There are those who believe that Joe Biden, at the age of eighty, is too old to serve a second term as president. However, there is little clamor for it to be handed over to the person who would normally be the heir apparent.
Two years later, Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to serve as vice president, has had her ups and downs. Her relationship with Biden seems strong and she has found her voice as an abortion rights advocate. But her office suffered from turmoil and her media appearances failed to impress.
Such drama is told behind the scenes in The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House, written by author, journalist and filmmaker Chris Whipple and published this week. Whipple managed to reach out to nearly all of Biden’s inner circle and produced a readable half-time report on his presidency—a field somewhat less crowded than the genre that grew up around Donald Trump.
“Initially, Joe Biden liked having Kamala Harris,” Whipple writes, noting that Biden wanted to have meetings with him about just about everything. One source noted a “synergy” between them.
Harris volunteered to take up the voting rights cause. But Biden delivered another: addressing the causes of undocumented immigration by negotiating with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
“But for Harris,” Whipple wrote, “the Northern Triangle would prove radioactive.”
With the distinction between root causes and immediate problems soon lost on the public, Harris took the blame as immigrants kept coming.
One of her senior advisors told Whipple that the media could not handle a vice president who was not only female but also black and South Asian, referring to the “rhinoceros in a glass box” syndrome. But Harris also suffered from self-inflicted wounds. Whipple wrote that she “looked awkward and clumsy…she laughed inappropriately and cut the air with her hands, making her look condescending”.
One observer said an NBC interview during a visit to Guatemala and Mexico was a “disaster”. The reports highlighted the turmoil and turnover in Harris’ office, with some former staffers claiming to have seen it all before when she was California’s attorney general and on her presidential campaign. Her approval rating fell to 28%, lower than that of Dick Cheney during the Iraq War.
But Whipple writes that Biden and his team still respect Harris.
Ron Klein [chief of staff] He was personally fond of her. He met with the vice president weekly and encouraged her to do more interviews and raise her profile. Harris was hesitant and wary of making mistakes.
“This is like baseball,” Klein told her. You have to accept the fact that you will get hit sometimes. we All to cross out. But you can’t score goals if you’re sitting in the dugout. Biden’s boss was channel director Tom Hanks on A League of Their Own. “Look, no one here is going to get mad at you. We are.” You want you there! “
Speaking to the Guardian Whipple, 69, says: “It’s a complex and fascinating relationship between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
In the first months of management, they had a real connection, a real bond. Because of Covid, they were thrown together in the White House and spent a lot of time together. He wanted her to be at almost every meeting and appreciated her input. All this was and remains true.
But as it began to generate controversy, especially regarding its mission in the Northern Triangle, things got more complicated. It came back to the boss that his second man, Doug Emhoff, had been complaining around town that her portfolio was too tough and that he was actually setting it up for failure. This really bothered Biden. He felt he hadn’t asked her to do anything he hadn’t done for Barack Obama: He had the Northern Triangle as one of his missions. She asked for the portfolio of voting rights and he gave it to her. So that caused some friction.”
A few months into his presidency, Whipple wrote, a close friend asked Biden what he thought of his vice president. His response: “A work in progress.” These four words—less than a sonorous endorsement—form the title of a chapter in Whipple’s book.
But Whipple adds in our interview: “It is also true that she has grown in terms of her prowess in the field of national security. That is why Biden sent her to the Munich Security Conference on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She spent a lot of time in meetings with the President’s Daily Brief and Biden gave her some important assignments in this regard.”
a Whipple, a former producer of CBS’s 60 Minutes, has written books on White House chiefs of staff and CIA directors. Each covered more than 100 years of history, while writing The Fight of His Life was, he says, like designing an airplane in mid-flight and not knowing where to land it. Why did he do this?
How could I not? When you think about it, Joe Biden and his team took office in the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic, a crippled economy, global warming, racial injustice, and the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol. How could anyone with a political or narrative bone in their body not He wants to tell that story? Especially if I can reach out to Biden’s inner circle, which I’m fortunate to be able to do.”
However, it wasn’t easy. Whipple describes “one of the most leaky white houses in recent history… very disciplined and buttoned up”. It couldn’t be more different from the Trump administration’s scandals all over the place and every time.
What the author found was a story of two presidencies. There was one year, plagued by inflation, supply chain problems, arguably a premature declaration of victory over the coronavirus and setbacks in Congress on Building Back Better and other legislation. Worst of all was the dismal end to America’s longest war, with Afghanistan falling to the Taliban after 20 years and $2 trillion.
“It was clearly a failure to carry out the withdrawal in a safe and orderly manner, and at the end of the day, as I said, it was an all-government failure,” Whipple says. “Everyone got it wrong on almost everything, from the intelligence about how long it would take the Afghan government and armed forces, to the botched implementation of the withdrawal, with so few troops on the ground.”
Whipple was very likely the first author to interview Klein; Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken; CIA Director Bill Burns; and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, on the debacle in Afghanistan.
“What has become clear is that everyone has different memories of intelligence. While this administration often seems to be very much on the same page, I found there was a lot of drama behind the scenes during the Afghan withdrawal and in some of the immediate aftermath,” he says.
The book also captures the tension between Leon Panetta, the CIA director and Secretary of Defense under Barack Obama, who has criticized the exit strategy—”You just wonder if people tell the president what he wants to hear”—and Klain, who opposes that Panetta favored the war and oversaw the Afghan army training, saying, “If this is Biden’s Bay of Pigs, it’s Lyon’s army that lost the fight.”
Whipple comments: “Ron Klein wanted to respond in this case which is nice and cool for me, given his relationship with Panetta. His criticism obviously got under Ron Klein’s skin.”
Biden’s sophomore year was a different story. Everything changed on February 24, 2022, when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Joe Biden was uniquely qualified to rise to that moment and he did, rallying NATO in defiance of Putin and in defense of Ukraine. Biden has spent his entire career preparing for that moment, With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his experience with Putin, it has shown.
Then he went on to pass a series of bipartisan legislative bills from the Chips Act to Health Care Veterans, culminating in the Inflation Reduction Act, which I don’t think anyone was expecting.
“One thing is for sure: Joe Biden has been consistently underestimated from day one, and two years later, he has proven he can achieve a lot more than people thought he could.”
Biden seemed poised to enter his third year with the wind at his back. Democrats beat expectations in the midterm elections, inflation slows, Biden’s approval rating is on the rise, and dysfunctional House Republicans chastise a president to elect.
But political life moves very quickly. Last week, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate the discovery of classified documents, from Biden’s time as vice president, at his Washington think tank and home in Delaware.
“They really need to up their game here, I think, because this really goes to the heart of Joe Biden’s asset, arguably, which is confidence,” Whipple told CBS.
The error is a bump on the road to 2024. It could be another Biden lifetime. He is older than Ronald Reagan when he completed his second term and if he serves a full second term he would eventually be 86. Polls indicate that many voters feel he is too old for the job. Biden allies disagree.
“His inner circle is optimistic about Biden’s mental acuity and judgment,” Whipple says. “I’ve never heard any of them express any concern and you might expect that from the inner circle. Many of them will tell you he has extraordinary stamina and energy.”
Bruce Reed [a longtime adviser] He told me about coming back from Europe after four consecutive summits when everyone had to pull themselves off the plane and were desperately trying to sleep, and the boss came and told stories for six straight hours all the way back to DC.”
During conversations and interviews for the book, did Whipple get the impression that Biden would seek re-election?
He runs almost unquestionably. Andy card [chief of staff under George W Bush] Something he said to me was true: “If anyone tells you they’re leaving the White House voluntarily, they’re probably lying to you.”
Who was the last president to voluntarily leave office? LBJ [Lyndon Baines Johnson]. It rarely happens. I don’t think Joe Biden is an exception. He’s spent his entire career…considering whether or not to run for president and he’s not done yet. The prospect of Donald Trump’s Republican nomination perhaps makes it even more urgent for him. He thinks he can defeat him again.”