First lady Jill Biden, despite being so worn out from a recent circuit of White House events that she lost her voice, is now seriously looking ahead to her husband running for reelection in 2024. That’s a tidal shift from her position just three months ago.
Seven people familiar with Biden’s thinking told CNN that her private conversations about another run now match her publicly enthusiastic persona, as well as the sentiments of President Joe Biden.
The first lady was still mostly skeptical as of early fall – “not a proponent,” as one person familiar with her thinking told CNN. But in the month since the November midterm elections, in which Democrats defied the fate of most parties of first-term presidents, friends noted a change.
Jill Biden is now “all in” on the idea, according to a person who works with the East Wing.
Even though the last several weeks of high-profile events have left her “exhausted,” said another person, “she has begun to say the quiet part out loud.”
At a town hall the other day, for example, Biden empathized with parents and grandparents about holiday stress, lamenting the demands on her own time.
“This time of year is busy, to say the least,” she said. “I know that you probably have holiday shopping to do, cards to address or cookies to bake. … It’s not easy, is it? Sometimes all these feel like a full-time job, on top of volunteering or organizing or your real full-time job.”
As soon as her remarks were over, she tagged out and let other speakers finish the event while she hustled to the next task.
The Biden family conversations about 2024 were supposed to be on track for Christmas, however, CNN has learned from three of the people familiar that the clan is not expected to be in the same place all at the same time this year, making convening for a debate or a consensus more complicated.
“She’ll be at the White House for Christmas. They will be joined by members of their families,” said Vanessa Valdivia, Jill Biden’s press secretary, who declined further comment on family discussions.
The West Wing has long been in “he’s running” mode, with a political operation for 2024 already in the works. It’s an apparatus that has had to get started out of necessity before an official announcement. “As the president has said, he intends to run for reelection and that is something both Dr. Biden and the family fully support,” a senior adviser to Jill Biden told CNN.
Recent polling, however, suggests a large swath of the Democratic Party may not be eager to see the president run again. A new CNN poll shows 59% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they’d like to see someone other than Joe Biden at the top of the ticket in 2024 – similar to the percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaners (62%) who say they’d prefer to see their party nominate someone other than former President Donald Trump. At the same time, though, when pressed, a majority of Democratic-aligned voters with opposition to Biden as their party’s nominee say they would vote for him in a general election if he won their party’s primary.
The first lady, and she alone, has the full weight of kibosh; she can still stop what seems inevitable in a political calculus if she has concerns about her husband’s age or how another run would affect his legacy or their family. She has been a “no” vote on his higher office aspirations before – most notably in 2004, and again in 2015.
Another presidential campaign would mean more for her, too. Joe Biden’s reelection plan, if he runs, will depend heavily on his wife’s involvement. Her likability in purple and red states, as well as her own energy and endurance, are crucial to his game plan, said two people with insight into the 2024 campaign strategy. It was Jill Biden, not the president, who barnstormed more than a dozen states in the midterms, chalking up at least 39 appearances at fundraisers and speaking engagements to support candidates up and down the ballot. Asked if the first lady is prepared to hit the trail even harder for a 2024 bid, the senior Biden adviser told CNN, “She is ready and fully supportive.”
But heading into her holiday break, Biden is coming off a physically and emotionally taxing period, said those who know her. Though still leaning into the presumption a second term is in the cards, the last two weeks have nonetheless run her ragged with the obligatory duties that the often-introverted first lady finds most draining, sources close to her said.
In addition to the recent wedding of her granddaughter, and the administration’s first State Dinner, hundreds of invited guests have been streaming through the White House over the last several days for dozens of holiday parties. On Wednesday, Biden and the president hosted yet another large-scale social event, a formal dinner in the East Room of the White House, for African nation leaders and their spouses in Washington this week for a summit. Jill Biden was also charged with planning and hosting events for the spouses on Wednesday and Thursday, when a luncheon at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will occupy a chunk of her day.
“She still has laryngitis, and is hoarse,” said a source familiar with the first lady’s rigorous schedule, alluding to Biden’s noticeably altered voice at speaking engagements this week. “She had three back-to-back parties on Saturday alone.”
“It has been a busy month,” said Elizabeth Alexander, her communications director, when asked by CNN about Biden losing her voice.
That voice is the most influential to her husband’s decision making and thus will have to be the loudest when the time does come for him to announce his plans for 2024.
First lady veto power
Joe Biden is buzzing from Democrats’ midterm performance – they retained the Senate and held off Republicans from a red wave in the House – some improving economic data, successful Asia summits and the release of Brittney Griner. He is telling people he has what it takes more than ever to go up against Trump – or whoever the ultimate GOP nominee may be.
Though more squarely in the “we’re doing it” corner than she was even three months ago, Jill Biden still considers whether her husband, now 80, is up for a bruising battle, according to those familiar with her thinking.
“[Jill Biden] is the one more aware of how the last few years have affected Joe [Biden,]” noted a person with ties to the Biden family. “We – collectively, as a country – all know the age issue, sure. But she’s the one who is consistently able to analyze it.”
The senior Biden official said the first lady has “zero concerns” about the president’s schedule and stamina.
Jill Biden is also the tender of Joe Biden’s legacy. Like so many first ladies before her, she can look down the road to what’s coming, how ready her husband is for it and what the best-case scenario may be. For the last two years, whenever the topic of a second term arose, she spoke of it as an inevitability, said those who have spent time working with her. She would default to saying things like “after the reelect” or “in the second term.”
But a deeper analysis of what that would mean for Joe Biden’s legacy has only come more recently for the first lady, said others who have had more insight into conversations.
Last month, Biden’s big birthday made him the first octogenarian president of the United States. Jill Biden, 71, doesn’t want that to be the marker that leads every article and analysis about her husband after he has departed the Oval Office, friends and associates said.
She wants his political successes – current and future – to supersede the image of a frail and aged commander in chief.
But she’s still uncertain how to shift that narrative in practice. “She is not convinced whether four more years will help or hurt,” said one of the people who know her, discussing the potency of the age issue.
Joe Biden’s timeline for an announcement on his future might not wait for the first lady to reconcile the problem.
“The president will make that decision. I expect it shortly after the holiday,” said Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, at a Wall Street Journal summit earlier this month. “I expect his decision will be to do it.”
The president has teased an announcement for months now, publicly saying he intends to run for reelection, often adding in the next breath he will discuss it with his wife and family first.
Keeping it in the family
Jill Biden is keenly aware of the influence she has had on her husband’s political trajectory. And this decision, while perhaps easier for Joe Biden to make as an incumbent, is no less hinged upon the blessing of the first lady. Jill Biden, as “Nana” to her grandchildren and matriarchal keeper of normalcy and tradition, has her eye on what a second term could mean for them, said the people who know her.
“She has always had one foot in Delaware, and she’s the one who thinks about every possible scenario that could play out for her family,” said someone who has known her for several years. As she crosses from “highly possible” into “certainty” territory for 2024, Biden is considering how the campaign could impact her son, Hunter Biden, who has long been a target of the president’s political opponents, and could face more investigations into his business dealings with a GOP-led House. She wants to mitigate as much as possible the strain a campaign could have on her children, and, by extension, her grandchildren, several of whom are either on the cusp of entering adulthood or already there. (With the exception of Hunter Biden’s son, Beau, who is 2.)
“This is, ultimately, a family decision,” Joe Biden said at a news conference last month. “I think everybody wants me to run, but we’re going to have discussions about it.”
Asked by members of the media a couple of weeks later over Thanksgiving – a holiday he spent with Jill Biden, Hunter Biden and his wife and son, and Ashley Biden, in Nantucket, Massachusetts – how those family discussions about 2024 were coming along, the president said they weren’t. “We’re not having any. We’re celebrating,” he responded.
With the clock on the 2024 announcement ticking, Jill Biden has one more shot at away-from-Washington alone-time with her husband, when she could wrap her head around what “all in” actually entails.
The couple heads to the warmer climes of St. Croix between Christmas and New Year’s; laying in the sun with a book is a favored activity for the first lady.
“Well, I – my guess is – I hope Jill and I get a little time to actually sneak away for a week,” the president said at his November post-election news conference at the White House, where Jill Biden sat in the front row. “And my guess is it would be early next year we make that judgment.”