This summer hasn’t been easy for President Joe Biden, and no one feels it more than Jill Biden.
His polls are grim, Democrats fear over lack of momentum, critics attack his advanced age, then – on top of everything – he caught Covid-19, pushing him away from the person who brings him the most comfort .
Sequestered in Delaware for 12 days, Jill Biden’s summer didn’t go exactly as planned either. Although in frequent contact with the president, the first lady remains away from the White House and has not seen her husband in person since July 20. She was supposed to meet him this weekend in Wilmington, but the rebound of his illness has separated the couple – something the Bidens, who have been married for 45 years, don’t like to be around for more than a few days, if they can. to help.
A person with knowledge of Biden’s agenda and mindset told CNN the first lady is worried about the effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine on her husband, and how her husband is behaving. personally. Biden’s communications director, Elizabeth Alexander, told CNN the first lady feels these challenges and “how he continues to face the moment with courage.”
The president has won some big victories over the past week. His administration on Monday announced the success of its operation to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the masterminds of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin have achieved a breakthrough that could deliver on some of Biden’s biggest campaign promises, on climate change and prescription drug pricing in particular. And Congress has passed other bills in recent weeks that have scored major legislative victories for the president, including on gun policy and much-needed semiconductors.
But Biden’s abysmal approval ratings raise questions about whether he will or should run for re-election in 2024, an uphill task the White House says is in the plans. At the same time, Biden’s son, Hunter, is still under investigation by the Justice Department – a long-running investigation that CNN has previously reported appears to be approaching a critical moment.
A campaign is a daunting task that not everyone in the family dreams of, say two people with knowledge of internal family conversations. The summer was difficult.
“(The first lady) feels deeply what he’s going through,” one of the people with knowledge of the Bidens’ relationship told CNN.
Jill Biden had tried to stay closer to home. At the end of July, she was to leave for a long-planned trip to Africa. But the home front was calling. Troubles and crises were mounting, headlines were negative, kitchen table issues still a struggle.
She unplugged Africa to stay in Delaware, telling aides she just didn’t feel the policy’s impact was right and the time wasn’t right. CNN spoke to several people with knowledge of the first lady’s schedule and mindset for this story, on condition of anonymity to protect their professional and personal relationships. Several were involved in planning the overseas trip and then put a stop to it.
Lately, during summer break from her teaching duties at a community college in Northern Virginia, Jill Biden had appeared even more alongside Biden, and vice versa. She was with him at the White House Congressional Picnic; present for the Medal of Honor ceremony; give a kiss on the lips in front of the cameras during the 4th of July festivities. She snuggled up with him, alone, in the garden next to the East Wing before he left for a recent day trip and waited several times on the Truman Balcony for him to come home.
“The emotional toll on a first lady for the president’s health and well-being under normal circumstances is enormous,” said Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff. “I think it’s further complicated for Dr. Biden by the fact that the public is constantly worried about his health and his ability to perform his duties.”
McBride notes that first ladies are the best barometers of how a president actually feels.
The trip to Africa would have been a four-day visit to three countries on a continent that is often a rite of passage for a solo visit by American first ladies.
Scheduled to depart during the latter part of July, several government agencies, the Military Bureau, embassies and the security apparatus have been enlisted to help Biden’s trip. At least one prior trip to determine the details had already been made.
“It was unexpected,” the person said of Biden’s late decision to overturn it.
“An anticipated trip to Africa, in terms of logistics, cost, personnel, is a lot,” said a former White House official who has been on several such trips under a previous administration.
Asked by CNN if the resources used for the advance trip to Africa would be reimbursed or reallocated, Alexander said: “We have conducted a survey of trips to Africa and we plan to use all the information collected for the trips of the first lady. or one of the other White House directors. »
Three of the people who spoke to CNN about the reason for the cancellation said the first lady’s desire to leave simply faded as the scheduled departure approached, and she questioned the fundamental goals.
“The details just weren’t forming in a way that made sense to her from a policy or timeline perspective,” said a White House official who took part in the broader conversation about the trip cancellation.
Instead of Africa, Biden is demoted to his sweet spot: the domestic messenger.
In early July alone, she hit Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Georgia and Michigan, talking about everything from pandemic recovery to the US bailout.
“It’s not a sexy thing, and it’s definitely not how she planned to focus her energy,” one of the people who spoke to CNN told CNN about Biden’s priorities as first lady, adding its ability to be a non-polarizing administrative envoy. in the current American political climate is “both a blessing and a curse”.
Still, Biden seems comfortable doing what she’s done for the past four decades as a political wife, augmenting her husband. It’s partly the jumble of bad news and crises, coupled with a handful of international missteps and a Democratic Party at odds with itself, that has kept the president at home and the first lady on the road. In 18 months, Biden has visited 40 states compared to the president’s 34, his number far ahead of any modern predecessor.
“As she said in her own words, she thinks part of being a successful first lady is ‘just showing up,'” McBride says.
A potential second term and the president’s political future “are on her mind,” the other person with knowledge of the Bidens’ relationship told CNN, adding that the worry can sometimes “feel heavy” for her. Jill Biden knows all too well the toll a messy and nasty presidential race can place on her family, even admitting she underestimated the last campaign’s vilifications.
It’s a challenge for her to be both her husband’s main hype person and his fiercest protector, especially as his advanced age becomes a topic of discussion. A recent CNN poll indicated that 75% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters want to nominate someone other than Joe Biden for the next ticket.
“It’s hard, but [Jill Biden] is very adept at conveying a level of confidence in her husband’s health and stamina,” says McBride.
Asked if the first lady is assessing the political landscape as 2024 approaches, Alexander told CNN, “As the president has said, he intends to seek another term.”
Jill Biden also has no interest in unveiling a brand initiative, second term or not, telling her staff that there are simply too many projects and priorities for her to focus on.
“A catch-all logo isn’t her thing,” says one of the people who work with her.
This summer of hardship for the president has brought the first lady closer to her family, say several of those who spoke to CNN. There have been rugged, multi-generational trips to Camp David, days spent sunbathing on the beach in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She is also actively involved in planning the November nuptials of her eldest granddaughter, Naomi Biden, welcome news for a family beleaguered by difficult headlines. Naomi Biden announced last week that she would marry fiancé Peter Neal in a ceremony on the White House South Lawn, followed by a reception.
Additionally, Biden has finally finished decorating his East Wing office. In February, a statement from the East Wing said it had hired an interior designer to update its office suite to its liking.
Mark Sikes, a celebrity decorator with an active social media presence and an avowed love of the color blue, has publicly confirmed that he got the job. Sikes revamped the decor, painting over the shade of pale pink his predecessor had chosen for the walls of his office, among other things. Biden’s workspace now reflected the breezy, “coastal elegance” vibe that Biden prefers, a person in the know says.
A date this week for Biden to return to the White House and reunite with the president has not been announced, although it is likely not until Joe Biden tests negative for Covid. For now, Biden remains in Delaware — held in the company of his rescue cat, Willow.