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The tensions between Barack Obama and Joe Biden are laid bare for the first time in a new biography detailing the often fraught relationship between the pair. ‘The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama’ reveals that the former and current president did not have a cozy ‘bromance’ during their nearly 20-year connection, as many believe.
Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president during both his terms as president, was accused of ‘betrayal’ for announcing that they both supported gay marriage before his boss did. In their early days, Obama thought that Biden was ‘condescending’ and rambled on so much he once told an aide: ‘Shoot. Me. Now.’
‘The Long Alliance,’ (pictured) by New York magazine national correspondent Gabriel Debenedetti, claims that Biden refused to grovel to the Commander in Chief, saying: ‘My manhood is not negotiable.’ The lack of faith in Biden went so far that Obama thought about replacing him with Hillary Clinton as his running mate in 2012 because he thought it would boost his chances of reelection. And, in 2020, Obama reluctantly supported his former vice president in his own run for the presidency after overcoming fears his candidacy could be ‘unthinkably painful.’
The book (pictured), to be published September 13, also offers fresh insight into Obama’s anger at Donald Trump, the author claiming he had a ‘special kind of fury’ for his successor for ushering in an age of ‘amoral coarseness’ children would adopt.
The author, Debenedetti (pictured), details how Obama and Biden first came onto each other’s radar in the mid 2000s when Obama electrified the party with his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, sparking chatter he should run for the presidency. Obama won a Senate seat in Illinois and arrived in Washington in 2005 but was met with skepticism by Biden, then a Senator for Delaware. He was ‘wary of fresh faces’ like Obama and was ‘slightly annoyed’ by the headlines that seemed to follow him everywhere.
Biden did, however, want to get to know Obama and offered to get dinner at a simple Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill – ‘nothing fancy’ as he put it. But Obama said that ‘we can go to a nice place, I can afford it.’ Biden was taken aback and ‘detected more than a hint of arrogance and a hefty serving of presumptuousness.’ The meeting ended on a ‘sour and uncomfortable note’ with no dinner scheduled.
Obama’s first impressions of Biden was that he was ‘old-school’ and that his gesture was ‘condescending at best, borderline offensive at worst.’ Yet, the two men came together to work on the unglamorous Senate Environment and Public Works committee. As Obama saw it, Biden tended to ‘ramble, clearly loving every minute of it.’
Obama told his close advisor David Axelrod: ‘Joe Biden is a decent guy but man, that guy can just talk and talk. It’s an incredible thing to see.’ Obama said that he felt Biden represented a generation of Senators who had ‘overseen Washington’s decline into impracticality.’ When Biden held court during George W. Bush’s confirmation hearings for secretary of state nominee Condoleezza Rice, Obama gave a staffer a note saying: ‘Shoot. Me. Now,’ the book claims.
In early 2007, Biden further damaged his relationship with Obama with an interview in the New York Observer in which he called him the ‘first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy.’ Biden’s campaign for the Presidency in 2008 was in trouble from the start and even his top donors told him that it ‘wasn’t his moment’ – that it belonged to Obama instead who was also running.
Relegated to the sidelines, Biden watched Hillary and Obama fighting it out with both ‘interest and significant annoyance.’ Obama thought about Biden as a rival with an ‘eye roll’ and whenever he was due to speak after, he would ask the organizers how far behind schedule they were. When it came time to choose his running mate, Obama was ‘pragmatic, not emotional’ and recognized that Biden appealed to white voters who were suspicious of him. Biden initially refused Obama’s offer, but his family talked him into coming around. Obama told him it would only work unless Biden viewed the vice president as the ‘capstone’ of his career. Biden shot back: ‘Not the tombstone?’
But the message was clear: With Biden aged 65 at the time Obama wouldn’t have to worry about him running for the presidency. Biden got a promise that the vice presidency would be a full partnership and he would be the last person in the room during key meetings. But tensions began almost immediately and an air of ‘mutual but still subterranean suspicion’ began to grow as Biden had to defend Obama’s positions even though he disagreed with them.
Biden was caught briefing reporters that he would have been a better candidate and Obama’s strategists chided him for his lack of message discipline. Obama’s aides responded by stopping Biden from taking questions from the press and greeting voters only at rope lines – and gave him a teleprompter so he didn’t stray from the script. According to the book, ‘The biggest insult to Biden was how little his input mattered to Obama’s inner circle. Biden could hardly shake the suspicion that Obama’s eggheads saw him as a foolish distraction they couldn’t fully trust.’
Biden’s vice presidential debate performance against Sarah Palin – the most watched VP debate in history – earned him points in the Obama camp. However, there were still more gaffes, such as Biden saying: ‘We’re gonna have a generated crisis to test the mettle of this guy,’ referring to Obama. In private, Obama said: ‘Why … would Joe say that?’ Biden struggled to establish his role in the campaign and said that he wanted to be ‘deferential without debasing myself.’ He told an aide: ‘I’m not going to grovel to this guy. My manhood is not negotiable.’ Biden ‘rolled his eyes behind Obama’s back at his aloofness and glad-handing with fellow pols.’
For his part, Obama sighed when Biden went on too long in meetings, occasionally tapping him on the arm to shut him up – and sometimes in public, the book claims. Biden was surprised by Obama’s ‘humorlessness’ while Obama thought that Biden’s gaffes were giving their opponents ‘ammunition.’ Obama even made fun of Biden in a TV interview, saying of his latest misstep, ‘I don’t remember what Joe was referring to – not surprisingly.’ Once they were in office, their relationship improved with weekly meetings and Obama following through on his promise to give Biden as much access as he wanted.
During discussions about whether to send more troops to Afghanistan – Obama would eventually agree to a 30,000 troop surge – he told Biden: ‘You know Joe, it’d be fun to let you be president for just five minutes to see how you’d handle it.’ Among the disagreements between the pair was Obama focusing on healthcare reform, which he said would ‘kneecap his presidency from the start.’ After the Democrats’ heavy losses in the 2010 midterm elections, Obama did consider asking Clinton to be his running mate for 2012, despite denying it at the time. Obama asked his aides to look into all possibilities with ‘few boundaries on their research’ and they tested Clinton’s name to supporters and surrogates. As the ‘chatter became a roar,’ Biden became ‘distraught’ at the prospect he would not be around for a second term, but Obama eventually stuck with him.
Their relationship was further tested in 2012 over the issue of gay marriage. Obama planned to announce that he supported it in a TV interview, likely on ABC with Robin Roberts, the Good Morning America host. But before he could do it, Biden gave a TV interview and said that was his opinion too, sparking national headlines about the historic significance of such a statement. Among Obama’s aides, there was ‘disbelieving fury’ while some said: ‘We can’t trust him to say his lines and he’s out of practice anyway.’
Others ranted: ‘He’s ruined what should have been Obama’s historic moment because he can’t control his loud mouth.’ The book claims Biden’s actions were ‘tantamount to betrayal….an example of Biden trying to position himself in front of the president.’ Obama was [furious] that his planning had ‘gone up in smoke’ and scolded Biden, telling him that he had been in the room when he talked about his plans to reveal his views on gay marriage. Obama said he ‘couldn’t believe the VP had put himself in the front of their joint project.’ Obama calmed down enough to only be ‘mildly exasperated’ by Biden’s gaffes during his re-election campaign, such as when he told a black audience in Virginia to ‘unchain Wall Street’, in an uncomfortable echo of slavery.
Yet, Biden was the one who got the campaign back on track after Obama’s disastrous first presidential debate against Mitt Romney. Biden’s evisceration of Romney’s VP candidate, Paul Ryan, earned him a relieved call from his boss and a ‘new kind of gratitude.’ According to the book, by this point ‘Biden admitted he had grown as a politician during his years with Obama, the product of some weird chemistry that was almost like what happened when you play tennis with someone better than you.’
The relationship came under its most pronounced strain during the 2016 election, which was so raw that even today aides still don’t like to talk about it, the book claims. The problem was that Obama ‘believed Clinton represented the best shot at keeping the White House after he left.’ Biden couldn’t hide his ‘annoyance’ and had a ‘mounting frustration’ that Clinton was the preferred candidate. Being overlooked left him feeling ‘personally stung’ yet he stalled about announcing his own candidacy. That feeling was made worse when Clinton formally declared she was running and Obama called her his ‘friend’ who would make an ‘excellent president,’ which Biden saw as an endorsement. Biden was left thinking: ‘Am I not needed now?’
Biden privately complained that Clinton had ‘too much baggage’ and he had a better shot with white working class men. In his opinion, Biden was Obama’s ‘natural heir’ rather than Clinton. Meanwhile, Obama didn’t want to see Biden get ‘destroyed by Clinton’ in the primary, which would be a ‘devastating way’ to end his career. He feared his legacy would be ‘tarnished by a brutal loss’ and that he would get ‘wiped out’ by Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator who was running as a Democrat.
The decision was taken out of both their hands when Biden’s son Beau died in May 2015 at the age of 46 from a brain tumor. Grief stricken, Biden announced he would not run after all. As the election campaign went on, Obama admitted that Clinton ‘wasn’t a great candidate and had trouble empathizing with regular people, but she wasn’t that bad’, the book claims. Biden, however, was more forthright with aides about Clinton: ‘No one trusted her….Clinton was turning into a toxic candidate,’ he fumed.
When Biden got only a small audience at a union speech in Ohio, he took it as further evidence of Clinton’s ‘weakness’. During a meeting with Clinton’s advisers, Biden screamed they were ‘losing’ the white working class. He said: ‘It’s because none of you know what it’s like,’ as they were all upper class. As the election neared Obama sensed danger but still thought Clinton would win, telling his inner circle that Trump was a ‘[expletive] idiot’. Watching Trump’s presidency from afar, Obama had a ‘special kind of fury’ about Trump’s influence on the next generation of children. Obama abhorred the ‘amoral coarseness and openness to sexism and racism from which the country would struggle to recover’, and Obama, for months, ‘stewed in frustration’.
As for Biden, a few weeks into what should have been his retirement he was ‘restless’ and ‘still steaming’ about the election. He and Obama ‘hardly talked about current affairs at all’, such was the distance in their relationship. The moment that made Biden realize he should run for the presidency was the rally by far right groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Yet, he was met with a ‘wall of skepticism’ about his candidacy. Biden had ‘physically slowed visibly’ since leaving office and was speaking more slowly and ‘less precisely’.
Obama was meeting candidates for the 2020 election, including the now Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, but Obama thought he was ‘too short’ and seemed too young – Buttigieg is now 40. Obama struggled with a Biden candidacy and wondered if he could ‘discourage his worst habits’ like his lack of interest in fundraising and his tendency to talk too long. Obama feared Biden’s team ‘didn’t understand’ Internet-era campaigning and was unimpressed by Biden’s ‘corny’ Tweets. Worse than that, Obama thought that Biden seemed ‘tired’ and the prospect of him going through a Presidential election seemed ‘unthinkably painful’.
When they finally spoke, Obama told Biden that ‘you don’t have anything left to prove,’ but Biden couldn’t sit by and pass up a chance to remove Trump from office. Eventually, once Biden won the Democratic nomination, Obama came out in support, becoming his ‘attack dog’ on the campaign trail and brutally mocking Trump in speeches, which delighted the party’s base. But once Biden won the presidency, the old tensions did not go away. Appearing on a podcast, Obama said that Biden was ‘finishing the job’ that he started – a claim that Biden ‘bristled’ at.
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