Detail-Obsessed Biden Displays Frustration, Anger With Advisers: NY Times President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Colonial Pipeline incident in the Roosevelt Room of the White House May 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (T.J. KirkpatrickGetty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Friday, 14 May 2021 12:31 PM
President Joe Biden has shown frustration and anger during a decision-making process that requires advisers to supply a wealth of information to the chief executive, it was reported Friday.
In a lengthy article based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former Biden associates, The New York Times said the president possesses a short fuse due partly to his obsession with getting the details right.
His fixation on getting the appropriate information sometimes delays decisions — something that can upset both allies and adversaries — such as when he took time to decide whether to allow more refugees into the United States.
A longtime advisor said Biden takes time to process material so he feels comfortable selling his decision to the public. However, as former President Barack Obama found out, lengthy internal policy debates can lead to infighting and extended lobbying.
Although he doesn't erupt into fits of rage like former President Donald Trump or exhibit the smoldering anger one could see from Obama, the 78-year-old Biden has been known to hang up the phone on someone he thinks is wasting his time.
Most of the people interviewed said Biden had little patience for advisers who cannot field his many questions.
"You become so hyperprepared," said Dylan Loewe, a former Biden speechwriter. ''I’ve got to answer every conceivable question he can come up with."
Some advisers new to Biden's ways have been on the receiving end of his anger in recent weeks.
According to two people familiar with the exchange, Biden lashed out at Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra for failing to have answers to questions about the agency’s ability to take care of migrant children during a March 30 meeting in the Oval Office.
"He hates blandishing fast-talk that sounds like double speak," said Chris Jennings, a former health policy aide who engaged frequently with then-Vice President Biden. "Doesn’t trust it, and he’s certain voters loathe it."
Biden takes days or weeks to make up his mind on policy issues as he examines and second-guesses himself and others. The Times said he 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."
One example of Biden’s details obsession cited by the Times had to do with Biden insisting on hearing from experts when he was trying to decide on whether to impose sanctions on Russia for its election interference and its SolarWinds cyberattack.
After having spent the first two months of his presidency debating how to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and despite acknowledging he needed to act quickly, Biden convened another meeting in the Situation Room that stretched for 2 1/2 hours. He then called yet another session there a week later.
"He has a kind of mantra: 'You can never give me too much detail,'" National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.
The Times story said Biden usually exercises in the morning and arrives in the Oval Office for a series of scheduled meetings around 9:30 a.m.
In addition to wife Jill Biden, the couple's grandchildren often visit the White House, spending long weekends or parts of their week there. The grandkids have been known to show the president apps such as TikTok. One adviser said Biden had sent the grandchildren money via Venmo.