Biden accused of being mean to staff: In a new Axios piece, Joe Biden is accused of having a short fuse with his staffers
Joe Biden: The Mean Old Man as President?
The knocks on President Joe Biden, from his age to his propensity to gaffes to various policy positions, are well-documented.
But the president being mean to his staff has not traditionally been part of the critique.
Nevertheless, Axios published a piece about just that this week, with the headline “Old yeller: Biden’s private fury.”
The piece alleges that the president has a “quick-trigger temper,” one that often gets directed at his staffers. The story lays out some of the expletives that Biden has been known to use, including “God dammit, how the **** don’t you know this?!,” “Don’t ******* ******** me!” and “Get the **** out of here!”
The anecdotes have been collected over the course of several years. They cause staffers to not want to meet with the president alone, although some say they wish Biden would show that side of himself in public more often.
“The private eruptions paint a more complicated picture of Biden as a manager and president than his carefully cultivated image as a kindly uncle who loves Aviator sunglasses and ice cream,” Axios said.
Aides remember Biden getting angry at Jeff Zients, then his “COVID-19 czar,” when testing kits were running low in 2021, although Zients remained on Biden’s staff and his since been named chief of staff.
“If there is something that’s not in the brief, he’s going to find it,” Ted Kaufman, who was Biden’s longtime staffer and later briefly succeeded him in the Senate, told Axios. “It’s not to embarrass people, it’s because he wants to get to the right decision. Most people who have worked for him like the fact that he challenges them and gets them to a better decision.”
Biden, per the story, has been known to “grill aides on topics until it’s clear they don’t know the answer to a question — a routine that some see as meticulous and others call ‘stump the chump’ or ‘stump the dummy.’” As noticed by some, this is far from the image of Biden as a doddering, clueless old man that his aides have sought to project.
“Is it that Biden’s too old and infirm and doesn’t know what’s going on, or is it that he can run policy and briefing circles around staffers a third of his age and lets them know it, because it can’t be both,” one Twitter user asked.
There have been occasional news stories in the past about Biden losing his temper. NBC News reported last October that the president had become impatient on a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the previous June after Zelenskyy asked for more aid than what was furnished in the previous package.
“Biden had barely finished telling Zelenskyy he’d just greenlighted another $1 billion in U.S. military assistance for Ukraine when Zelenskyy started listing all the additional help he needed and wasn’t getting. Biden lost his temper, the people familiar with the call said. The American people were being quite generous, and his administration and the U.S. military were working hard to help Ukraine, he said, raising his voice, and Zelenskyy could show a little more gratitude,” the NBC story said.
The New York Times, during Biden’s first year as president in 2021, had written a version of the same story, that Biden, in contrast to his “folksy demeanor,” had a “short fuse and an obsession With details.”
“Let’s talk plain English here, he will often snap,” the Times story said.
“Quick decision-making is not Mr. Biden’s style. His reputation as a plain-speaking politician hides a more complicated truth. Before making up his mind, the president demands hours of detail-laden debate from scores of policy experts, taking everyone around him on what some in the West Wing refer to as his Socratic “journey” before arriving at a conclusion.”
Expertise and Experience
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.