The VP’s political decline is described as a “slow Greek tragedy” in a new book


A senator close to Vice President Harris lamented her political decline as a “slow Greek tragedy,” New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns write in their book, This Will Not Pass, out May 3.

Why it matters: Republicans got the first headlines from the book, which the authors call “an account of a political emergency in the United States.” But the first year of the Biden presidency was rocky for the White House and Democrats, too.

“The vice president had one vocal and adamant defender on the west wing: the President’s chief of staff,” the authors write. But even Ron Klain knew something wasn’t working.

  • The book says he told Harris in the fall of 2021 “that she made a mistake by keeping her Latin American assignment at arm’s length: yes, he conceded it was a politically sensitive portfolio, but it did have one there.” Opportunity is given for them to take full ownership of something, delve into the policy details and produce results.
  • That, Klain told Harris, is the way to be successful as a vice president.”

Other Biden coverage from the book, based on hundreds of interviews and “hundreds of pages of confidential documents and records”:

“These men”: After delivering a national unity address in Gettysburg during the final month of the campaign, Biden released a similar plea from Warm Springs, Georgia, home of FDR’s Little White House. Speaking to historian Jon Meacham, Biden expressed concerns about “inviting twice-monthly comparisons with America’s greatest leaders.”

  • “I’m not one of those guys,” Biden said. Meacham replied, “They weren’t either until they were.”

POTUS takes notes: “Al Sharpton urged Biden to filibuster, telling the president that if the procedural lockdown stood, Democrats would suffer in the midterm election. Biden took painstaking notes, but he and his staff were noncommittal.”

  • “What did that leave behind for civil rights groups when they left the White House? Like so many other visitors to the White House in 2021, they have received praise from the President for the importance of their constituency.”
  • “Biden again praised the role of black voters in his campaign… [saying] Black women were the reason he occupied the Oval Office. It was a flattering and genuine feeling. But flattery wouldn’t protect the franchise.”

aging pitcher: As Biden addressed the Dems in the Capitol on Oct. 1, with infrastructure and reconciliation bills pending, they were “prepared for a moment of political climax. … [But Biden] has decided [that] was not the day to call for a vote. … The President told a story about Satchel Paige, the legendary black pitcher who played baseball well into his forties …

  • “Paige, Biden said, was once asked about his ability to play at such an advanced age. … ‘How old would you be?’ [Paige] allegedly asked, “If you didn’t know how old you are?” It was not clear what message Biden wanted to convey with this story. … Biden’s story about an aging pitcher wasn’t exactly reassuring.”

Begala’s Zinger: In the fall of 2021, “prominent Democratic strategist Paul Begala contacted Klain … The president, Begala said, was too Olympian, too vulnerable to put himself above guerrilla warfare … Offering Klain an operational line of attack, Begala suggested Biden tell Americans that Republicans “fear Trump more than they care.”

  • “It was a smooth line that’s easy to imagine coming from Begala’s most famous client, Bill Clinton. Well, Klain replied, that approach is not in this president’s comfort zone. It’s not his brand.”

go deeper: The McCarthy Tapes.


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