Who's Really In Charge At The White House?
A certain ex-president wields more power than we thought
In The Spectator, I write about an obvious explanation for why normalcy is absent from the Joe Biden administration.
One of the big questions in Washington and across the country as Joe Biden’s very public decline has accelerated is: who’s actually running the show at the White House? There have been various answers, including Ron Klain and Susan Rice; even Doug Emhoff has been touted as having outsized influence. But the one name we ought to be paying more attention to is obvious — the man who cleared the 2020 field for Joe, tapped Kamala as his running mate and now hosts regular meetings at his 8,000-square-foot house just two miles from the Oval Office he used to occupy: Barack Obama.
Last week’s publication of an interview with biographer David J. Garrow by David Samuels in Tablet magazine went viral for a number of hot-button reasons, but this is the actual headline takeaway Americans ought to have for the piece: they’re living through Barack Obama’s third term. Samuels draws attention to this point particularly in the context of foreign policy:
The rest of the year, [Obama] lives in a large brick mansion in Kalorama. Doesn’t it strike you as weird that he’s an ex-president, he’s comparatively young and he’s living in the center of Washington, DC? The original excuse was that Sasha had to finish school. Then you could say, “Well, the opposition to Trump needs a figure to rally around.” But now Sasha has graduated from USC, Trump is gone, Joe Biden was elected present, but he’s still there…
Doesn’t that strike you as odd? I mean, I have heard from more than one source that there are regular meetings at Obama’s house in Kalorama involving top figures in the current White House, with Secret Service and cars outside. I don’t write about it because it’s not my lane. There are over a thousand reporters in Washington, and yet there are zero stakeouts of Obama’s mansion, if only to tell us who is coming and going. But he clearly has his oar in.
I don’t follow the Iranian stuff super, super carefully, but I have been puzzled at the Biden administration’s continuing attachment to the Iran deal.
The easy explanation, of course, is that Joe Biden is not running that part of his administration. Obama is. He doesn’t even have to pick up the phone because all of his people are already inside the White House. They hold the Iran file. Tony Blinken doesn’t.
This is an audacious violation of norms for ex-presidents. If true, it really would take allegations that Biden’s presidency is merely an old man serving as an Obama puppet to a new level. And it would be consistent with other things Obama has said. As he told Stephen Colbert when discussing the concept of a hypothetical third term back in 2015:
I used to say if I can make an arrangement where I had a stand-in or front man or front woman, and they had an earpiece in, and I was just in my basement in my sweats looking through the stuff, and I could sort of deliver the lines while someone was doing all the talking and ceremony. I’d be fine with that because I found the work fascinating.
On its face, this would explain a great deal about the inconsistencies between the current president’s past approaches to any number of areas of policy — domestic, economic and foreign — but it would also particularly explain Biden’s embrace of modern wokeness as a trademark issue, despite not campaigning on it in 2020. It’s hard to imagine Joe Biden, marked by moderation on many hot-button issues in his Senate tenure, would so quickly turn to divisive culture war stances. But he’s done exactly that, without even an attempt to explain why.
Assuming that there is truth to this tale, why is the DC press corps so incurious about it? What would it take to stake out the Kalorama house of the president to track the comings and goings of major administration figures? This sort of reporting was ubiquitous to the Trump era in DC, where journalists tracked relationships and followed interactions constantly, measuring who was on the inside and pushed aside by the president on a daily basis. When Joe Biden returned, somehow they just lost all interest. Isn’t it time to wonder: why?