President Biden says he has “other things to finish” before he can announce a reelection campaign, a stance that is raising questions about what exactly he’s waiting to do.
That Biden will run for a second term does not seem to be in significant doubt, but so far the president has only reiterated his “intention” to run for the White House again.
Democrats say there’s no rush, and that putting off a formal announcement allows him to focus on the logistics of launching, like getting essential staff in order, choosing which domestic policies to emphasize and planning for a large outdoor event in warmer weather.
Some even point to his poll numbers improving as a reason to wait to jump in at the highest possible point.
It’s not exactly another thing to finish, but these are the kind of steps he needs to take and should take, Democrats say, before beginning a second bid in earnest.
Supporters also brush off any need for anxiety.
“While there are financial and organizational needs that can only be fully addressed by announcing, the power of incumbency is real,” said Josh Schwerin, a Democratic consultant and founder of Saratoga Strategies, a communications firm. “President Biden should announce at the right moment for him.”
Getting a top-notch campaign staff together is one thing to complete before an announcement.
While Biden is known to have a tight-knit and loyal braintrust, it takes time to recruit and vet potential talent, and the president has a slow-and-steady approach to staffing — including in the highest levels.
“Maybe they just haven’t found the person to lead the ship yet,” one progressive campaign operative who worked on a rival presidential campaign speculated about Biden’s potential roster.
One of the leading fixtures in his circle, former White House chief of staff Ron Klain, said recently that he looks forward to being by the president’s side for the upcoming race, an indication that he intends to be involved in some capacity.
Biden has also tapped Ben LaBolt, a savvy strategist who worked for former President Obama, to head up the White House communications shop. While LaBolt will not work on the campaign, observers noted that he was purposely placed in the gig during a year when Biden is ramping up his political machine — and when the White House expects an uptick in fire from Republicans.
“He’s rolling up his sleeves and ready for a fight,” one former senior administration official said of LaBolt.
LaBolt’s predecessor, the previous White House communications director Kate Bedingfeld, told New York magazine in an exit interview, “I know enough to know to never say never” when asked about theories that she will join Biden again after playing an integral role in his 2020 campaign.
Another key figure, Stephen Benjamin, the former mayor of Columbia, S.C., also replaced former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as a senior adviser and the director of the Office of Public Engagement. Bottoms is expected to return to Atlanta in advance of an election in which Georgia is likely to be just as important as it was last cycle.
“It takes a lot to launch a campaign and manage the government. Hiring and integrating people,” said the former senior administration official.
Perhaps the most critical person in the big-picture planning is his wife.
First lady Jill Biden told The Associated Press last week that there was little left to decide about a second term bid, other than when and where to make it official. While she was vague about the details, the acknowledgement that they were thinking about timing and location shows the weight given to optics and having the right people involved.
Biden certainly has things he wants to finish when it comes to his domestic agenda.
But from a policy standpoint, Biden won’t be able to accomplish much with Republicans in control of the House, especially as it embarks on investigations into the president and his family. Aware of those limitations, allies have pointed to his work on the economy and protecting social programs as areas where he can make an impact.
During Biden’s State of the Union speech, his first joint address as president in which he was heckled and called a “liar” by some conservative lawmakers, he telegraphed what sources close to the administration see as his major campaign themes, including protecting entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security that Democrats say Republicans are trying to dismantle.
Biden has said nearly a dozen times that he wants to “finish the job” Americans gave him in 2020. He echoed those sentiments on Wednesday, while nominating Julie Su to be the next Labor secretary, saying he is “just anxious to finish the job here.”
To the extent that there is still a belief among some Democrats that the president may not run, it has largely been back-burnered given the makeup of the 2024 field so far. And the White House, for its part, already seems focused on his potential GOP challengers.
Former President Trump has declared his candidacy, and other Republican contenders, including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, are assessing ways to break through his influence. There are still questions about the degree to which Trump will be relevant and that has added to the questions around Biden and his timing.
“We’re all saying, ‘Let’s just enjoy the shitshow. This is a hallelujah moment for us,’” said one Democratic bundler. “We know who our nominee is going to be. Everything else is just noise.”
Biden’s delayed timing has also kept significant primary challengers at bay.
Marianne Williamson, a progressive and author who ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020, is expected to announce another presidential bid in the next few days, but there are no serious rivals to the president. That means he doesn’t have to scramble to strategize around fending off threats from within his own party, a luxury that some Democrats say has allowed him to focus on getting the details of his launch — from policy to strategy and personnel — just right.
“He isn’t a declared candidate for ‘24, but everything he does is still pretty much political from that State of the Union on,” the progressive strategist said. “They’re sitting comfortably now. There’s no immediate rush. There’s no real threat of a primary. I think they’re just taking their time.”
To be sure, Biden’s slow timing is not new; it’s a signature of his election style.
When he passed up a chance to run for president after serving as Obama’s VP, he waited months to formally decide against it. And in the nearly two-year lead up to the 2020 cycle, when lesser-known candidates were eagerly forming exploratory bids, he again hung back, leading many polls of hypothetical contenders without officially launching a bid.
Biden’s timing also jibes with other past presidents. Both Obama and former President Clinton announced in April, while former President George W. Bush waited until mid-May. Democrats say he has plenty to do between now and then.
“It’s not like President Biden is sitting around his golf club angrily spouting off on social media,” said Schwerin. “Extending the period where voters see him exclusively through the lens of his office — working to deliver for the American people — helps him control the narrative and avoid daily horse race political coverage.”