Jan 28, 2023
Expect to See A Lot More of First Lady Jill Biden in 2024
(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden’s expected re-election bid will thrust his wife, Jill Biden, further into the public eye, as the White House deploys the self-described introvert to help win over women.
What little polling exists in regard to the first lady, who is 71, suggests she’s unknown to many Americans, even after two years at the side of the world’s most powerful person. But within the White House she is understood to be the president’s closest and most protective confidante.
“She is his gut check on everything,” said Michael LaRosa, former press secretary to the first lady and special assistant to the president.
As the campaign unfolds, the first lady is expected to assert herself on major decisions, especially the biggest of them all: whether Biden — at 80, the oldest person to ever hold the presidency — will run for re-election in the first place. She supports a bid, according to people familiar with the matter, because she cares about how her husband is perceived and believes he’s better at the job than his 42% average approval rating indicates most Americans think.
Momentum for the president’s re-election announcement has stalled as the White House grapples with the controversy over classified documents discovered at the Bidens’s Wilmington, Delaware, home and at an office Joe Biden used after his vice presidency.
But the campaign has effectively already begun, as the White House spars almost daily with potential GOP challengers including former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Jill Biden’s office declined to make her available for an interview.
The couple have been married since 1977, about four-and-a-half years after Joe Biden’s first wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. They met after the Delaware senator saw a picture of Jill Biden in an ad for a county parks and recreation department at the Wilmington airport — the young teacher had done a favor for a photographer friend — and remarked to his brother, Frank, that he’d like to a date a girl who looked like her.
Frank Biden, whom she had met before, gave her phone number to Joe Biden, Jill Biden wrote in her 2019 memoir, “Where the Light Enters.”
She says in the book that she tried to avoid public speaking engagements until Joe Biden’s first presidential run, in 1987, and hired a professional speech coach before the 2008 campaign.
While she does not have a reputation for involving herself in policy minutiae, the first lady pays close attention to her husband’s broader public portrayal and to themes of his speeches and events. She wrote in her memoir that she holds grudges on the president’s behalf.
“I remember every slight committed against the people I love,” she wrote. “I can forgive, sure — but I don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior.”
In 2022, she walked into a meeting of Biden’s top aides to demand an explanation after they let the president take questions at a January news conference for about two hours — too long, she told them. A professional educator, she weighed in on the president’s selection of Miguel Cardona as secretary of Education and his hiring of Jen Psaki as his first White House press secretary.
Her senior adviser, Anthony Bernal, is a respected and feared presence within the West Wing, known for meticulous planning and scheduling and for his creativity, but also for his blunt style.
Jill Biden still teaches English twice a week at Northern Virginia Community College, making her the only presidential spouse to hold a job outside the White House, according to Lauren Wright, a political scientist at Princeton University. The first lady’s Secret Service detail dresses like students for her lectures, according to her memoir."That is a huge contribution to normalizing the idea of first ladies working outside of the White House,’’ Wright said.
For the president’s re-election campaign, Jill Biden is expected to serve both as adviser and surrogate, traveling often — including to states her husband didn’t win in 2020 — to talk about issues important to her including education, military families and cancer research and prevention. Doctors recently removed two lesions from the first lady’s skin diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma, a common cancer that is usually curable and seldom life-threatening.
“She knows that showing up matters, even – or especially – to talk with people who may not support or have voted for the president, because she is their first lady too,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Jill Biden’s communications director.
On the stump, the first lady prefers sessions where she can connect with small groups of people over large rallies or big speeches. In one often-delivered speech, she talks about the challenges of being a multi-tasking mom, juggling work, meal prep and daycare pick-ups, before urging women to find time to vote in their hectic schedules.
“She is more hands-on than many other First Ladies have been. At the Iowa caucuses, during the last time around, she was literally knocking on doors and logging a lot of walking miles,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor and historian of women’s history at Ohio University.
The campaign likely will be run primarily from the White House by top Biden aides such as Anita Dunn and Jen O’Malley Dillon, according to two people familiar with planning. There’s no rush to hire campaign staff in 2023, they said.
The president’s allies regard her as a secret weapon. From her students, she gleans real-world information for her husband. She can meanwhile appeal to women voters as an educator, mother, step-mother and grandmother who goes by “Nana.”
And while a CNN poll last summer found that more Americans hold no opinion of her than those who have positive or negative feelings, Jill Biden is unquestionably less polarizing — fairly or not — than her two most recent predecessors, Melania Trump and Michelle Obama.
“She is not as robotic, or overly coached, as a politician. She sounds like your next-door neighbor. People like that about her,” LaRosa said.
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