WASHINGTON — Last July 30, then-President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter that the date of the presidential election be changed. It was just one of hundreds of seemingly spurious presidential thoughts to be given a public airing on social media, but on that occasion, it was met with a rare response from the Democratic presidential nominee in a tweet of his own.
“You won’t have to worry about my tweets when I’m president,” Joe Biden promised.
For a White House that prides itself, so far, on being light on leaks and staying mostly on message, Klain’s frequent tweets can at times offer rare insight into the thinking and priorities of the Biden West Wing.
Klain may have one of the busiest and most demanding jobs in Washington, but he is tweeting, retweeting and liking posts seemingly all hours of the day, setting off cellphone screens across Washington an average of 60 times a day, according to an NBC News review of his Twitter use.
Klain “likes” tweets more than he posts his own or retweets others’ postings. But looking solely at his tweets and retweets from the inauguration on Jan. 20 through late February, he's posted 1,264 times — an average of about 34 times a day. By comparison, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted a total of only 43 times in the same 37-day stretch.
Trump himself averaged about 140 tweets per month in his first 100 days, according to an NBC News analysis at the time.
Most of Klain’s tweets — about 40 percent — are retweets from journalists or news organizations who post about the work of the administration. He also amplifies other Biden administration officials’ tweets, including @POTUS, accounting for about 1 in 5 tweets. His own tweets are heavy on Covid-19 messaging, or general “cheerleading” the administration’s work.
One of his most popular tweets so far, according to NBC’s review, was actually a message responding to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who ironically tweeted one weekend morning about being relieved not to see "mean" tweets from the White House. “Quick tweet to say we’re working at the WH today on next steps in the COVID response,” Klain wrote. “Enjoy your toast.”
He's also used Twitter to communicate with lawmakers on Capitol Hill — mostly Democrats, but also several Republicans. After Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia sent Klain a letter raising concerns about a regulatory freeze the administration had imposed, Klain responded first on Twitter, promising to look into the issue.
White House officials say Klain alone manages his account, neither taking direction from nor seeking input from his communications, political or digital strategy teams. But they say Klain sees his engagement on the platform as a means of encouraging for his staff, promoting the White House’s message and engaging with constituencies across the political spectrum, especially progressive activists.
“He’s been working for the president on and off for decades. He knows his thinking, knows his priorities, knows what he cares about. So certainly what he’s projecting and communicating about is reflective of what we’re focused on internally day to day,” Psaki said. “But it isn’t done through hours of navigation. It’s just done to ensure we’re using all the levers at our disposal to communicate with the public, even if we don’t think it’s the only way to communicate with the public.”
During last year's campaign, Biden’s team had what could be called a like-hate relationship with the platform, regularly attacking Trump’s tweeting and regularly reminding reporters and pundits that “Twitter is not real life.” Often, though, they bluntly vented their frustration on the same forum, challenging reporters and activists they felt put too much stock in the hot takes of the “blue check” crowd (after Twitter's verification symbol) and not nearly enough in more Biden-friendly, but more off-line constituencies.
Now, Biden officials see Klain’s Twitter account as one of their main messaging channels to progressive forces they see as a key part of their governing coalition. For example, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee features one of Klain’s tweets in a new cable TV ad slated to begin airing in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
“Clearly his preference is to have everyone bought in and fighting alongside each other,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “I see Ron’s twitter engagement as an extension of his larger ethos of lifting up some progressive ideas and keeping lines of communication very open. It sends a signal.”
As they turned from the campaign to governing, Biden’s digital team encouraged everyone from the most junior staff to the most senior Cabinet members to create their own accounts — a contrast to the Obama administration, where official Twitter accounts were more sparing.
“We decided pretty early on we want people engaging on Twitter,” said Rob Flaherty, the White House digital director. “It's not because we think Twitter is real life suddenly, but because the news cycle sort of just sort of billows out there and having more voices there is better.”
Officials with Twitter accounts do receive occasional messaging guidance, but the digital team is otherwise hands off and not managing most individual accounts.
Flaherty said Klain put a lot of thought into how he’d use his official account. He chose to create “@WHCOS,” rather than the formulation most officials used of their own name followed by “46,” so that it could be an account passed on to his successors in the same way @PressSec has been transferred from press secretary to press secretary.
It’s unlikely any future chief of staff would tweet as often as Klain. Most other members of Biden’s inner circle not only don’t tweet, but don’t even have accounts.
But Psaki insisted Klain’s tweeting was not impeding his work.
“Twitter is very quick," she said. "You can tweet something in about 20 seconds, so it is not a big use of time, but it remains still an effective tool."