Ongoing tensions between the Biden and Obama teams came to light this week when the former president’s close political adviser, David Axelrod, said President Biden should consider withdrawing from re-election for the good of the country.
Biden’s former White House chief of staff and longtime Biden confidant Ron Klain fired back, complaining about Axelrod’s past pointed criticism of the president.
White House aides brushed aside Axelrod’s comments, pointing out that former President Obama was in a difficult electoral situation a year before his re-election and still won.
But the criticism and media attention to a New York Times/Sienna College poll showing Biden trailing Trump in five swing states, which prompted Axelrod’s remarks, was clearly a nuisance.
The White House released a memo days later criticizing the media’s focus on polling a year after the election, while noting that pollsters and pundits had predicted a “red wave” in 2022 for the 2022 elections. mid-term which never materialized.
A Biden White House alum described a collective “eye roll” from Biden World when a “Democratic talking head” makes remarks like Axelrod’s.
“Any time someone lights up the White House or the campaign or the administration but doesn’t have to do any real work, there’s a sort of eye-rolling effect. Like maybe roll up your sleeves and enter the arena,” the source said.
The alumnus, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said Axelrod should have kept his comments to himself, given that the former Obama adviser overall thinks Biden did a good job as president.
“Of course, there are a million things you can criticize the administration about every day. But overall, David Axelrod, you think Biden is doing a good job, but maybe you keep your 10 percent opinion quiet while the 90 percent say he’s doing a good job,” declared the former student. “Why do you have an innate ability to focus on the 10%? »
But any time there is harsh criticism of Biden from someone in ObamaWorld, there will be attention.
Sources in both the Obama and Biden camps told The Hill that while there has been tension over the years, there is also respect and support. And sources suggest Axelrod doesn’t represent the former boss’ entire team.
What was described as a collective eye roll was a reminder of old tensions.
Biden served as Obama’s vice president for eight years, but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in 2016 — not vice president.
Biden wrote in his 2017 book, “Promise Me, Dad,” that Obama “subtly weighed against” a run for the White House in 2015 and he believed at the time that Obama had concluded that Clinton would be the nominee .
In his 2023 book about Biden, “The Last Politician,” author Franklin Foer wrote about how Biden worked to extend empathy and respect to his vice president, Kamala Harris, because it was not always granted to him when he held this position..
“(B)iden wanted to treat Harris with the respect he felt Barack Obama had not given him,” Foer wrote. “He insisted on calling her THE vice president, as opposed to My vice-president. He made a point of asking her opinion during meetings and making sure his office was kept informed.
The idea that Biden is consistently underestimated by his party, by the media and by some Obama alumni is a recurring theme of this presidency, according to sources interviewed by The Hill.
“Before (Axelrod’s) comments, there was always tension between staff at all levels. There is a tension there between the two camps, for sure, that has always existed,” said a former member of the Biden 2020 campaign.
A former Obama administration aide acknowledged that “there’s still tension there” and described the Obama-Biden aide dynamic as the result of an Obama White House that had “pointy elbows.” ” and a “difficult to penetrate” inner circle for the Biden team.
“You have a lot of ego, and so there’s the warm-up and then the main show. The undercard and main event. There is always this dynamic between the presidency and the vice-presidential staff,” the source said.
The former Biden 2020 campaign alum described a concern at Biden campaign headquarters in Philadelphia that year with “Pod Save America,” a podcast hosted by former Obama staffers, including Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett.
“Everyone in Philadelphia was a little obsessed with these guys because they were always shitting on Biden and giving the other candidates the benefit of the doubt,” the source said.
Yet several sources who spoke to The Hill downplayed the impact of any friction.
“I think there’s still a lot of respect,” said a source who worked with Obama’s campaign.
Axelrod has already gotten under Biden’s skin. He is a fixture on social media and cable television, whose success as a political analyst is reflected in part by his willingness to offer harsh criticism of his own party.
Foer noted in his book that Biden felt Axelrod didn’t give him “a fair shake.”
“He complained about the lack of surrogates on television to defend him. One of his fixations was David Axelrod’s appearances on CNN. He was part of the Obama crowd, and Biden complained to a friend that he still hadn’t gotten a fair shake from this guy,” Foer wrote.
The former Biden 2020 campaign aide said Axelrod’s comments likely excited Biden’s team, saying they put junior staff in a competitive position they like.
“They like being able to say, ‘You all thought we couldn’t win the primaries, you all thought we couldn’t beat Trump, you thought a red wave was coming, you thought he couldn’t bring back the bipartisanship.’ ” the source said.
Other voices The Hill spoke to emphasized that Axelrod does not speak for Obama or many members of his team. Axelrod has since said it was an exaggeration to say he told Biden to give up.
Former Obama adviser Jim Messina, who often shares his support for Biden on social media and pundits, dismissed recent negative polls on CNN on Monday, giving a nod to Biden.
Another former Biden White House aide told The Hill that Biden and Obama’s teams are in contact “almost daily” and that Obama’s team came largely to defend and support the president current.
“I feel like it’s just a theme that’s been sort of repeated within the Biden administration, that this administration has been underestimated. But I don’t think it’s a reflection or a boost for Obama’s team,” the source said.
Obama this week touted the Biden administration’s work on artificial intelligence. In June, the former president participated in two fundraising videos for Biden’s re-election campaign.
At that time, his advisor Eric Schultz released a statement about how Obama “looks forward to supporting Democrats in next fall’s elections, and no race has higher stakes than President Biden’s reelection.” . He added that Obama’s team is “deliberately choosing our moments” because their “goal is to make things happen.”
Most of the people who work or have worked for Biden are Obama alumni. That includes Klain, who helped Obama prepare for the debate in 2008 and later served as his Ebola czar.
Biden’s current chief of staff, Jeff Zients, was director of the National Economic Council for Obama, and his campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, worked for the Obama administration as deputy director for public engagement. His former campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, who is now Biden’s deputy chief of staff, worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign as deputy campaign manager.
An aide who worked for both presidents acknowledged there were tensions at times, but said they were easily brushed aside — especially after an electoral success like the one Democrats won Tuesday.
“These tensions seem much more tangential after a Tuesday evening like the one we just experienced. Playing with the margins on what you think and what you want the Democratic Party to be, that’s all good when you win like we won Tuesday night,” the source said.
“No one has been a stronger supporter of the Biden-Harris administration and its agenda than President Obama, his team, and the veterans of the Obama-Biden administration,” said Deputy House Press Secretary Blanche, Andrew Bates.
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