The Tiny, Tight-Lipped Circle of Aides Guiding Biden 2024
When President Biden announced his re-election campaign and its top two staff members this week, the names of his closest and longest-serving advisers were not included.
A small circle of senior officials, some who have known Mr. Biden for longer than many of the soon-to-be-hired campaign staff members have been alive, will guide the president’s political strategy both in the White House and on the campaign trail.
None of them have significant public personas. Of the six, only Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and Jeff Zients, the White House chief of staff, have active Twitter accounts. But it was members of this group who began making phone calls last weekend to offer positions on Mr. Biden’s campaign, only some of which have been announced.
Officials in the White House and on his nascent campaign insist the campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, will be empowered to run Mr. Biden’s re-election bid. But an array of Democratic officials who have been involved in ramping up his 2024 effort have made clear that many major decisions will continue to be made by the president’s cadre of top advisers.
According to two Biden advisers, the White House staff members who have been involved in rolling out the campaign are Ms. O’Malley Dillon, Mr. Zients, Anita Dunn, Mike Donilon, Steve Ricchetti and Bruce Reed.
Here is a look at the people at the center of the president’s political universe who will help guide his re-election bid.
Mr. Biden named Mr. Zients as his second chief of staff in January after Mr. Zients oversaw the administration’s Covid vaccination program. He has ensured regular bagel deliveries to the West Wing from Call Your Mother, a Washington chain in which he is a part owner. (Four days into his presidency, Mr. Biden directed his motorcade to stop at one of the shops so his son Hunter could pick up an order.)
Mr. Zients has sat in on interviews with and deliberations about potential campaign staff members, and he has a regular political meeting with Mr. Biden.
Ms. Dunn also had senior roles with Democrats including President Barack Obama. And she helped found SKDK, a major public affairs and political consulting firm that employs a stable of Democratic operatives. (She has faced questions over the years about the intersection of her government work and the firm’s business dealings.)
She is married to the prominent lawyer Bob Bauer — a partnership that in 2009 led Newsweek to call them Washington’s new power couple. Mr. Bauer is also a close Biden adviser who has served as a lawyer for Mr. Biden.
“Anita’s default is action,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who served as White House communications director for Mr. Obama. “In a party of hand-wringers that Democrats can be, she has a unique leadership style that helps propel movement forward.”
Mr. Ricchetti, who served as Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential chief of staff, is a longtime Biden confidant.
He has often acted as a conduit among Mr. Biden, donors and members of Congress. (Soon after Mr. Biden took office, Mr. Ricchetti’s brother drew scrutiny for his work as a lobbyist; Mr. Ricchetti has also worked as a lobbyist.)
“Steve is the best I’ve seen at managing relationships and being an open ear to a lot of people,” said former Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who served as a senior adviser to Mr. Biden at the White House and as a national co-chair of his 2020 campaign. “Stevie knows the interactions of the Congress and the White House.”
Asked whether he could compare any top Biden aides to characters on the TV series “The West Wing,” Mr. Richmond noted that Josh Lyman, the show’s fast-talking, hard-charging deputy White House chief of staff, “kept scores.”
“Maybe Stevie to Josh,” he said. “He has a long memory.”
Other than Mr. Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and Jill Biden, the first lady, Mr. Donilon has worked with Mr. Biden the longest of anyone in his inner circle.
An adviser to Mr. Biden since the early 1980s, the low-key Mr. Donilon is a regular presence at Georgetown University’s basketball games — even during the team’s recent stretch of down years. (A Rhode Island native, Mr. Donilon has two degrees from the Washington university.)
He comes from a family accomplished in politics. One brother, Tom Donilon, worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Another, Terrence Donilon, is the chief spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston. Mike Donilon’s sister-in-law, Catherine Russell, was Dr. Biden’s chief of staff when Mr. Biden was vice president.
Mr. Donilon, who served as Mr. Biden’s chief strategist during the 2020 campaign, is a senior adviser now and travels frequently with the president.
“These are folks who are very close to the president and are the reason why he is president,” Cristóbal Alex, a veteran of Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign and White House, said of Mr. Donilon and other top Biden advisers. “That sort of core leadership will play an incredibly important role in his election.”
Jennifer O’Malley Dillon
A relatively late addition to the Biden inner circle, Ms. O’Malley Dillon had senior roles on both of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaigns and was the campaign manager on Beto O’Rourke’s 2020 bid for the White House before Ms. Dunn recruited her to take over what was then a shoestring Biden presidential campaign.
Ms. O’Malley Dillon became campaign manager just as the pandemic hit. She was responsible for transforming a thin operation into a serious general-election apparatus, and doing so as the world shut down, managing the bid of a then-septuagenarian candidate who would spend much of the rest of the campaign off the trail.
“Jen has great political instincts, and I’ve never seen anybody get the buses and trains to move on time like she does,” Mr. Richmond said.
Known for her skills as a political organizer and for her late-night habit during the campaign of returning phone calls while riding her Peloton stationary bicycle, Ms. O’Malley Dillon became the first woman to manage a winning Democratic presidential campaign and is now a White House deputy chief of staff.
Like Mr. Biden, Mr. Reed has spent his career as a centrist Democrat in Washington. He worked for years for the Democratic Leadership Council, which aimed to focus the party on the political middle and had significant influence during the Clinton administration.
The co-author of a book with Rahm Emanuel and the onetime author of a daily column for Slate — in 2009, he called for the Baseball Hall of Fame to “put every player found to have used steroids onto the permanently ineligible list” — Mr. Reed worked for Al Gore and Bill Clinton before becoming Mr. Biden’s chief of staff during the Obama administration.
An Idaho native whose affection for his home state extended to his personal email handle, Mr. Reed is Mr. Biden’s top policy adviser and travels with him on domestic trips.