The White House Really Wants You and Bob Gates to Know How Influential Joe Biden Is

The press office packed the vice president’s schedule with Obama meetings and photo ops.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Jan. 8, 2014, 6:06 a.m.

If you want proof that the White House is wor­ried about the new mem­oir from former De­fense Sec­ret­ary Robert Gates, just look at the at­ten­tion Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden is get­ting from the press of­fice today.

The White House was hit yes­ter­day with a bomb­shell from the former Cab­in­et sec­ret­ary that had Wash­ing­ton talk­ing. Oth­er than Gates’s rev­el­a­tions that the pres­id­ent ques­tioned his own strategy in Afgh­anistan, the book also showed a level of mis­trust in Biden. Gates wrote that the vice pres­id­ent was “a man of in­teg­rity.” But, he con­tin­ues, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every ma­jor for­eign policy and na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sue over the past four dec­ades.”

So, how does the White House try to tamp down con­cern that the pres­id­ent does not trust the vice pres­id­ent’s judg­ment? Well, first you re­lease a state­ment, which the White House did. From Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil spokes­wo­man Caitlin Hay­den:

The pres­id­ent dis­agrees with Sec­ret­ary Gates’ as­sess­ment — from his lead­er­ship on the Balkans in the Sen­ate, to his ef­forts to end the war in Ir­aq, Joe Biden has been one of the lead­ing states­men of his time, and has helped ad­vance Amer­ica’s lead­er­ship in the world.

Pres­id­ent Obama re­lies on his good coun­sel every day.

Then you turn to the of­fi­cial pub­lic sched­ule for the pres­id­ent. Every week­day even­ing, the White House Press Of­fice re­leases the pres­id­ent’s pub­lic sched­ule for the next day, an­noun­cing travel plans, a ma­jor speech, or a vis­it from a for­eign dig­nit­ary or Cab­in­et sec­ret­ary. But the sched­ule can some­times play as a polit­ic­al tool.

In Wed­nes­day’s in­stance, it wasn’t subtle (my em­phas­is ad­ded):

  • In the morn­ing, the Pres­id­ent and the Vice Pres­id­ent will re­ceive the Pres­id­en­tial Daily Brief­ing in the Oval Of­fice. This meet­ing is closed press.
  • Later in the morn­ing, the Pres­id­ent and the Vice Pres­id­ent will meet with the Pri­vacy and Civil Liber­ties Over­sight Board in the Situ­ation Room. This meet­ing is closed press.
  • In the af­ter­noon, the Pres­id­ent and the Vice Pres­id­ent will meet for lunch in the Private Din­ing Room. There will be a stills only pool spray of the lunch.
  • Af­ter­ward, the Pres­id­ent and the Vice Pres­id­ent will meet with lead­ers of the in­tel­li­gence com­munity in the Situ­ation Room. This meet­ing is closed press.
  • Later in the af­ter­noon, the Pres­id­ent and the Vice Pres­id­ent will meet with Sec­ret­ary of State Kerry in the Oval Of­fice. This meet­ing is closed press.

For those un­fa­mil­i­ar with the pres­id­ent’s sched­ule every day, this is a bit un­usu­al. Obama and Biden usu­ally meet for lunch on a weekly basis. That’s not un­usu­al. What is, however, is the “stills only pool spray” after the lunch.

In White House press-speak, that means pho­to­graph­ers fol­low­ing the pres­id­ent’s pub­lic ac­tions that day will get to snap pho­tos of the two men to­geth­er. This is a move by the White House to show the pair, likely look­ing happy and friendly, to­geth­er in the White House, pro­mot­ing a nar­rat­ive that the pres­id­ent trusts the vice pres­id­ent’s coun­sel. This pho­to­graph­ic op­por­tun­ity rarely, if ever, hap­pens, judging by a re­view of the pub­lic sched­ule in re­cent months.

The White House, mean­while, is deny­ing the photo op has to do with the Gates book. In­stead, it’s about mak­ing “good on our prom­ise to provide more ac­cess.”

The second odd ad­di­tion to the pres­id­ent’s daily sched­ule is his meet­ing in the Situ­ation Room with the vice pres­id­ent. Now lately, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has gone through a re­view of its in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing prac­tices, and the pres­id­ent has par­ti­cip­ated in some meet­ings with in­tel­li­gence lead­ers on this is­sue. The vice pres­id­ent, at least pub­licly, has re­mained out of the meet­ings.

For ex­ample, on Dec. 18, the pres­id­ent met with mem­bers of the Re­view Group on In­tel­li­gence and Com­mu­nic­a­tions Tech­no­lo­gies in the Situ­ation Room. Biden did not at­tend.

While the vice pres­id­ent and pres­id­ent likely meet to­geth­er in the Situ­ation Room of­ten, those meet­ings are rarely made pub­lic. It’s just a part of White House life. But the tim­ing of today’s meet­ing seems odd, in ad­di­tion to Biden’s par­ti­cip­a­tion in the in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing re­view.

By the end of today, after the photo-op and the op­por­tun­it­ies to talk about Biden’s par­ti­cip­a­tion in im­port­ant daily meet­ings, the White House is hop­ing it might change the nar­rat­ive — at least, just for Wed­nes­day.

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