The Jill Biden Gatekeeper Sweepstakes

the bidens
Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP
Tara Palmeri
August 18, 2022

One of the pre-eminent misunderstandings regarding the West Wing is that it’s a McKinseyified modern political operation professionally run by Ron Klain. Of course, as I’ve reported over the past few months, anyone who truly knows anything about Joe Biden is cognizant that, after a half century in public life, his circle of trust is small and familial. His sister, Val, is long-credited as being his Valerie Jarrett, but the truth is that so many of the big decisions require buy-in from Jill Biden, who will ultimately decide whether or not her husband runs for re-election. 

In the White House, the first lady’s power looms large. No one ever wants to say no to Jill Biden because her de facto chief of staff, the testy Anthony Bernal, has a disproportionate amount of power in the White House; he has been with the Bidens since 2008 and is seen as the gatekeeper to the family. And this certainly explains why the race to succeed Michael LaRosa, the press secretary to the first lady, has become so deeply coveted and bizarrely public, with multiple stories about jockeying for the position appearing in the media. 

Biden insiders know that the family abhors when staff decisions make it into the press, which explains why so many of their shakeups are micro, with the same old hands from the bubble rotating around. And insiders have told me that candidates who have been mentioned in stories will likely be put in the penalty box. “The politicking is so unseemly—the Bidens hate it,” said a source close to the process. “The public campaigning is probably part of the reason Symone Sanders never got the job of White House press secretary.” At the same time, it may be a sign that outsiders are starting to see what real D.C. insiders know, that the inner onion of Bidenworld is actually Jill.