By Philip Wegmann for RealClearPolitics
Joe Biden takes lunch seriously. As vice president, his weekly lunch with Obama wasn’t just a meal. It was a meeting when things really got done, a moment set aside on the White House calendar for the two men to break bread and build out an agenda.
The weekly meal was so important to Biden that he carried over the tradition to his own presidency. “I made the same deal with her that Barack and I made,” he said of his newly minted vice president just weeks after his inauguration. That meant drop-in privileges at the Oval Office and carte blanche over executive office meetings, Biden told People magazine, but also “lunch alone once a week.”
“That’s the deal when we’re both in-country,” he explained, “which we’ll be for a while because of COVID, and I see her all the time.”
And yet, according to a review of the president’s public schedule by RealClearPolitics, Biden and Harris have only sat down to lunch twice this year, a significant drop when compared to the 12 times they shared the meal together by this same point last year.
For Biden and Harris, lunch this year has followed major developments. The two shared a meal on February 8, when the search for a Supreme Court nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer was ongoing, and another lunch on March 30, shortly after Biden returned from Warsaw to rally the West after Russian invaded Ukraine.
White House aides insist that the executive lunches, while important to both Biden and Harris, are not the ultimate barometer of cooperation between the two.
“The president and vice president are in constant touch with each other,” Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher told RCP. “And he relies on her counsel, partnership, and friendship as they work together to continue to grow the economy, cut costs for working families, rally the world in the face of Russia’s aggression, and make historic investments in our nation’s infrastructure.”
Still, the lack of lunch comes amid whispers of a rocky start to their working relationship. Biden has tried to duplicate the dynamic with Harris that he enjoyed with Obama, but he reportedly hasn’t been able to recreate the same sense of camaraderie. In an excerpt of their new book, “This Will Not Pass,” obtained early by Politico, Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns of the New York Times write that “their weekly lunches lacked a real depth of personal and political intimacy.”
According to another section of the book, this one reported by Fox News, some in Biden World were less than enthusiastic about Harris joining the ticket. Most notably: future first lady Jill Biden. “There are millions of people in the United States. Why do we have to choose the one who attacked Joe,” Dr. Biden reportedly said after learning that Harris was the leading candidate to be the Veep nominee.
If there is any lingering awkwardness, it hasn’t affected how Biden says he sees Harris. Asked if she would be his running mate in 2024 and if he thought she was doing a good job, the president was succinct at a press conference earlier this year, telling reporters “Yes, and yes.”
What about lunch though? White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told RCP that “absolutely” the scheduled meal remains a point of emphasis. Although, she added, “obviously they are not going to be dining in person while she is quarantining at home.”
Skipping lunch may have been a bit of a blessing in disguise then, as Harris tested positive for COVID on Tuesday. According to the vice president’s office, she remains asymptomatic, in good spirits, and hard at work. And, as the White House reported, Harris had not been “a close contact” to either the president or the first lady “due to their respective recent travel schedules.”
Harris and Biden remain in close contact, Psaki told RCP, even as the vice president quarantines. They speak over the phone, and Harris regularly participates in policy meetings with the Cabinet via Zoom.
Those two combined factors, a lingering pandemic and an increasingly busy travel schedule, may explain why the executive power lunch has gone to the wayside in the White House. Harris traveled to Europe twice this year amidst Russian aggression in the region, first to Germany in February and later to Poland in March. Biden also flew overseas that same month to Belgium on the same mission.
And the vice president isn’t the first to test positive for the virus either. Her communications director, Jamal Simmons, tested positive in early April. So did second gentleman Doug Emhoff who came down with the virus earlier in March. Harris was in close contact both times, and out of an abundance of caution kept her distance from Biden.
The administration has struggled to contain new variants of the virus in both the country at large and the West Wing, a scheduling headache and frustrating political reality. White House COVID coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters on Tuesday after Harris tested positive that “it is possible that the president, like any other American, could get COVID.” He stressed, however, that that the vaccinated and boosted president has “very good protocols around him to protect him from getting infected. But there is no 100 percent anything.”
“I think the key focus has got to be: We’ve got to continue protecting the president,” the doctor continued. “That’s what the protocols around him are designed to do.” Perhaps once the pandemic is definitively in the rearview mirror, the weekly lunches will resume on schedule.
Syndicated with permission from Real Clear Wire.
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