A White House facing the first full day of a special counsel investigation has sought to maintain a business-as-usual stance and highlight what has become a key objective amid an uncertain and potentially dangerous new reality.
President Joe Biden welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio to the White House, made a private promise two months earlier and smiled as he ignored questions barked at him about the investigation of classified documents found at his home and old private office.
A carefully choreographed introduction of warnings and statements from the Treasury Department, Democratic House and Senate leaders, and the White House — designed to lay the groundwork for a looming battle with House Republicans over the need for a debt ceiling hike in the coming months — went as planned.
Top advisors held their weekly planning and strategy with outside allies as scheduled.
As a small group of Biden’s closest aides and attorneys, both inside and outside the administration, strove quietly to deal with the legal, political, and news issues that had harrowingly come to the fore in recent days, most inside the West Wing had little to no no involvement and tried to focus on one thing: normality.
On Capitol Hill, where Democrats have vacillated between publicly defending Biden and private post-traumatic stress linked to another top Democrat delving into legal issues linked to classified documents, at least one Democrat has joined the effort.
“Honestly, I don’t think we should focus too much on an issue that I honestly haven’t heard from a single person at home as their primary concern,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and one of Biden’s closest allies Manu Raju of CNN. “Their main concerns are pump prices, grocery store prices, gun violence, climate change, jobs and the future of our economy.”
At the end of a week marked by dizzying developments surrounding Biden’s post-vice presidential handling of classified information, that’s a goal that may seem ambitious at best.
However, it’s also a necessity for a White House where the vast majority of officials play no role on the team that handles legal issues and exceed their carefully crafted plans and messages.
Biden’s advisers returning to the familiar stance, honed campaign-wise and tipped with a chip-on-the-shoulder demeanor fueled by criticism from the national media and the Twitter accounts that follow them so closely are seeing the past few days as evidence that Biden’s broader policy goals and objectives will not necessarily be deadlocked.
As senior White House advisers took stock of five days of breathtaking twists and turns, they claimed it would serve as a roadmap for her moving forward, despite the spotlight on an investigation largely outside of her control.
They reiterated the view that the investigation will ultimately show that Biden’s lawyers took the right steps when the classified documents were discovered. They note that there are neither merits nor advantages in addressing an issue that is an ongoing legal matter — a position that has been laid bare in every White House press briefing held since news first broke.
Throughout the week, as new developments surfaced that repeatedly surprised Biden’s team, they indicated that they were sticking to a strategic plan put together in the weeks leading up to the new year.
It was her first move of the new year on an issue with bipartisan overlap and clear political significance — laying out the broad outlines of possible big-tech reform through a Wall Street Journal opinion piece bearing the president’s name.
Each new legislative effort by the Republicans in the House of Representatives was met with an immediate and coordinated attack by Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill.
The announcement by a South Korean solar panel maker to invest $2.5 billion to build factories in Georgia was the latest of tens of billions of dollars in new private sector investment boosted by new legislation signed by Biden. The drug price cuts that had been touted months before they were introduced also came into effect.
Senior administration officials participated in more than 100 regional and coalition interviews on Biden’s policy priorities throughout the week.
And on the day the special counsel was due to be announced, Biden’s top economic officials were repeatedly made available for media appearances to release CPI data that showed a sixth straight month of falling inflation.
National Economic Council director Brian Deese, in an appearance on CNN less than an hour before Garland announced that former US Attorney Robert Hur would be appointed special counsel, was asked if the legal troubles would distract Biden’s economic team.
“Absolutely not,” Deese said. “Our focus, the focus of the economic team, will be on the continued progress we’ve made and today is good, positive development on the economic side, but we will strengthen our resolve to do the work that we do on behalf what the American people have to do is bring prices down to keep the economic recovery going.”
Biden’s timeline was also maintained, including his own comments on inflation numbers and the broader domestic economy. It was a speech that advisers took as an important sign for Biden — even if it was overshadowed by his willingness to address a question about his Corvette’s closeness to classified documents discovered in his garage.
Biden was still attending the memorial service for former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter when the special counsel was officially appointed. He would be informed of Hur’s appointment shortly after his departure.
For Biden, who was almost certainly seeking re-election this year and had a clear and carefully choreographed strategic plan to highlight his victories in the legislature — while isolating and uplifting House Republicans — it was a week when everyone As the day progresses it seemed to do justice to how quickly the ground can shift under carefully crafted plans.
Still, senior White House advisers say they can stick to a plan that was seen earlier this week as both fully operational and crucial to their policy prospects in the year ahead.
Whether the determination to stick to those plans will hold up in the coming months remains to be seen.
But on day one, when Biden left the White House as scheduled, his intent to try was clear.
He smiled and pointed to reporters as he walked out onto the South Lawn toward Marine One. But he ignored her shouted questions about the investigation.
He would arrive a short time later at his home in Wilmington, Delaware — the same home where a second batch of classified documents was discovered, a ubiquitous reminder of an investigation he and his advisers seem determined not to get in the way come of their plans.