WASHINGTON — Top White House advisers are set to make final decisions on launching President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign, even as the would-be candidate seems to show little urgency to formally declare his 2024 plans, several sources familiar with the discussions told NBC News.
Biden’s deliberate approach to making public what he’s repeatedly made clear in private is being driven by a number of factors: no major Democratic challenger is emerging; his now-indicted predecessor is consuming the political spotlight; and a major clash with congressional Republicans over spending is looming.
And then there are uniquely Biden reasons for delaying an announcement beyond the timelines informally floated by his team.
“The decision part is over, but he resents the pressure to have to announce what he’s already decided,” one source familiar with the matter said. “It’s frustrating but it’s also very Joe Biden.”
Another longtime adviser, who has navigated Biden’s candidacy decisions before, said the delay also serves to “preserve the option not” to run.
Many of those in Biden’s inner circle were there eight years ago, when he appeared on the cusp of announcing his candidacy on a Tuesday night, only to declare in the Rose Garden on Wednesday afternoon that he would not run in 2016.
Even as Biden has said publicly that he “intends to run” in 2024, he almost always couches it with a caveat that he’s a “respecter of fate,” a nod to the real possibility that circumstances, whether political or personal, could shift and point him in a different direction.
Aides, however, universally say they have little doubt that Biden will seek a second term, and that preparations are underway accordingly. The president has been teasing a re-election bid at public events recently, coinciding with an administration-wide, campaign-style tour touting his legislative accomplishments. And in doing so, he’s drawing on one of his chief advantages at this point -- being president, not a candidate.
With no major primary opposition, Biden has the luxury of starting his final campaign on his own terms. Biden has never been a darling of the left, yet the progressive wing of the Democratic Party appears to have coalesced behind him.
“Why would you ever announce when you’ve already cleared the field without doing any work to beat anybody down?” a source said.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who co-chaired Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, said of Biden: “He’s had a successful two years with significant legislation to bring back manufacturing. He’s likable and he makes an effort with people in the House and Senate on a personal basis.
“And he’s the incumbent president. People know that challenging an incumbent president is usually not a good strategy for the party.”
Noting that liberal senators like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are staying out of the race in deference to Biden, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a Biden ally, said: “So far, there’s no serious challenger. So, there’s no reason for him to get out there and expose himself to those [campaign] rules and regulations that curtail how much you can do when you’re an announced candidate.
“The longer he can go without being an announced candidate, the better off he is,” Clyburn said.
A White House spokesperson reiterated Biden's intention to seek re-election.
“President Biden has been clear that he intends to run, and his focus is on finishing the work he’s doing for American families: continuing to bring manufacturing back from overseas, further cutting the deficit by having rich special interests pay their fair share, and standing up for fundamental rights like the freedom to choose," Andrew Bates said in statement to NBC News. "There has never been a timeframe for any announcement.”
Biden’s inclination to procrastinate on an official announcement, according to a source familiar with his thinking, has been fueled in part by Republican infighting, particularly with former President Donald Trump directing some of his harshest attacks to an as-yet unannounced primary foe, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“If he announces he’s running for re-election it starts to change the conversation. Why would you want to do that?” the source said.
Biden’s campaign headquarters appears likely to be based in Wilmington, Delaware, though staff may also work in the Washington area, where some of the campaign apparatus is being put together at the Democratic National Committee. Keisha Lance Bottoms and Cedric Richmond, both former senior White House officials and top surrogates for Biden’s 2020 campaign, are being eyed as two potential national co-chairs.
Biden has not yet signed off on a campaign leadership team that would work with his White House advisers, though interviews have taken place and potential candidates have been told to “hang tight” for now, another source familiar with the planning said.
Jennifer Ridder, a veteran of Biden’s 2020 campaign, has emerged as a top contender for a senior campaign role, with one source emphasizing that the final roster is not locked in yet. A source familiar with the planning identified her and eight other Democratic strategists as in the mix for senior positions, several of whom are veterans of competitive 2022 and others who’ve worked on national campaigns.
Ridder has ties to Biden’s inner circle. She is an executive vice president at the Democratic consulting firm Precision Strategies, which was co-founded by Jen O’Malley Dillon, who managed Biden’s successful 2020 campaign and is now deputy chief of staff in the White House.
Asked whether she may be tapped for the campaign manager job, Ridder said in an interview: “That’s very flattering.”
“I think there’s consideration, but they’re certainly talking to a number of people,” she said.
Even as Biden has been content to hold off on a campaign launch, certain factors and deadlines are influencing the timeline.
One key hurdle to clear before Biden’s candidacy becomes official is where the DNC plans to hold its 2024 convention. That announcement, which is ultimately Biden’s decision, could come as early as this week, with Atlanta and Chicago considered the front-runners.
Legislative deadlines could also create pressure for him to make things official no later than May, after which the debt limit fight and budget negotiations with congressional Republicans will likely escalate. The Treasury Department has warned of debt default as soon as June if Congress doesn’t take action, but congressional leaders have yet to engage in meaningful discussions.
Announcing a 2024 bid during a standoff with congressional Republicans is something Biden’s aides hope to avoid. “You cannot announce before a fiscal cliff. There is no space to announce before the fiscal cliff and not have Republicans push you over the cliff,” a person familiar with the 2024 plans said.
Biden’s waiting period also poses other challenges.
One concern that White House advisers have mentioned privately, a person familiar with the matter said, is that Biden can’t raise campaign money until he declares his candidacy. The trade-off is that Biden can look and act presidential by making full use of Air Force One and the presidential bully pulpit to spread his message, but he can’t raise money.
Still, if Trump ends up the GOP nominee, that’s certain to juice Democratic fundraising, some strategists said. In a rematch with Trump, they said, Biden would be apt to have all the money he needs to win.
Deciding when to announce one’s candidacy “always comes down to money,” a Democratic campaign strategist said. “Biden doesn’t need a platform; he doesn’t need to rent a plane to travel around the country and talk to people. He doesn’t need a campaign right now.”
“Eventually, he’s going to need some money,” the strategist said.
Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, noted that running a campaign creates expenses that Biden can avoid by delaying his announcement. “The real burn rate comes from staff hiring and event costs,” Toner said. “These presidents are used to really nice events that are expensive to stage. They just are. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue: The later you start your campaign, you don’t need as much money.”
Outside the White House, pro-Biden political action committees and Democratic operatives fully expect him to run. They said they haven’t heard anything from Biden-world to suggest otherwise.
“I’ve been told by everyone and anyone that we’re gearing up,” a Democratic strategist said. “All the [outside] groups talk and are ready to move forward.”