The small circle of tight-lipped aides guiding Biden 2024
When President Biden announced his re-election campaign and his top two aides this week, the names of his closest and longest-serving advisers were not mentioned.
A narrow circle of senior officials, some of whom have known Mr. Biden longer than many of the soon-to-be-hired campaign aides are alive, will guide the president’s political strategy, both in the White House and on the campaign trail. .
None of them have significant public personas. Of the six, only Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and Jeff Zients, the White House Chief of Staff, have active Twitter accounts. But it was members of this group who began calling over the weekend to offer views on Mr Biden’s campaign, only a few of which have been announced.
Officials in the White House and throughout his burgeoning campaign insist that the campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, will be authorized to carry out Mr Biden’s re-election bid. But a range of Democratic officials involved in ramping up his efforts in 2024 have made it clear that many important decisions will continue to be made by the president’s cadre of top advisers.
According to two Biden advisers, White House staffers involved in rolling out the campaign include Ms. O’Malley Dillon, Mr. Zients, Anita Dunn, Mike Donilon, Steve Ricchetti and Bruce Reed.
Here’s a look at the people at the center of the president’s political universe who will help guide his re-election bid.
Mr Biden appointed Mr Zients as his second chief of staff in January after Mr Zients oversaw the government’s Covid vaccination program. He has provided regular bagel deliveries to the West Wing of Call Your Mother, a Washington chain he co-owns. (Four days into his presidency, Mr. Biden directed his motorcade to stop at one of the stores so his son Hunter could pick up an order.)
Mr. Zients has attended interviews with and deliberations about potential campaign aides, and he has regular political meetings with Mr. Biden.
Ms. Dunn has also held senior positions with Democrats, including President Barack Obama. And she helped found SKDK, a major public affairs and political consulting firm that employs a stable of Democratic operatives. (She’s gotten questions over the years about the intersection of her government work and the company’s business dealings.)
She is married to prominent lawyer Bob Bauer – a partnership that in 2009 led to Newsweek calling them Washington’s new power couple. Mr. Bauer is also a close Biden adviser who has served as attorney for Mr. Biden.
“Anita’s default is action,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who served as White House communications director for Obama. “In a party of handwringers who may be Democrats, she has a unique leadership style that helps move things forward.”
Mr. Ricchetti, who served as Mr. Biden’s vice presidential chief of staff, has been a longtime confidant of Biden.
He often acted as a conduit among Mr. Biden, donors and members of Congress. (Shortly after Mr. Biden took office, Mr. Ricchetti’s brother was widely criticized for his work as a lobbyist; Mr. Ricchetti has also worked as a lobbyist.)
“Steve is the best I’ve seen at managing relationships and being an open ear to a lot of people,” said former Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who served as senior adviser to Mr. Biden at the White House and as national adviser co-chair of his 2020 campaign. “Stevie knows the interactions of Congress and the White House.”
When asked if he could compare the top Biden aides to characters from “The West Wing” TV series, Mr. Richmond noted that Josh Lyman, the fast-talking, hard-hitting White House deputy chief of staff, “kept scores.”
“Maybe from Stevie to Josh,” he said. “He has a long memory.”
Aside from Mr. Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and Jill Biden, the first lady, Mr. Donilon has worked with Mr. Biden the longest of anyone in his inner circle.
The quiet Mr. Donilon, an advisor to Mr. Biden since the early 1980s, is a regular at Georgetown University basketball games — even during the team’s recent period of bad years. (Mr. Donilon, a native of Rhode Island, holds two degrees from the University of Washington.)
He comes from a family adept at politics. A brother, Tom Donilon, served in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Another, Terrence Donilon, is the chief spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Boston. Mike Donilon’s sister-in-law, Catherine Russell, was Dr. Biden when Mr. Biden was Vice President.
Mr. Donilon, who was Mr. Biden’s chief strategist during the 2020 campaign, is now a senior adviser and regularly travels with the president.
“These are people who are very close to the president and are the reason why he is president,” Cristóbal Alex, a veteran of Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign and the White House, said of Mr. Donilon and other top Biden advisers. “That kind of core leadership will play an incredibly important role in his election.”
Jennifer O’Malley Dillon
A relatively late addition to Biden’s inner circle, Ms. O’Malley Dillon held senior positions in both of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaigns and was the campaign manager in Beto O’Rourke’s 2020 bid for the White House before Ms. Dunn recruited her to take what was then a small Biden presidential campaign.
Ms O’Malley Dillon became campaign manager just as the pandemic hit. She was responsible for transforming a lean operation into a serious election machine, and did so as the world went into lockdown, managing the bid of a then seventy-year-old candidate who would be out of the running for much of the remainder of the campaign.
“Jen has great political instincts and I’ve never seen anyone run the buses and trains on time like she does,” said Mr. Richmond.
Ms. O’Malley Dillon, known for her skills as a political organizer and her habit of making late-night phone calls while riding her Peloton stationary bicycle during the campaign, became the first woman to lead a winning campaign for Democratic President and is now a White House Deputy Chief of Staff.
Like Mr. Biden, Mr. Reed has spent his career as a centrist Democrat in Washington. He worked for many years for the Democratic Leadership Council, which aimed to orient the party toward the political center and wielded great influence during the Clinton administration.
The co-author of a book with Rahm Emanuel and the one-time author of a daily column for Slate – in 2009 he called on the Baseball Hall of Fame to “put any player who has used steroids on its permanently ineligible list” – Mr. Reed worked for Al Gore and Bill Clinton before becoming Biden’s chief of staff during the Obama administration.
Mr. Reed, an Idaho native whose affection for his home state extended to his personal email, is Mr. Biden’s chief policy advisor and travels with him on domestic trips.