Why Bi­den chose Obama to de­liver his son’s eu­logy

Politi­cians’ part­ner­ship has de­vel­oped into deeper bond

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY JULIET EILPERIN

Pres­i­dent Obama was vis­i­bly dis­tracted.

“He was just star­ing out the win­dow, and it was clear he wasn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion,” re­called David Ax­el­rod, who was serv­ing as a White House se­nior ad­viser at the time.

It was May 2010, and Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den’s older son, Beau had just suf­fered a stroke. “‘I don’t know how Joe’s go­ing to go on if this doesn’t work,’ the pres­i­dent said,” Ax­el­rod re­called. A week later, when Bi­den re­turned to the West Wing, Obama sprinted out of his of­fice to wel­come him back.

Five years later, as Bi­den dealt with the prospect that Obama dreaded, he asked the pres­i­dent to de­liver a eu­logy for his son, to take on the task of giv­ing voice to the in­tense pri­vate grief of a fam­ily that has spent decades in the lime­light.

Bi­den’s re­quest un­der­scored just how much the per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two men has evolved in the seven years since they forged their po­lit­i­cal part­ner­ship.

Within am­at­ter of 48 hours, mem­bers of the Obama and Bi­den fam­i­lies went from the Sid­well Friends mid­dle-school

grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony — Bi­den’s grand­daugh­ter Maisy is in the same grade as Sasha Obama, and the girls are close friends — to mourn­ing Beau Bi­den to­gether in Wilm­ing­ton.

“It is a re­ally mean­ing­ful fam­ily re­la­tion­ship,” said Ron Klain, who served as Bi­den’s chief of staff dur­ing the first term and as the pres­i­dent’s co­or­di­na­tor for the Ebola epi­demic in the sec­ond term.

The part­ner­ship has not been with­out its rough patches. Bi­den, no­to­ri­ous for speak­ing off-the cuff, got into trou­ble dur­ing the 2008 pri­maries for telling a crowd that Obama would be “tested” by other for­eign lead­ers be­cause of his youth. In May 2012, he forced the pres­i­dent’s hand on same-sex mar­riage, af­ter un­ex­pect­edly telling an in­ter­viewer he was “ab­so­lutely com­fort­able” with such unions. Three months later, he raised eye­brows when he told a racially mixed au­di­ence in Vir­ginia that GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney’s ap­proach to reg­u­lat­ing Wall Street would “put y’all back in chains.”

But th­ese mo­ments of ten­sion have not al­tered a fun­da­men­tal dy­namic be­tween two men who have be­come part­ners in gov­ern­ing as well as close con­fi­dants.

“They trust one an­other and can be very hon­est with each other,” White House se­nior ad­viser Va­lerie Jar­rett said in an in­ter­view, adding: “They love each other.”

The con­trast be­tween Obama, the dis­ci­plined, me­thod­i­cal thinker, and Bi­den, the back-slap­ping, emo­tional Ir­ish Amer­i­can pol, has been ev­i­dent from the out­set. It has be­come a source of am­i­ca­ble teas­ing, such as when they toured a plant in Clin­ton, Tenn., and saw a blue sports car man­u­fac­tured with a 3-D printer.

“We lost Joe’s at­ten­tion when we laid eyes on that 3-D-printed sports car,” the pres­i­dent said, drawing laugh­ter from the crowd. “And we had to ex­plain to him: You don’t get to drive on this trip.”

Julie Smith, who served as Bi­den’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser be­tween 2012 and 2013, said that Bi­den “has learned to to the pres­i­dent’s style” even as the pres­i­dent has come to ac­cept his sec­ond-in-com­mand’s quirkier ap­proach.

“They’ve found a way to man­age their dif­fer­ences,” said Smith, who di­rects the strat­egy and state­craft pro­gram at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity. “They don’t have to lose sleep over this re­la­tion­ship, be­cause they’re go­ing to make it work.”

The mas­sive fi­nan­cial chal­lenges that the ad­min­is­tra­tion faced in its early days, Ax­el­rod and Jar­rett said, helped forge a closer rap­port be­tween Obama and Bi­den. They have a pri­vate lunch to­gether once a week, Bi­den reg­u­larly at­tends the pres­i­dent’s daily in­tel­li­gence brief­ing, and Obama has tasked the vice pres­i­dent with ma­jor ini­tia­tives, such as man­ag­ing the U.S. re­la­tion­ship with Iraq and im­ple­ment­ing the $787 bil­lion eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age.

“We came to of­fice at such a mis­er­ably dif­fi­cult time and had to face some very dif­fi­cult chal­lenges, and I think that’s part of what forged that re­la­tion­ship,” Ax­el­rod said in the in­ter­view Fri­day. “It was in this cru­cible of cri­sis where they re­ally had to rely on each other.”

At times, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials, Bi­den has served as the pres­i­dent’s foil. For­mer White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney, who served as Bi­den’s spokesman for two years be­fore serv­ing in that po­si­tion, re­called at­tend­ing a meet­ing in 2011 in the Roo­sevelt Room where roughly a dozen ad­vis­ers had reached a con­sen­sus on the mat­ter in ques­tion be­fore the vice pres­i­dent said that he dis­agreed.

“The vice pres­i­dent fin­ished, and the pres­i­dent said, ‘I think Joe’s right,’ ” Car­ney said, adding that on such oc­ca­sions Bi­den “cre­ated space for the pres­i­dent to take a con­trar­ian view and cre­ated more room for his de­ci­sion-mak­ing.”

Bi­den also has taken on un­en­vi­able as­sign­ments, in­clud­ing work­ing to ease ten­sions be­tween Obama and House Democrats, ne­go­ti­at­ing fis­cal deals with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mcadapt Con­nell (R-Ky.) af­ter Repub­li­cans made ma­jor elec­toral gains and at­tempt­ing to bro­ker peace in the Mid­dle East and in Ukraine.

But Bi­den has not been a free­lancer dur­ing his time in the White House, and his in­tense loy­alty to the pres­i­dent has earned him con­sid­er­able af­fec­tion not just from Obama but also other top aides. The warmth of the Obama-Bi­den re­la­tion­ship stands in con­trast to the last Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion, when Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore es­tab­lished an early col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship that even­tu­ally frayed be­cause so much of the sec­ond term was colored by Gore’s pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions.

“That made it in­her­ently trans­ac­tional in some ways,” said a for­mer se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, who knows all four men. “Ev­ery day, they were ne­go­ti­at­ing the goals of the Clin­ton pres­i­dency and the goals of mak­ing the vice pres­i­dent the next pres­i­dent.”

Bi­den has said that he will de­clare some­time this sum­mer whether he will run in 2016, but it ap­pears in­creas­ingly un­likely that he will pur­sue the pres­i­dency one more time. And re­gard­less of what path he takes, the of­fi­cial added, “he hasn’t built his vice pres­i­dency around be­com­ing pres­i­dent.”

And it helps ex­plain why on Satur­day, Obama de­liv­ered an emo­tional eu­logy in which he de­clared from the pul­pit of Wilm­ing­ton’s St. An­thony of Padua Church to Beau Bi­den’s widow, Hal­lie, his two chil­dren and the rest of the fam­ily as­sem­bled there, “We are here to grieve with you, but more im­por­tantly, we are here be­cause we love you.”

“To Natalie and Hunter — there aren’t words big enough to de­scribe how much your dad loved you, how much he loved your mom. But I will tell you what, Michelle and I and Sasha and Malia, we’ve be­come part of the Bi­den clan,” he said. “We’re hon­orary mem­bers now. And the Bi­den fam­ily rule ap­plies. We’re al­ways here for you, we al­ways will be — my word as a Bi­den.”

“We came to of­fice at such a mis­er­ably dif­fi­cult time and had to face some very dif­fi­cult chal­lenges, and I think that’s part of what forged that re­la­tion­ship. It was in this cru­cible of cri­sis where they re­ally had to rely on each other.”

David Ax­el­rod, for­mer White House se­nior ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Obama, on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den and Obama

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.