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President Joe Biden speaks about the Inflation Reduction Act in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 28, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks about the Inflation Reduction Act in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 28, 2022.Oliver Contreras / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Democrats are waiting for Biden — one more time

White House reporter's notebook: President Biden threatens to put his party in candidate limbo for the third election in a row.


Democrats facing their next election can’t seem to escape questions about Joe Biden’s future. “Should the president seek a second term?” — or some variation it — has become a go-to query for candidates in midterm races.

And it can quickly become an embarrassing distraction, as Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. recently discovered.

Maloney’s effort to dodge that question by saying she didn’t believe he would not run, was awkward enough given how quickly she tried to backtrack before another embarrassing slip up just last week.

Her apparent certainty on the matter is all the more odd given that even Biden’s own close-knit team will hedge ever so slightly when talking about a re-election campaign.

Here we go again: Like it or not, we’re heading into a third straight presidential election cycle in which there’s uncertainty around Joe Biden’s future. But as with all things Biden, what happened in the past may offer clues about the future — starting with the possibility the question may hang over Democrats far longer than they’d want.

As vice president in 2016, he waited until essentially the last possible minute — after the first Democratic primary debate, and with filing deadlines imminent — to announce he would not be a candidate. Four years later, even some in his political orbit weren’t sure he’d really pull the trigger on a 2020 campaign until just before he officially did so, in late April 2019, well after a historically crowded field of contenders had already jumped in.

Biden's top advisers insist that there’s no reason to doubt his intentions now. But while their standard answer is to say Biden “intends” or “plans” to seek a second term, it might be more accurate to say he’s “preparing” to run.

Here, the past is instructive of what may come in the future. 

Honed in for the holidays: In the last two cycles, Biden instructed his political team at an early stage to do everything needed to set him up for a campaign, even if he wouldn’t give a green light until far down the road. That’s where we are now. As we’ve previously reported, Biden’s advisers are prepared for his instruction to file the necessary paperwork for a 2024 campaign soon after the holidays. 

Why the holidays? The president has often talked about the fact that no major decision like this comes without a family meeting. Advisers expect the topic of reelection will be a major discussion point when the family gathers for their traditional Thanksgiving gathering in Nantucket, and/or around Christmas.

Last week, First Lady Jill Biden and son, Hunter, joined him in South Carolina for the first leg of what is his first extended vacation since taking office. As he continues that break now in Delaware, he and his administration are celebrating an extended stretch of good news that advisers say will eventually become show in his approval ratings.

“I think his numbers will improve,” a senior administration official told NBC News. “There is just a really historic level of accomplishment here.”

If so, maybe the questions about his future will subside and his own decision will be made clearer. Donald Trump’s intentions, themselves in question, will almost certainly factor in as well. But while those closest to him say it’s more likely than not he runs again, no one will rule out a possible change in course

The anniversary that wasn’t

When Biden finally did launch his 2020 bid, he made it clear why from the get-go: “Charlottesville, Virginia” were the first words he spoke in the video launching his candidacy.

Biden has continued to evoke the 2017 clash between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators, and says Trump’s subsequent declaration that there were “very fine people on both sides,” is what committed him to his work now. 

On August 12, 2021, Biden marked the fourth anniversary with a statement saying “we should never forget the courage of that small group of University of Virginia students who stared down the mob and did not flinch.” But the fifth anniversary of that formative moment went unacknowledged by the White House last week. 

Multiple officials asked about the matter offered no clear explanation for why, with at official conceding it may simply have been an oversight in the midst of another key moment with the House voting to send the Inflation Reduction Act to Biden’s desk on this year's August 12. 

Another 2024 question

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin held court with members of the White House press corps for a half hour on Tuesday, after joining Biden for the IRA bill signing — and receiving the pen Biden used to sign it. Lost in the extended exchange was this curious comment Manchin made about how his pivotal role might impact his political future.

“I’ve always had a lot of strong opponents run against me, so if I run again, I’m sure they’re all in the lineup,” he said.

When asked by NBC News to expand on his uncertainty about his next race — he said: “I haven’t made any decisions yet.” 

There are several options open to Manchin, starting of course with seeking third full Senate term. But Manchin has not shied from the fact that he much preferred his old job as governor, and that seat will also be open in 2024, giving him a clearer path to return should he choose. 

Manchin during the Q&A thanked Biden for knowing when to step back in negotiations over the climate, health care and tax bill. And he said his longtime friend also knows he might need to steer clear of his state for whatever election he faces next.

“He always says, ‘Joe, whatever I can do to help you I will. I can be for you or against you,’” he said.