Updated Apr 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

New book dishes on rocky first year for Biden White House

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A senator close to Vice President Harris lamented her political decline as a "slow-rolling Greek tragedy," New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns write in "This Will Not Pass," their book out May 3.

Why it matters: Republicans got the first headlines from the book, which the authors call "an account of a political emergency in the United States." But the first year of the Biden presidency was also rocky for the White House and Democrats.

"The vice president had one vocal and unyielding defender in the West Wing: the president's chief of staff," the authors write. But even Ron Klain knew something wasn't working.

  • The book says he told Harris in the fall of 2021 "that she had erred by holding her Latin American assignment at arm's length: Yes, he acknowledged, it was a politically delicate portfolio, but there had been an opportunity there for her to take full ownership of something, sink into the policy details and produce results.
  • That, Klain told Harris, was the way to succeed as a vice president."

Other Biden reportage from the book, which is based on hundreds of interviews and "hundreds of pages of confidential documents and recordings":

"These guys": After delivering an address on national unity at Gettysburg in the campaign's final month, Biden issued a similar plea from Warm Springs, Ga., home of FDR's Little White House. Speaking with historian Jon Meacham, Biden expressed misgivings "about inviting comparisons twice in a month to the greatest American leaders."

  • "I'm not one of these guys," Biden said. Meacham replied: "Neither were they, until they were."

POTUS takes notes: "Al Sharpton pushed Biden on the filibuster, telling the president that if the procedural roadblock remained in place then Democrats would suffer in the midterms. Biden took notes laboriously, but he and his aides were noncommittal."

  • "So what did that leave the civil rights groups with, as they departed the White House? Like so many other White House visitors in 2021, they collected praise from the president about the importance of their electoral constituency."
  • "Biden again hailed the role of Black voters in his campaign ... [saying] Black women were the reason he occupied the Oval Office. It was a flattering and sincere sentiment. But flattery would not protect the franchise."

Aging pitcher: When Biden addressed House Dems at the Capitol on Oct. 1, with infrastructure and reconciliation bills in the balance, they "were braced for a moment of political climax. ... [But Biden] had decided [that] was not the day to demand a vote. ... The president did share a story about Satchel Paige, the legendary Black pitcher who played baseball deep into his forties ...

  • "Paige, Biden said, had once been asked about his capacity to play at such an advanced age. ... 'How old would you be,' [Paige] supposedly asked, 'if you did not know how old you were?' It was not clear what message Biden intended to convey with that story. ... Biden's yarn about an aging pitcher was not altogether reassuring."

Begala's zinger: In fall 2021, "the prominent Democratic strategist Paul Begala contacted Klain ... The president, Begala said, was too Olympian, too prone to putting himself above the partisan fray ... Offering Klain a ready-to-go attack line, Begala proposed Biden tell Americans that Republicans 'fear Trump more than they care about you.'

  • "It was a smooth line easy to imagine coming from Begala's most famous client, Bill Clinton. Well, Klain replied, that approach isn't this president's comfort zone. That's not his brand."

Go deeper: The McCarthy tapes.

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