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Bidens toasted a 2024 campaign with French President Macron at the state dinner

The fact that the Bidens were willing to signal to an important foreign ally about the president’s plans hints at how committed they are to a second term.

From left, first lady Jill Biden, President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, arrive for a state dinner at the White House in Washington on Thursday, Dec.1, 2022. The Democratic Party is anxiously awaiting a formal announcement from President Biden about whether he is running for re-election. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
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Written by Katie Rogers and Annie Karni

Jill Biden, the first lady, told President Emmanuel Macron of France at the White House state dinner last week that she and her husband are ready for his reelection campaign, according to two people with knowledge of the discussion. President Joe Biden then joined the French president and the first lady in a playful toast.

It was a lighthearted moment — and Biden still intends to make a formal decision about whether he will run again after the holiday season — but the fact that the Bidens were willing to signal to an important foreign ally about the president’s plans hints at how committed they are to a second term. The interaction also offered a window into the thinking of Jill Biden, who has been held up as a decisive voice in her husband’s deliberations.

The Democratic Party is anxiously awaiting an announcement from Joe Biden, 80, whose age has become an uncomfortable issue for him and his party as polls show that many Americans consider him too old to run again.

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The conversation Thursday evening began as Jill Biden held court at the head table, which included Macron; his wife, Brigitte; several French officials; Democratic activists; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The first lady, an exercise devotee, told the group that fitness helps clear her head, especially when she’s on the campaign trail.

Her disclosure caught Emmanuel Macron’s ear.

Macron asked her whether she was ready for another campaign. Absolutely, was Jill Biden’s emphatic reply. Macron, who is as eager as the rest of the world for a firm answer about Joe Biden’s plans, turned to the president and said that apparently congratulations were in order.

Then Macron led the table in a toast to Biden’s 2024 campaign. Macron raised a glass of wine, and Biden raised his glass of Coca-Cola. When asked about the toast, a spokesperson for the Élysée Palace, who insisted on anonymity, said he had no clue about the exchange. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Jill Biden has been described as “all in” by the president’s confidants, but there is skepticism about whether or not she would ultimately support another campaign, given the president’s age, his workload, and the torrent of investigations into their family that congressional Republicans have promised.

In the past, Jill Biden, who still works full time as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, has been influential in approving or nixing her husband’s plans to campaign. She was at his side when Joe Biden ducked out of the 1988 presidential campaign after accusations of plagiarism. The setback ignited her interest in her husband’s political future.

Still, she was not on board in 2004, when Joe Biden and several aides, including Ron Klain, his current chief of staff, were meeting at the Biden home in Wilmington, Delaware, to discuss whether or not he should join the race. Jill Biden paraded through the home with the word “NO” scrawled on her body.

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According to a former Biden campaign official, that was the moment the discussion ended. (Klain, who had dialed in remotely, was puzzled about why the tone of the conversation had abruptly changed.)

With another run, in 2008, followed by eight years as second lady, Jill Biden has evolved into a polished campaigner. Faced with another cycle, she has been telling people close to her that she feels up to the task. Her East Wing is operating as if a second run is assured, according to several people familiar with the situation. But she has also been clear that the decision is her husband’s to make.

Joe Biden has said — over and over again — that he does intend to run again and, more recently, put a time frame on an announcement: early next year. Both Bidens were inclined to announce a run if former President Donald Trump declared his candidacy, people close to them have said.

A combination of better-than-expected midterm election results and recent polling among Democratic voters has left administration officials and allies of the White House feeling bullish that Biden will pursue another term. A USA Today-Ipsos poll released in late November showed that a large share of Democratic voters now say that Biden could win in 2024 should he decide to run.

“I think the White House and President Biden have been 100% crystal clear that he’s running for election,” Eleni Kounalakis, the lieutenant governor of California, said in a recent interview.

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Biden’s age remains a concern for voters and prominent Democrats, as does the possibility that the midterm afterglow could be fleeting. David Axelrod, a former chief strategist for President Barack Obama, told The New York Times last week that the results were a “a little giddy up” for Biden, but that the prospects for a second term could be complicated by the president’s age. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term, should he run and win in 2024.

“If he were 60 and not 80, there would be absolutely no doubt,” Axelrod said.

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Still, within both wings of the White House, discussions of “the reelect” are commonplace, and the president’s top aides are discussing what a run would look like. Those officials include Klain and Biden’s longtime circle of trusted advisers, including Anita Dunn, Mike Donilon, Steven J. Ricchetti and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon.

The president and first lady’s children, Hunter and Ashley, and several of his grandchildren, including Naomi Biden, are also expected to be involved in discussions over the holidays.

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“The family is going to be deeply involved in whatever decision he reaches because that’s who he is,” Dunn said at an event hosted by the news site Axios last month.

On Monday, Klain said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council conference that he expected Biden to make his announcement after the holidays, and that he expects “the decision will be to do it.”

As the president traveled to Arizona on Tuesday, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Klain was simply echoing what the president has already said publicly.

“I don’t have anything else to preview at this time,” she said. “But what Ron said was certainly in line with what the president has said most recently about 2024.”

First published on: 07-12-2022 at 12:23 IST
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