Chaos swirling since Biden's debate flub is causing cracks in White House discipline

Chaos swirling since Biden's debate flub is causing cracks in White House discipline

Chaos swirling since Biden's debate flub is causing cracks in White House discipline

WASHINGTON — Internal drama. Leaks. Second-guessing. The pressure and chaos swirling since Joe Biden's disastrous debate performance is causing cracks in a 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 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 reelection 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.”

Biden's shaky 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 Biden'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 reporter interview questions.

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

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

Biden's debate performance prompted a surprising amount of public criticism from some of his biggest fans, including former White House communications director Kate Bedingfield, who was on a cable TV panel immediately after the faceoff.

“It was a really disappointing debate performance from Joe Biden. I don’t think there’s any other way to slice it. His biggest issue was to prove to the American people that he had the energy, the stamina — and he didn’t do that," she said on CNN.

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

At Camp David the weekend after the debate, Biden's family — in particular Hunter Biden and first lady Jill Biden — encouraged the president to stay in the race, and questioned whether his staff had prepared him properly. (Biden, for his part, has said firmly the debate disaster was “nobody's fault but mine.”)

Not long after, the presence of Hunter Biden — awaiting sentencing on three felony convictions in a gun case — at the White House was unsettling to some people, who worried about his influence with his father, according to two Democrats close to the White House who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

And there's been the second-guessing over the long-term strategy to limit Biden's public interactions, especially with journalists, under a mandate led by senior aides. Biden has granted fewer interviews than his modern predecessors, and he's held fewer news conferences than any president since Ronald Reagan.

Bates said the strategy “is and has been for the American people to hear directly from Joe Biden.” He noted Biden gave an interview Monday to MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” has taken questions from reporters more than 580 times and travels the country speaking to people directly.