Chaos swirled up by Biden’s debate stumble causes cracks in White House

Joe Biden’s shaky June 27 debate performance has led to an unusually public blame game, leaks of private phone calls between the President and Democrats and questions about his son Hunter Biden’s presence at the White House.

Published - July 11, 2024 10:19 am IST

Representational image of U.S. President Joe Biden

Representational image of U.S. President Joe Biden | Photo Credit: Reuters

The pressure and chaos swirling since U.S. President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance is causing cracks in the White House that until now had been marked by discipline and loyalty.

For three-plus years, the Biden administration has been mostly a restrained and staid operation, defined more by an insistence on showcasing policy and an avoidance of palace intrigue. Aides generally kept any criticism of their boss or their jobs out of the public eye. Not lately, though.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reflected on Tuesday on the extraordinary moment for the President and his team, as questions about the 81-year-old’s age and mental capacity threaten to torpedo his re-election dreams. “It has been an unprecedented time,” she said of scrutiny of the President. “We are meeting a new moment that has never really existed before.”

Public blame game

Mr. Biden’s shaky June 27 debate performance has led to an unusually public blame game, leaks of private phone calls between the President and Democrats and questions about his son Hunter Biden’s presence at the White House. It has prompted current White House officials to anonymously vent their concerns about the President’s ability to do the job and even led to the departure of a radio journalist after details emerged that the Biden campaign had fed her and another pressperson interview questions.

Not to mention all the drama playing out on Capitol Hill, where a handful of House Democrats have publicly called for the President to step aside and there is closed-door hand-wringing by others over whether to publicly come out against him as party leaders try to bring members to heel.

Mr. Biden has been adamant that he is not leaving the race, and the chorus of criticism may be dying down, but it is not clear yet whether the White House drama has been a momentary lapse or will continue as the nation barrels toward the 2024 election.

Andrew Bates, a senior deputy press secretary, said Mr. Biden had “restored compassion, honesty, and competence to the Oval Office” and built the most diverse administration in history.

But aides and allies were quietly shaken over how Mr. Biden performed in the debate, and wondered whether the campaign was salvageable, particularly as the negative reviews kept pouring in.

There have also been public missteps. Ms. Jean-Pierre told presspersons that Mr. Biden had not been seen by his doctor since his physical, but the President later told campaign workers on a private call that he had been seen by his doctor after he felt sick returning from grueling back-to-back foreign trips.

White House aides declined for days to explain a neurologist’s repeated visits to the White House that had sparked speculation that Mr. Biden was getting a treatment, and Mr. Jean-Pierre misspoke when talking about the issue on Tuesday.

On Sunday, a radio host departed her job after news that she and another interviewer at a different station had asked questions of Mr. Biden that had been fed to them by the campaign.

The interviews were meant to be part of an effort to restore faith in Mr. Biden’s ability not just to govern over the next four years but to successfully campaign, but the revelation only added to criticism that he could not handle unscripted questioning.

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