DNC members grow frustrated over increasing White House influence

Democratic National Committee (DNC) members are growing increasingly frustrated by the White House’s influence on their political operation, causing friction between aides to President Biden and the leading party organization promoting his agenda.

Regular interactions between an aligned administration and party-level figures are common. But the amount of participation from top Biden allies has been significant early into the president’s first term and has happened before some committee-wide decisions have been settled internally.

For some within the DNC, it’s all just a little too much too soon.

“People are super frustrated in the trenches around what’s happening with the DNC and the White House’s control of it,” said a DNC member, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the internal dynamics at play.

“The White House is not thinking about how to build the electorate writ large, but they’re concentrating on [a] few states,” the source said. “It’s all about [the] presidential reelect.”

The strong footprint from Biden’s inner circle is becoming an annoyance for some within the DNC structure who argue the White House is attempting to mount a reelection effort at a time when state members are trying to build an infrastructure to last well beyond the next presidential cycle.

That omnipresence has left the impression that Biden, 78, is “clearly posturing” to run again in 2024, said a second well-placed and seasoned DNC member, with little discussion about any other prospects to replace him.

There have been lingering questions about whether Biden will seek a second term or instead pave the way for Vice President Harris to potentially run in his place. Publicly, Biden and administration officials have not entertained the idea of sitting out a second bid.

Central to the reelection debate and the White House’s overall influence on the DNC is Steve Ricchetti. As Biden’s longtime senior adviser and strategist, Ricchetti has his hand in nearly every facet of Biden World, from legislative and strategy deliberations to personnel picks.

Through nearly seven months of Biden’s presidency, Ricchetti has added to his portfolio by providing informal advice to the DNC. According to three DNC sources who spoke to The Hill, he has been closely involved in top priorities of the national party headquarters. He also is expected to continue with upcoming decisions around appointments, two of those sources said.

“He’s pivotal politically. Nothing moves without Ricchetti’s sign-off,” said the second DNC source.

One of those areas, two sources said, is a meeting set to happen in October in Washington, D.C. During that gathering, both Biden and DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison get to appoint “at-large” members to the committee, who are typically political insiders.

Multiple sources said Ricchetti is expected to have a say in who Biden chooses.

“Those are really big items, that’s where a lot of political favors are repaid. All that goes through the president,” said Ken Martin, the longstanding chairman of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

“My sense is that it is Ricchetti who’s probably talking to the president about this stuff,” he said.

While he has a role, Martin stressed that Ricchetti isn’t concerned with the “day-to-day or nitty-gritty or stuff that is inconsequential” at the DNC, but that he is one of several advisers who chimes in on bigger matters. 

Two other leading figures are Jen O’Malley Dillon, who served as Biden’s campaign manager during the general election and is now White House deputy chief of staff, and White House political director Emmy Ruiz, a Harris campaign alum. The seasoned Democratic operatives serve as the connective tissues between the West Wing and the DNC.

The White House rejected claims that Ricchetti is in the mix over major moves at the DNC.

Asked for comment about party members’ assertions that Ricchetti is involved with decisions at the DNC, White House spokesman Andrew Bates offered a one-word response: “False.”

A DNC spokesperson called the claims from multiple inside sources “flatly untrue.”

Whispers of overreach from the Oval Office come as Harrison, the affable Biden-backed former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, continues to find his footing in the organization.

Harrison’s résumé is dotted with local organizing and bench building. His credentials within the state party made him a natural selection for a national leadership post at a time when increased battles with Republicans continue to dominate governorships and state legislatures across the country, including in parts of the South.

There was a widespread hope that Harrison would tilt the party power structure back to the states.

But some Democrats within the committee now see Harrison as being torn between the main reelection priorities of the Biden White House and broader party agenda to retain Congress and make substantial local gains in states that span beyond the presidential map.

“What’s happening is a bit of a split within the DNC between ‘Team Biden’ and people who are trying to run an election cycle,” added the first DNC member.

“I think that Jaime Harrison is definitely caught in the middle of this,” the source said.

A third DNC member described Harrison as being “hamstrung” and cited an overall frustration about the committee’s “inability to implement even basic changes” including certain policy priorities like reinstating the Obama-era ban on corporate donations. 

Some within the party, like Martin, downplay the degree to which Ricchetti is integrated into the smaller daily operations of the DNC and say close coordination is commonplace. He and other senior advisers are, after all, working toward the same political and policy priorities, the thinking goes, and the more simpatico the relationship on the big stuff, the better.

“It shouldn’t surprise anyone that folks that are high up in Biden’s circle are going to be involved with consequential matters of the DNC,” said Martin.

But a relationship of convenience has not always been so easy.

During former President Obama’s time in office, Democrats accused him of essentially neglecting the national party apparatus, which some said contributed to losses in critical down-ballot races. The critique was that Obama was more interested in boosting Organizing for America, the political operation that followed his successful 2008 campaign.

Adding to the dissatisfaction, they blamed him for failing to push for the removal of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the DNC chairwoman at the time whose tenure was plagued with controversy in 2016.

Democrats familiar with the inner workings of the DNC are hoping Biden’s and Harrison’s marks on the committee create something of a fresh start after four years of former President Trump.

To that end, the DNC recently unveiled a new initiative to promote the president’s commitments, a sign that, at least outwardly, the respective teams are working in tandem without too much toe-stepping.

The committee announced on Tuesday the formation of a Build Back Better bus tour next month, when Congress is scheduled to be in recess. The style closely resembles an election-era bus excursion that Biden launched while campaigning through early primary states.

“Thanks to President Biden and Democrats, America is building back better than ever, and the DNC is hitting the road to make sure everybody knows that the ‘D’ in Democrats stands for ‘deliver,’” Harrison said in a statement with the release.

Assessing the last few months, some members are viewing the public appearances and internal dynamics with caution, hoping that administration officials tread lightly during the early DNC-Biden years.

“Biden is the leader of our party. Direction is going to come from him, right or wrong,” said the third DNC source. “I’m not happy about it either, but I’m used to it.”

Tags 2024 Barack Obama Debbie Wasserman Schultz Democratic Party DNC Donald Trump Jaime Harrison Jen O'Malley Dillon Joe Biden Steve Ricchetti

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