Feb 5, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Obama veterans relaunch national security group backing Biden

Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor to US President Barack Obama. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Ben Rhodes, then-deputy National Security Advisor to Obama, at the White House in 2016. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Veterans of the Obama administration are re-launching an advocacy group, National Security Action, to make the case for President Biden's re-election based on his foreign policy, according to a memo obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has divided the Democratic Party and the group will try to make the case for Democrats to unite, using the argument that Biden is better than another Trump term.

Driving the news: National Security Action was originally co-founded in 2018 by Jake Sullivan — now Biden's national security adviser — and Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser for Barack Obama.

  • Rhodes told Axios they will work to "remind people that this is a choice that Trump represents a different approach to foreign policy that is very dangerous, and rather than making the crises in the world better, he is likely to make all of them worse."
  • He added: "I really think that [Trump winning] is incredibly dangerous for democracy globally, because it will validate that the trend in global politics is in this autocratic direction. And so whether you're Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un or even a far-right party in Europe, you are going to feel the wind in your sails."

Of note: Rhodes, who has been critical of the Biden administration's approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict, said a Trump presidency would be even worse — including for Gaza.

  • "With all the people that will be contributing to this, I wouldn't expect everybody to agree with 100% of the things that Joe Biden is doing, but I do think that pretty much everybody thinks that a second Trump presidency is dangerous."

Zoom in: The group conducted polling last fall on the U.S. approach to China and plans to do more.

  • That poll concluded that voters preferred a more nuanced approach to China — firm, but diplomatic — with only 5% of people wanting a confrontational approach.
  • The group will have a surrogate training and booking operation for prominent national security voices to make the case against Trump.

Zoom out: The group's leaders didn't expect to get involved in campaigns after Biden beat Trump in 2020, but the former president's resurgence led them to try to get involved in the 2024 election.

  • "Our goal was to put ourselves out of business – and to a great extent we did. Yet today, the dire threat of a second Trump Administration necessitates that we once again mobilize to communicate the unique danger Donald Trump presents to the American people and the world," wrote the group's executive director Caroline Tess who also worked in the Obama White House's National Security Council.

The group's leaders do not think that foreign policy will necessarily be the biggest issue in the election, but they believe it can be part of a larger argument against Trump's conduct.

  • "You have to connect with things that people already are concerned about with Trump — he's chaotic, he only cares about himself, he is hostile to democracy — and you have to connect that to the things that are happening in the world," Rhodes said.
  • Wendy Sherman, the former deputy secretary of state for Biden, told Axios that the group knows "that the campaign is going to likely be decided on issues like economy and choice and climate, but they also know that people understand better than perhaps they used to the interaction with what we're doing in national security and foreign policy."
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