His poll numbers are grim, Democrats fret over the midterms, critics attack his advanced age, and then – to make matters worse – he caught himself with Covid-19 and kept it away from the person who brings him the most comfort.
But Biden’s miserable approval ratings are raising questions about whether he will or should stand for re-election in 2024, a daunting task the White House insists on. At the same time, Biden’s son Hunter remains under investigation by the Justice Department — a long-running investigation previously reported by CNN appears to be nearing a critical juncture.
Campaigning is a feat that not everyone in the family craves, say two people with knowledge of internal family conversations. The summer was difficult.
“[The First Lady]deeply feels what he’s going through,” one of those who knew about the Bidens’ relationship told CNN.
Jill Biden had tried to stay closer to home. At the end of July she was supposed to go on a long-awaited, planned trip to Africa. But the home front was calling. Problems and crises piled up, headlines were negative, kitchen table issues were still a struggle.
She unplugged Africa to stay in Delaware, telling aides she just didn’t feel the political implications were hit properly and the timing was wrong. CNN spoke to several people who knew the timing and state of mind of the First Lady for this story on condition of anonymity to protect their professional and personal relationships. Several were involved in planning the trip abroad and then put the kibosh on it.
Lately, during the summer break from her teaching duties at a community college in Northern Virginia, Jill Biden had appeared at Biden’s side even more frequently, and vice versa. She was with him at the White House convention picnic; Gift for the award of the Medal of Honor; pecking the lips on camera at the Fourth of July celebrations. She crouched alone with him in the garden by the east wing before he recently left for a day trip, and waited several times on the Truman balcony for him to return home.
“The emotional weight of a first lady on the health and well-being of the president under normal circumstances is enormous,” said Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff. “I think it’s for Dr. Biden is further complicated by the constant public concern about his health and ability to perform his duties.”
McBride notes that First Ladies are the best barometer of how a President actually feels.
Travel but make it at home
The Africa trip would have been a four-day visit to three countries on one continent, often a rite of passage for a solo visit by American first ladies.
Several government agencies, the military office, embassies and security apparatus scheduled to leave in late July have been recruited to support Biden’s trip. At least one preliminary departure to clarify the details had already taken place.
“It was unexpected,” said the person of Biden’s late-game decision to call it off.
“An advance trip to Africa, in terms of the logistics, the cost, the staff — that’s a lot,” said a former White House official who had participated in several such trips during a previous term.
When asked by CNN whether resources used for pre-travel to Africa would be reimbursed or reallocated, Alexander said, “We have conducted surveys of travel to Africa and plan to use any information collected for travel for the First Lady or any of the other members.” of the White House to use principals.”
Three of the people who spoke to CNN about the reason for the cancellation said the first lady’s desire to leave simply waned as the scheduled departure neared, and she questioned core goals.
“The details just didn’t materialize in a way that made sense to them, politically or in terms of timing,” said a White House official involved in the broader discussion about canceling the trip.
Instead of Africa, Biden tuned down to their sweet spot: domestic messenger.
“It’s not sexy stuff, and it’s definitely not how she planned to focus her energy,” said one of the people who spoke to CNN about Biden’s priorities as first lady, adding her ability to be a non-divisive one Being a government envoy in America’s current political climate is “both a blessing and a curse.”
Yet Biden seems comfortable doing what she has done as a political wife for the past four decades and empowering her husband. It’s partly the jumble of bad news and crises, coupled with a handful of international faux pas and a conflicted Democratic Party that has kept the President at home and the First Lady on the streets. In 18 months, Biden has visited 40 states to the President’s 34, a number far ahead of any of her modern predecessors.
“As she put it in her own words, she thinks part of being a successful first lady is ‘just showing up,'” says McBride.
Forecasts for their political future
A possible second term and the president’s political future “are on her mind,” the other person with knowledge of the Bidens’ relationship tells CNN, adding that the concern can “feel heavy” for her at times. Jill Biden knows only too well the damage a chaotic and mean race for the presidency can do to her family and admits that even she underestimated the smear of the last campaign.
“It’s tough, though [Jill Biden] is very adept at instilling a degree of confidence in her husband’s health and stamina,” says McBride.
Asked if the First Lady is assessing the political landscape as 2024 approaches, Alexander tells CNN, “As the President has said, he intends to run for another term.”
Jill Biden also has no interest in unveiling a brand initiative, second term or not, telling her staff that there are simply too many projects and priorities to focus on.
“A catch-all logo isn’t her thing,” says one of the people who work with her.
This difficult summer for the president has brought the first lady closer to her family, say several of those who spoke to CNN. There have been robust, multi-generational trips to Camp David, days of sunbathing on the sands of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She is also actively involved in planning her eldest granddaughter Naomi Biden’s wedding in November, good news for a family beset by challenging headlines. Naomi Biden announced last week that she will marry fiancé Peter Neal in a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, followed by a reception.
Also, Biden finally finished decorating her East Wing office. In February, a statement from the East Wing indicated that it had hired an interior designer to refurbish its office suite to suit its taste.
Mark Sikes, a celebrity decorator with an active social media presence and a admitted love of the color blue, publicly confirmed he got the job. Sikes upgraded the decor, including painting over the shade of light pink that her predecessor had chosen for her office walls. Biden’s workspace now reflected the airy vibe of “coastal elegance” that Biden favors, says one person with knowledge.
A date for Biden’s return to the White House and reunion with the President this week has not been announced, although it likely won’t be before Joe Biden tests negative for Covid. Biden remains in Delaware for the time being – accompanied by her rescue cat, Willow.