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After BEAU BIDEN’s death in 2015, HUNTER BIDEN’s daughter FINNEGAN BIDEN made blue bracelets for the family with “WWBD” printed on them.
“What would Beau do?”
The dictum still holds sway.
Much has been written of JOE BIDEN's ability to share in the country’s collective grief — a “mourner in chief,” as some have dubbed him — because of personal tragedies he’s experienced, among them Beau’s death. But the specter of Beau Biden also influences major decisions in this administration.
“He just thinks a lot about 'What would Beau say?,’” said former Sen. TED KAUFMAN, Biden’s longtime chief of staff, who has been with him since 1972.
The latest instance came Wednesday, when Biden announced the complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by September, a decision at odds with some military leaders who wanted to keep a residual force in the war-torn country.
“I'm the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a child serving in a warzone,” Biden said. “And throughout this process, my North Star has been remembering what it was like when my late son, Beau, was deployed to Iraq — how proud he was to serve his country; how insistent he was to deploy with his unit; and the impact it had on him and all of us at home.”
Veterans of the Obama administration recall that Beau Biden’s time in Iraq made Joe Biden much warier of deploying the American military abroad, a sentiment that has carried over into this White House, according to administration officials. The president has been known to recite the poet JOHN MILTON, who wrote: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Beau’s presence can also be felt on personnel.
TERESA MASON, Beau’s chief of staff while he was Delaware’s attorney general, and ALEX MACKLER, a former aide to Joe Biden who managed Beau’s 2010 reelection campaign, were both on Biden’s Justice Department transition team. Vice President KAMALA HARRIS’ relationship with Beau while they were state attorney generals was part of the reason Joe selected her as his VP candidate.
”I know how much Beau respected Kamala and her work, and that mattered a lot to me, to be honest with you, as I made this decision," Biden said when he announced the pick last summer. "There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s,” he said.
Part of the reason the president selected retired Gen. LLOYD AUSTIN to lead the Pentagon had to do with Beau too. Beau served on Austin’s staff in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, and they attended mass together nearly every Sunday. Biden has also taken a shine to Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG, who he has said reminds him of Beau.
There could be more Beau-related appointments, too, particularly in the criminal justice space. Former Mississippi Attorney General JIM HOOD, a friend of Beau’s from their time as AG’s, is in the mix to be a U.S. attorney, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Reached by phone, Hood declined to comment about the position but agreed to talk about Beau. “I think you're seeing his spirit carried out in the presidency,” he said. “Beau had as much influence on his father [as Joe did on him]. More so than I think I did on my father.”
The elder Biden made no secret of the fact that he thought Beau could have been occupying the office he is in now. Speaking at the “Major Beau Biden” facility in Wilmington, Del., the day before his inauguration, Joe said his only regret was that Beau wasn’t there. "Because we should be introducing him as president," Biden said, with tears in his eyes. He also still wears the rosary that Beau had on him when he died.
That had been Biden’s vision before Beau got sick — run and win the Delaware gubernatorial race in 2016 and then run for president in 2020 or 2024. “I was pretty sure Beau could run for president some day and, with [his brother Hunter’s] help, he could win,” Joe wrote in “Promise Me, Dad.”
“When Barack and I won reelection back in 2012, I had started thinking hard about stepping aside after the second term and shifting the family’s focus to Beau’s political future,” he added.
Hood also thinks Beau would have run for president in 2020. “I bet you [Joe] would have pushed Beau to run for president instead of himself at a time when our country was desperately in need of leadership. Joe Biden stepped out there but I bet he’d have pushed Beau out there.”
Biden felt his son could succeed where he had twice failed. In his book, he wrote of his son: “He had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out.”
Among Beau’s virtues, friends say that he was more disciplined and less gaffe-prone than his loquacious father. Others point out that Joe received deferments during Vietnam while Beau chose to serve in Iraq while attorney general, which his father admired.
“That was a tremendous feat of him, to be gone from a young family overseas to a danger zone and you’re attorney general and you could have gotten out of it,” said Hood. “We’ve had presidents in the past that escaped their duty but Beau just shouldered it and went on. He was a straight up guy.”
Beau was diagnosed with glioblastoma — an aggressive form of brain cancer — in 2013. He underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but it returned in 2015. Both he and Hunter began urging Joe to run for president ahead of 2016.
“But now,” Joe recalled Hunter telling him, “it has to be you, Dad.”
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Met with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Executive Committee in the Oval Office. He said that the administration stands with the AAPI community and that racial equity is “still the plan.”
“That's my objective,” he said, adding that “Kamala and I are heartened by the Senate's overwhelming bipartisan effort yesterday” in approving the hate crimes bill.
He also delivered remarks on Russia in the East Room.
Delivered remarks regarding the American Rescue Plan in the South Court Auditorium.
Who was the first president to attend a professional baseball game?
(Answer is at the bottom.)
COONS TALKS SPLITTING UP INFRASTRUCTURE PACKAGE —Sen.CHRIS COONS(D-Del.) today said he would be open to splitting off a physical infrastructure bill if Republicans can agree to something “robust,” SAM MINTZ reports. Coons said in a CNN interview that there’s bipartisan interest in an “$800 billion to a trillion dollar bipartisan bill” that encompasses transportation, broadband and drinking water infrastructure.
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DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK — The Biden administration is reviving the White House Council on Native American Affairs which was created in 2013 but did not meet during the Trump administration.
The first meeting will be next week and be convened by Interior Secretary DEB HAALAND and domestic policy adviser SUSAN RICE.
ANOTHER NAHAL SCOOP — Our foreign affairs correspondent NAHAL TOOSI scooped a bunch of State Department personnel picks today:
- MARCIA BERNICAT for director general of the foreign service;
- BARBARA LEAF for assistant secretary for Near East Affairs;
- KAREN ERIKA DONFRIED for assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs;
- MOLLY PHEE for assistant secretary for Africa;
- MICHAELE SISON for assistant secretary of for international organizations;
- GENTRY SMITH for assistant secretary for diplomatic security;
- ANNE WITKOWSKY for assistant secretary for conflict and stabilization.
FIRST BATCH OF AMBASSADORS: The White House also announced this afternoon that it is naming nine senior foreign service officers as ambassadors to nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They include LARRY EDWARD ANDRÉ Jr. as ambassador to Somalia and MARC EVANS KNAPPER as ambassador to Vietnam. See the full list HERE.
DOJ NOMINATION ADVANCES — The Senate voted to discharge VANITA GUPTA’s nomination to be associate attorney general this afternoon, 49 to 34, allowing her nomination to move forward after the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on it. No Republicans voted in favor of the discharge. Gupta has faced attacks from conservative groups and GOP senators for her past tweets, among other things.
‘NOW IS THE TIME TO DEESCALATE’ — Biden will expel several Russian officials and impose new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for interfering in U.S. elections and the SolarWinds hack, but “we could’ve gone further,” he acknowledged this afternoon.
The president said he “chose not to do so” because he wants to work with Russia on issues such as North Korea and climate change, even as he criticized VLADIMIR PUTIN’s military buildup on the Ukrainian border.
UHHHH: White House press secretary JEN PSAKI affirmed today there is not strong evidence that Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to target U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, NICK NIEDZWIEADEK reports. Psaki said a review by the intelligence committee conducted in the wake of explosive news reports last year about the allegation determined its veracity with only “low-to-moderate confidence.”
FLASHBACK: At a virtual town hall last summer, Biden bashed President DONALD TRUMP’s response (or, rather, lack of response) to the report of the bounties. ”The truly shocking revelation that if the Times report is true, and I emphasize that again, is that President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theater of war, has known about this for months, according to the Times, and done worse than nothing.
He added that it was a “betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation — to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”
COUNTDOWN TO EARTH DAY — Biden is preparing to instruct federal agencies to take sweeping action to combat climate-related financial risks to the government and the economy, including moves that could impose new regulations on businesses, according to a draft executive order obtained by LORRAINE WOELLERT.
The administration is assembling the plan ahead of a major international climate summit the president will host next week.
Ricki Seidman has taken a job in the Justice Department (The American Prospect’s David Dayen)
Gina McCarthy makes a podcast appearance (The Debrief with Major Garrett)
Antony Blinken promises continued support for Afghanistan in announced visit to Kabul (The Wall Street Journal’s William Mauldin)
Biden’s Domestic Policy Council director, SUSAN RICE, has been mistaken for former Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE more than we’d like to think.
“It happens to me at airports, it happens to me all over the place,” Rice said in a 2019 interview with BILL MAHER. “People say, ‘You worked for President Bush! You were President Bush’s national security adviser and secretary of State.’ No!”
“It happens, it used to piss my mother off more than anything else. My late mother. When she got asked, are you Condelezza Rice’s mother?”
Even China’s state-run television network, CCTV, once mixed up the two Rice’s. It had “whole, big spread in the nightly news, and they say ‘Susan Rice is in China to see President Xi’ and they put up Condi’s picture,” Rice recalled.
Yes, there are some similarities beyond their race. Besides the shared last name, they were both national security advisers and have ties to Stanford University.
Even so, Rice felt the constant mix-ups were about more than just those similarities.
“That shit happens to Black folks.” she said.
BENJAMIN HARRISON was the first president to attend a Major League Baseball game on June 6, 1892.
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