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Ron Klain faces media criticism, despite Biden’s backing

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Ron Klain faces media criticism, despite Biden’s backing

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When I once introduced Ari Fleischer as George W. Bush’s press secretary, the phone rang and it was the White House operator. She put the president online.

Bush took 10 minutes out of the Free World leadership to answer my questions for a newspaper article, praising his spokesperson as someone who “understands the fine line between need to know and need to tell.”

Deploying that valuable asset — the president’s time — told everyone that despite the slingshots and arrows Fleischer was taking in the post-9/11 briefing room, the boss had his back.

Now President Biden is offering to do the same for his top aide, Ron Klain. As I reported over the weekend, Biden knows his chief of staff is taking hits in the press and is willing to speak to a few reporters on his behalf. Whether Biden actually does that is almost irrelevant — he’s sent the signal that Klain is his man. Which isn’t surprising, given Klain’s years working for Biden as vice president and in the Senate.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain attends an event with Western state governors and Biden administration cabinet members June 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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With the president down in the polls, losing on the legislation vote and the $2 trillion life support spending bill, Klain and other senior aides obviously share responsibility. And it’s not all that unusual for a beleaguered president to reshuffle his staff to revive his administration.

Klain always knew this day would come. Based on my reporting, he compares the job to that of an NFL coach who inevitably gets hit on the radio for stupid mistakes. He consulted other chiefs of staff and knows the story. Even negative articles about him have included no criticism of the building’s interior in the form of scorching anonymous quotes (a staple of Trump’s incredibly leaky White House).

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Conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens got the ball rolling by writing that, based on “political incompetence,” it’s clear that “the president needs a new team, starting with a new Chief of Staff”.

He argues that “Ron Klain is a loyal aide. But the President needs a chief of staff who is a peer – what James Baker was to George HW Bush or Howard Baker to Ronald Reagan.” It’s hard to see how the arrival of a former senator changes the equation.

Ron Klain faces media criticism, despite Biden’s backing

 | Local News

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the debt ceiling at an event in the State Dining Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 4 in Washington.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Then Politico went on to report that it was Klain’s “trick in the barrel”, and was described as a “demanding boss” – considering a compliment to Washington when things are going well. Twitter-savvy Klain, who took part in a media blitz, was attacked by an unnamed House Democrat as deserving of fire for pushing a Bernie agenda. Aren’t these decisions really made by his boss?

Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, told me on “Media Buzz” that being the White House chief of staff is the worst thing you can do in politics because you’re “the perfect target to become a scapegoat” .

So what can Biden and Klain do now? The president told Build Back Better plan reporters that “we can split the package, get as much as we can right now.” It might have been a better idea months ago, given the steadfast opposition of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but there are no talks going on at the moment.

No other major national initiative looks likely to pass the Senate 50-50 in this midterm year.

Ron Klain faces media criticism, despite Biden’s backing

 | Local News

Former White House Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain speaks during a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC, U.S., Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Inflation, not to mention grocery shortages, is hitting Americans in the pocketbook, and Biden, having dismissed it as transitory, has no silver bullet. The fall in the stock market, which deepened yesterday, does not help.

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And then there are events that Biden has little ability to control, such as Vladimir Putin moving his troops across the Ukrainian border.

The president could use his media megaphone more, having had decidedly mixed results at that two-hour press conference. He certainly doesn’t help himself by attacking reporters on legitimate issues, as he did again yesterday when he called Fox’s Peter Doocy a “stupid son of ab****”. He just looks thin and beleaguered.

Biden also promises to take the road more to sell his program. But it is clearly hard work.

If Klain can help get his boss out of this quicksand, he really will have earned his government paycheck.

Ron Klain faces media criticism, despite Biden’s backing

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