Ex-Obama aides largely noncommittal with Biden

Ex-Obama aides largely noncommittal with Biden
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Most of President Obama’s former aides and staffers have taken a noncommittal approach to former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket MORE’s run for the White House.

Following in the footsteps of their former boss, who has avoided making an endorsement in the crowded Democratic primary, ex-aides to the former president have largely remained on the sidelines, withholding support for Biden now that he is officially in the race.

Interviews with more than a dozen former Obama officials revealed affection for Biden, but a desire among many to keep their options open going forward.


“I think everyone is happy to see him in the race, but I think that’s different than throwing support behind him,” said one former senior Obama White House official.

Jen Psaki, a former spokeswoman for Obama, said that while there’s “a love and admiration” for Biden among those who served in the White House, “there are a fair number of people who are in wait-and-see mode and a number of people who want to be helpful to multiple candidates.”

“That’s to be expected,” she said, adding that “there’s a difference of view on whether he’s the right candidate.” 

Biden said last week in announcing his presidential run that he had asked Obama to not endorse him. 

“Whoever wins this nomination should win this on their own merits,” he said.

At the same time, he has invoked Obama repeatedly, from the use of Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of our Own” — a staple of the Obama reelection campaign — at Biden’s inaugural campaign event in Pittsburgh, to his referring of himself as an Obama Democrat.

On Tuesday, his campaign released a video “Anything is Possible” which features Obama heaping praise about his former vice president during a Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House in 2017.

“He could not have been a more effective partner in the progress that we’ve made,” Obama said at the time.


When Biden entered the campaign last week, he staffed up with many longtime loyalists. 

Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon, two of his closest confidants, helped launch the campaign.

Biden also brought on Kate Bedingfield, who served as his communications director in the White House; Greg Schultz, who ran Biden’s PAC American Possibilities; and familiar policy hands including Stef Feldman.

Schultz and deputy campaign manager Pete Kavanaugh worked on the Obama campaign. But other former Obama campaign aides have now signed on with other candidates.

Jen O’Malley Dillon, who served as a top campaign aide to Obama, is now campaign manager for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Obama's reelection bid in 2012, is now the mouthpiece for Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket The Hill's Campaign Report: Gloves off in South Carolina MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has soared in the polls in recent weeks.

Many aides to Obama have also moved out of the political sphere.

Josh Earnest, the president’s former press secretary, is the chief communications officer at United Airlines. Longtime Obama aides Clark Stevens, Nick Shapiro and Michael O’Neil all work for Airbnb.

Former top aides Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Jon Lovett and Dan Pfeiffer launched Crooked Media, including the popular podcast Pod Save America.

Psaki said many in Obama’s orbit are simply focused on defeating President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes MORE next fall and want to both play the field and play it safe as they figure out who to back in the primary.

“The most important thing is beating Donald Trump and there are a lot of ways to get there,” she said. “The Washington buzz is not going to be the determinant.

“I'm interested in seeing the process play out. If I look at a candidate like Mayor Pete or [Sen.] Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. House passes historic legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime MORE [D-Calif.], I certainly see a path for a number of candidates to get there. … A lot of candidates have a lot to offer and we deserve to hear from them,” she said.

David Litt, a former spokesman for Obama who is the author of the best-seller “Thanks, Obama,” said he has an affection for the former vice president but is still undecided about who he’ll support in the primary.

“A lot of people I’ve spoken to are glad he’s in the race and that he’s going to be part of the debate,” Litt said.

He added that on the day Biden announced, he realized he was more excited than he expected himself to be.

“I think I expected to feel sort of the exact same way I felt when other candidates entered,” he said. “I think with Joe Biden, there’s this strange sense that we shared an experience, that we both worked in the Obama White House even though he was the second most important person in the building.”

“I was happy to see him make it official,” he added. “It’s a good feeling.”