New book details Biden-Obama frictions and says Harris sought roles ‘away from the spotlight’
WASHINGTON (AP) — A new book about Joe Biden portrays the president as someone whose middle-class upbringing helped foster a resentment of intellectual elitism that shaped his political career and sometimes caused strain with his onetime boss, Harvard-educated Barack Obama.
Biden, who spent eight years as Obama’s vice president, told a friend that Obama couldn’t even curse properly, according to “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future.”
Released Tuesday and written by Franklin Foer, a staff writer for The Atlantic, the book says Biden said Obama was unable to deliver a “f—- you” with “the right elongation of vowels and the necessary hardness of consonants; it was how they must curse in the ivory tower.”
Now, as the president runs for reelection, the early frontrunner among Republicans is former President Donald Trump, whose supporters can sometimes resent the perceived elitism of Washington’s political class — suggesting some overlap with Biden.
The anecdote also may resonate with Democrats. Ardent supporters of both Biden and Obama fondly recall the then-vice president telling Obama in a private aside that was captured on a hot mic, “This is a big f—-ing deal,” during the signing ceremony for Obama’s signature health care law in 2010.
Foer’s book offers a deep examination of Biden’s first two years in office, which the author describes as encompassing a lot of “flailing” before the president began to cement his legacy through signature policy achievements and “creative diplomacy” that helped rally the world behind Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion.
The 80-year-old Biden continues to face questions about his age, and Foer calls it “striking” that Biden attends few meetings or public events before 10 a.m. In private, Biden would “occasionally admit to friends he felt tired,” the book says.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked last week by a reporter citing an early excerpt from Foer’s book if personal fatigue might help explain why Biden’s morning schedule was often light. She responded, “That’s a ridiculous assumption to make.”
Jean-Pierre referred back to that exchange during her briefing with reporters at the White House on Tuesday, and provided updated comment, saying that administration officials had now “seen the context of the excerpt.” She said the book was actually praising Biden for helping to push major legislation through Congress and unify global support around Ukraine.
It “seemed to be making the opposite overall point about how the value of his experience and wisdom resulted in rallying the free world against authoritarianism,” she said.
Jean-Pierre also said “there’s gonna be a range, always, a range of books that are about every administration” that would feature “a variety of claims.”
“That’s not unusual. That happens all the time,” she said. “And we’re not going to litigate here.”
Foer’s book also describes struggles by Vice President Kamala Harris to carve out a role for herself as Biden’s No. 2 that have been well-documented previously. But Foer suggests Harris may have hurt her own cause in that area, initially asking to be in charge of relations with Scandinavia because it was “away from the spotlight.”
The book reports that the vice president was initially excited about helping the administration tackle the root causes of immigration that have seen so many Central American migrants seeking asylum arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border — but that she eventually began to accept conventional wisdom that it was a thankless assignment.
Foer’s book says Biden tried to treat Harris more respectfully than he felt Obama often had treated him as vice president, calling her “the vice president” instead of “my vice president.” But, during his early days in office, as Biden was convening his team to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Biden joked that the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, should sit in the vice president’s seat.
“The Last Politician” describes the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. It says that when Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, relayed to the president that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country, leaving Kabul to fall to the Taliban, Biden declared in frustration, “Give me a break!”
It also reports that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally intervened to help many women whose work in Afghanistan made them potential targets for the Taliban. She directed a group of them to wear white scarfs so they could be identified by U.S. Marines guarding the Kabul airport, and unilaterally contacted world leaders to find places for their eventual evacuation flights to land.
The book says Clinton’s call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy drew a personal rebuke from Sullivan, former close advisor to Clinton, who told her “What are you doing calling the Ukrainian government?”
“I wouldn’t have to call if you guys would,” Clinton responded, according to Foer’s book.