Feb 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside Biden's obsession with "Morning Joe"

Photo Illustration of Joe Biden sitting in a large cup of coffee with the glow of a screen projected onto him

Photo Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

When White House aides appear on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," they're often booked between 7 and 7:40 a.m. ET. That's so they'll reach one crucial and loyal viewer: President Biden.

Why it matters: Biden's years-long love of MSNBC's staple morning show affects how the White House runs — and who Biden listens to.

Zoom in: The president often calls co-host Joe Scarborough — a former Republican congressman who's now a harsh critic of Donald Trump — to get Scarborough's take on issues and sometimes vent about media coverage, according to people familiar with the relationship.

  • During the day, Biden has long asked his staff whether they saw a story, a poll, or a segment that had been on the show. He's included show regulars in off-the-record conversations with policy experts.
  • Biden pays particular attention to — and has consulted with — "Morning Joe" regulars such as longtime reporter Mike Barnicle, foreign policy expert Richard Haass and historian Jon Meacham, who has assisted on several Biden speeches.

Vice President Kamala Harris watches "Morning Joe," too: She and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff hosted a dinner last month at the vice presidential residence for Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, his co-host and wife.

  • Aides have noted that Harris also tunes into Fox News, and occasionally watches "The Five."
  • Some aides have felt that Fox News' relentlessly negative coverage — first casting her as Biden's all-powerful puppeteer, then later portraying her as incompetent — can drive Harris to distraction.
  • "It got in her head and caused high anxiety because they were constantly hammering her," one former Harris aide told Axios.

Between the lines: Because Biden watches "Morning Joe" so often, most of his top aides watch or track the show to anticipate potential questions from him.

  • Biden aides have remarked how longtime Biden aide Steve Ricchetti seems to watch much of the four-hour show every morning. He and other aides often reference the show.
  • A White House official told Axios that many of Biden's top staff members think the show gives Biden a fairer shake on issues than other news shows and media outlets.

In the first months of 2021, Brzezinski requested an interview with Harris as part of the launch of Forbes' "50 Over 50" list.

Zoom out: Biden consults widely with "Morning Joe" contributors.

  • The president has included retired Adm. James Stavridis — a "Morning Joe" staple on national security issues — in an off-the-record briefing at the White House with other experts.
  • Biden takes notes and initially refrains from giving his perspective during such sessions because he doesn't want people to tell him what he wants to hear, according to a person familiar with the meetings.

Biden is a big cable news consumer: If "Morning Joe" is his favorite show, his second favorite is probably "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN each Sunday.

  • Biden has quoted from Zakaria's show at length, according to a person who has heard his comments. Biden also sat for an interview with Zakaria last year.
  • Aides say Biden respects these voices on cable TV, and loves when they applaud his actions.
  • Some White House aides have bristled at Haass' nuanced public critiques of Biden's foreign policy.

The big picture: This reporter-president dynamic isn't unique to Biden: Every president has their media preferences.

  • Donald Trump is obsessed with Fox News, including "Fox and Friends" and "Hannity."
  • Barack Obama was more attuned to magazines, including The New Yorker and The Atlantic.

What they're saying: Scarborough, Brzezinski, and Barnicle declined to comment through a MSNBC News spokesperson.

  • Harris, Haass, and Meacham declined to comment.
  • Stavridis did not respond to a request for comment through his website or an NBC News spokesperson.
  • CNN did not respond to a request for comment.
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