The White House Really Wants You and Bob Gates to Know How Influential Joe Biden Is

The press office packed the vice president's schedule with Obama meetings and photo ops.

National Journal

If you want proof that the White House is worried about the new memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, just look at the attention Vice President Joe Biden is getting from the press office today.

The White House was hit yesterday with a bombshell from the former Cabinet secretary that had Washington talking. Other than Gates's revelations that the president questioned his own strategy in Afghanistan, the book also showed a level of mistrust in Biden. Gates wrote that the vice president was "a man of integrity." But, he continues, "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

So, how does the White House try to tamp down concern that the president does not trust the vice president's judgment? Well, first you release a statement, which the White House did. From National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden:

The president disagrees with Secretary Gates' assessment — from his leadership on the Balkans in the Senate, to his efforts to end the war in Iraq, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America's leadership in the world.

President Obama relies on his good counsel every day.

Then you turn to the official public schedule for the president. Every weekday evening, the White House Press Office releases the president's public schedule for the next day, announcing travel plans, a major speech, or a visit from a foreign dignitary or Cabinet secretary. But the schedule can sometimes play as a political tool.

In Wednesday's instance, it wasn't subtle (my emphasis added):

  • In the morning, the President and the Vice President will receive the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office. This meeting is closed press.
  • Later in the morning, the President and the Vice President will meet with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in the Situation Room. This meeting is closed press.
  • In the afternoon, the President and the Vice President will meet for lunch in the Private Dining Room. There will be a stills only pool spray of the lunch.
  • Afterward, the President and the Vice President will meet with leaders of the intelligence community in the Situation Room. This meeting is closed press.
  • Later in the afternoon, the President and the Vice President will meet with Secretary of State Kerry in the Oval Office. This meeting is closed press.

For those unfamiliar with the president's schedule every day, this is a bit unusual. Obama and Biden usually meet for lunch on a weekly basis. That's not unusual. What is, however, is the "stills only pool spray" after the lunch.

In White House press-speak, that means photographers following the president's public actions that day will get to snap photos of the two men together. This is a move by the White House to show the pair, likely looking happy and friendly, together in the White House, promoting a narrative that the president trusts the vice president's counsel. This photographic opportunity rarely, if ever, happens, judging by a review of the public schedule in recent months.

The White House, meanwhile, is denying the photo op has to do with the Gates book. Instead, it's about making "good on our promise to provide more access."

The second odd addition to the president's daily schedule is his meeting in the Situation Room with the vice president. Now lately, the Obama administration has gone through a review of its intelligence-gathering practices, and the president has participated in some meetings with intelligence leaders on this issue. The vice president, at least publicly, has remained out of the meetings.

For example, on Dec. 18, the president met with members of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies in the Situation Room. Biden did not attend.

While the vice president and president likely meet together in the Situation Room often, those meetings are rarely made public. It's just a part of White House life. But the timing of today's meeting seems odd, in addition to Biden's participation in the intelligence-gathering review.

By the end of today, after the photo-op and the opportunities to talk about Biden's participation in important daily meetings, the White House is hoping it might change the narrative — at least, just for Wednesday.