U.S. leader doing his best to avoid holding up his hand in solidarity with the Cuban president, leading Castro to grab on to Obama's wrist.

While Twitter went wild commenting on the interaction, with some users even comedically comparing the duo's unsuccessful handshake to a referee announcing "the winner of a prize fight," ABC noted that the White House had a reasonable explanation for President Obama's behavior. "I do think that President Castro had in mind a rather iconic photo with President Obama and his arms raised together," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. He added that President Obama likely thought that creating such an image could suggest false agreements between the pair. Still, Earnest stated that he didn't think Obama expected President Castro's actions, adding, "I think the president did observe that for an 84-year-old, President Castro still has some pretty quick reflexes."

President Donald Trump touched a glowing orb alongside other world leaders

In late May 2017, then-President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia during his first foreign trip as the U.S. leader, as reported by Buzzfeed. That Sunday, Trump attended the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology along with Egypt's leader, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and Saudi Arabia's King Salman. The three world leaders touched a glowing orb during the event, which unsurprisingly led to plenty of memes as people compared the trio to evil supervillains plotting a takeover.

"Big deal some guys put their hands on a glowing orb it's not like they're going to get super powers oh my god this is how space jam started," one person tweeted. "The next Lord of the Rings movie looks terrible," tweeted another. Even the Church of Satan got involved, clarifying that the leaders' orb touching adventure was "not a Satanic ritual."

Additionally, in the aftermath of the strange event, Business Insider reported that a book about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman alleged that American diplomats had enjoyed playing with the orb so much that it was gifted to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, supposedly as a result of the orb memes, the glowing sphere was put into storage out of fear that more photos of staffers touching the orb would get out and cause further embarrassment.

President Richard Nixon's resignation

On August 8, 1974, then-President Richard Nixon officially announced his resignation to the American people, becoming the first U.S. president to do so. As noted by History, the nighttime address was a result of impeachment proceedings against Nixon as well as his connection to the Watergate scandal. Reportedly, the public and the political backlash he was facing pushed President Nixon's decision to relinquish the presidency. "By taking this action I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America," the disgraced president stated.

The day after Nixon issued his goodbye speech, he and his family left the White House via helicopter, with the former commander in chief raising his arms up in a final farewell. The family then headed back to their home in San Clemente, California. Only minutes after his departure, then-Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in and became the 38th president of the United States. After taking the oath, President Ford gave a televised national address, saying, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over." Notably, Ford also pardoned Nixon from any potential charges saying that he didn't want any further division to result from the scandal (via History).