Shakespearean Tensions Between Biden’s Family and Aides Emerge in Public View

Shakespearean Tensions Between Biden’s Family and Aides Emerge in Public View

President Joe Biden’s family is increasingly stepping into his campaign and White House affairs, driven by frustration with his staff. This internal conflict has spilled into public view, particularly after a recent debate performance that many see as a debacle. According to sources familiar with the family dynamics, the debate has provided an opportunity for the family to bypass staff and offer direct support to Biden, whom they deeply care for.

The tension between Biden’s family and some of his closest aides has been simmering for a while, but the debate performance has intensified the issue. Thirteen sources familiar with the situation told NBC News that the family views the debate as the culmination of poor advice from aides who have failed to effectively showcase Biden’s political strengths. On the other hand, some Biden aides believe the family is using this moment to settle old scores.

This infighting has frustrated some Biden staffers, who feel that the finger-pointing is hindering the all-hands-on-deck approach needed to help the president navigate this crisis. One Biden campaign aide described the situation as unhelpful, while another person close to the president suggested that the family is not fully grasping the political realities. “It’s Shakespearean,” this person said, highlighting the dramatic nature of the internal conflict.

In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Biden took full responsibility for his debate performance, stating that it was “nobody’s fault but mine.” However, the family’s involvement is becoming more pronounced. Hunter Biden’s recent attendance at White House meetings is just one example of this deeper involvement. Valerie Owens, Biden’s sister, also traveled to Washington this week to join other family members at the White House for face-to-face meetings about her brother’s campaign.

There have been discussions among Biden family members about whether he should fire senior White House adviser Anita Dunn and her husband, Bob Bauer, who is Biden’s personal lawyer. However, four sources close to the Biden family said there is no active effort to shake up staffing right now. They emphasized that those close to the president are trying to be measured, focused, thoughtful, and deliberate. White House chief of staff Jeff Zients also dismissed the rumors of internal strife, affirming the president and first lady’s confidence in their team.

Since the debate, Biden family members have felt that some of the president’s top aides in the White House and on the campaign have thrown the president under the bus rather than taking responsibility for what led to the poor debate performance. This has particularly upset the Biden family. One source explained that the debate performance was the breaking point, with the staff’s blame-shifting angering the family, who expected loyalty and accountability from the president’s aides.

The bigger concern now among some of Biden’s inner circle is that the kind of disagreements that had long been resolved internally risk playing out in public as pressure on the president mounts. Family conversations have largely centered on how to continue to support the president moving forward, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

The dynamics have become so fraught that after Biden was informed on Sunday of reports that the family was pointing fingers at his debate prep team, the president personally called Ron Klain, his former chief of staff and longtime adviser, to say that it did not reflect his or the family’s thinking.

Among Biden’s closest advisers, there has often been an acknowledgment that Biden is at his best when he is off-the-cuff and unscripted. Some of his strongest moments at the last two State of the Union addresses, for instance, were when he was sparring with Republican critics in the House chamber rather than reading from a teleprompter. However, when pressed on why he isn’t in those settings more often, advisers often point fingers at one another, suggesting it’s a different set of advisers shielding him from scrutiny or protecting him from settings where he might make missteps.

Some aligned with the family have blamed “the firm,” as they call it, for overly managing the president. However, advisers have, often delicately, suggested it’s the family — both his blood relatives and some longtime staff who are considered family — that is protective to a fault. This has led allies to question whether the fear of a gaffe has kept Biden overly protected and insulated, or if that kind of bubble wrap over a longer period of time has made him less adept in those settings than he used to be.

Hunter Biden’s stepped-up involvement has confounded some White House staff members and revived a longtime sore spot. For the family, this is all about “old wounds being reopened,” particularly with Bauer and Dunn and their recommendations about Hunter Biden maintaining a lower profile than he has in the last two years, said a source familiar with family and staff dynamics.

Michael LaRosa, former White House communications chief to the first lady, defended Hunter Biden’s involvement in political affairs, saying that as a Yale-educated attorney, the president’s son has demonstrated savvy. “He was far more effective at media strategy and political knife-fighting than the campaign has been so far, and they have $250 million,” LaRosa said in an interview. “At the end of the day, [Joe Biden is] extremely close to his children, brothers, and his sister, and values their unfiltered advice … and it would make sense that they’re frustrated if they feel like they’re on the outside looking in.”

Asked to comment on Hunter Biden’s presence at White House meetings this week, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement, “Hunter came back with the President from their family weekend at Camp David and went with the President straight into speech prep,” referring to Biden’s preparation for remarks about the Supreme Court’s presidential immunity decision.

A jury last month found Hunter Biden guilty on gun-related charges after a trial in Delaware federal court. He remains under indictment for tax-related felonies, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He has long been the focus of Republican attacks — including from former President Donald Trump himself — which have centered on Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings and questions over whether he benefited from his father’s political stature.

Dunn and Bauer haven’t been afraid to tell the president and the first lady “the truth,” a source familiar with family and staff dynamics said, when other aides who have been with them significantly longer might sometimes shy away from that. “Anita is one of the most respected people in both the White House and campaign, and across the Democratic Party,” a Biden aide said. “And without her leadership, there are real fears we may not be able to recover and claw back and win, just like she helped the president do when he fought back from the early 2020 primary losses and went on to beat Trump.”

In his Friday TV interview, Biden referenced that 2020 victory again and again, pointing to his ability to beat Trump once and to the unexpectedly strong midterm results for Democrats in 2022, to say that he had been counted out before and has delivered. “We did better in an off year than almost any incumbent president ever has done,” Biden said. He also rejected any calls for him to step aside, saying only the “Lord Almighty” could convince him to get out of the race, and that the “Lord Almighty’s not coming down.”

Source: NBC News

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