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Long-simmering tensions between Biden’s family and aides spill out


President Joe Biden’s family is attempting to become more involved in his campaign and White House affairs as their anger with his staff spills into public view.

“The debate fiasco has opened up a lane for the family to surpass staff and start helping out their father and brother who they love dearly,” one of the people with knowledge of family dynamics said.

The split between the president’s family and some of his closest aides has long been simmering, and his debate performance has exacerbated the dynamic, 13 sources familiar with the dynamics told NBC News. In the view of some Biden aides, the family is seizing on an opportunity to try to settle old scores. In the view of family members, the debate is the culmination of misguided advice from aides who they don’t believe have helped the president best showcase his political appeal.

The infighting has angered some Biden staffers, who have found the finger-pointing to be getting in the way of all-hands-on-deck approach needed to help the president battle this crisis.

“It’s not helpful,” one Biden campaign aide said. The view of some Biden allies is that the president’s aides are doing the bulk of managing and coordinating the post-debate strategy, while the family is approaching the situation more emotionally.

Another person close to the president said the Biden family is not seeing the political reality clearly.

“It’s Shakespearean,” this person said.

On Friday, Biden said he took full responsibility for his debate performance, saying in an interview with ABC News that it was “nobody’s fault but mine.”

Hunter Biden’s appearance in White House meetings this week was just one instance of what is expected to be a deeper Biden family involvement. The president’s sister, Valerie Owens, also traveled to Washington this week to join other family members at the White House and planned for face-to-face meetings about her brother’s campaign.

Biden family members have discussed whether he should fire senior White House adviser Anita Dunn and her husband, Bob Bauer, who is Biden’s personal lawyer, two people familiar with the matter said. Even so, four sources close to the Biden family said there is no active effort to shake up staffing right now. They said there is an effort among those close to the president to be measured, focused, thoughtful and deliberate.

“The president and first lady have full confidence in their team, including Anita and Bob,” White House chief of staff Jeff Zients said in a statement. “There is absolutely no truth to these unfounded and insulting rumors.”

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 a catastrophic debate performance, according to one of the sources.

President Joe Biden, center, walks with his family on the grass at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C.
President Joe Biden spent the July 4 holiday with his family, including his son Hunter Biden, grandson Beau Biden (behind Hunter Biden), Melissa Cohen Biden and first lady Jill Biden.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

“I believe the family has witnessed blunder after blunder by key staff personnel, and the debate is likely the straw that broke the camel’s back,” the source said. “Post-debate, the supposed loyal staff, instead of taking responsibility, pointed the finger back at the president and said: ‘His fault.’ I can think of no other singular action that would agitate the Biden family more.”

The bigger concern now among some of Biden’s inner circle is that the kind of disagreements among them 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, five sources familiar with the matter said.

The dynamics have become so fraught that after Biden was informed Sunday of reporting 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.

But when pressed on why he isn’t in those settings more often, they 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, but 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.

It’s 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.”



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