According to a new book offering an inside look at President Joe Biden’s White House, Biden actively distrusts the Secret Service to the point that he does not speak freely in front of his agents and he believed that the agency lied about an incident where Biden’s German shepherd Major bit an agent.
In The Fight of His Life, out January 17, author Chris Whipple details how Biden was showing a friend around the White House and pointed to the spot where Major allegedly bit a member of Biden’s security team. “Look, the Secret Service are never up here. It didn’t happen,” said Biden.
The book obtained by Vox ahead of publication offers an inside-the-West Wing account of Joe Biden’s first two years in office and provides a mostly positive spin on Biden’s efforts to cope with a multitude of crises, ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet it also captures the insecurities of an administration that was left in anxiety over whether Donald Trump would try to stay in power after losing the 2020 election. And then there are Biden’s anxieties about the Trumpists in his Secret Service detail.
In a statement, Robyn Patterson, a White House spokesperson, told Vox, “We respect that there will be no shortage of books written about the administration containing a wide variety of claims. We don’t plan to engage in confirmations or denials when it comes to the specifics of those claims. The author did not give us a chance to verify the materials that are attributed here.” In a separate statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told Vox that [Biden] “has confidence in the men and women who protect him and his family.”
Whipple spends much of the early part of the book focusing on the angst over the transition of power in the fall and winter of 2020. As part of the transition process, Biden’s team actively planned for the possibility that Trump would use the US military to help overturn the election. The concerns were shared by other top officials as well, and it’s been amply reported by other chroniclers of the Trump administration that Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi communicated concerns about Trump to each other. But as Whipple reports, Pelosi didn’t just talk to Milley about their shared anxieties; she also served as an intermediary between Milley and the Biden team during the transition. Biden’s concerns about the peaceful transition of power were so omnipresent before he took office that his advisers blamed it, in part, for contributing to the military’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The distrust of Trump was so profound that Biden tried to remove reminders of the former president’s presence from the White House whenever possible. According to Whipple’s account, this included an effort to remove the Resolute desk, which Biden believed was tainted by Trump’s use of it, from the Oval Office and replace it with the desk used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This fell through, and Roosevelt’s desk remained in Hyde Park, New York.
Biden may not have acquired Roosevelt’s desk, but he did try to push through some of the most ambitious first-term legislation since the New Deal. While Whipple does not cover the Capitol Hill negotiations in the detail of other recent books, he gives readers a good sense of the long, gradual process of the Biden administration to cajole Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) into supporting the social spending bill dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act. There are plenty of stumbles along the way, ranging from the public war of words waged between Manchin and the White House in late 2021 to more private ones like Biden mispronouncing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s first name at the signing ceremony for the IRA. It even chronicles Biden’s low point domestically, when all progress on his agenda on Capitol Hill seemed stalled in the autumn of 2021 and he confided to a friend that he worried he was “not feared.”
Whipple, who previously wrote a book about the position of White House chief of staff, also details Biden’s withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and efforts by the Biden White House to deter the Russian invasion of Ukraine and then help the Ukrainians defend themselves. In excerpts of the book previously reported by Politico, Whipple captures the back-and-forth blame game over the Afghanistan withdrawal, which led to 13 dead Americans after a suicide bombing at the entrance to the Kabul airport. He describes how Secretary of State Antony Blinken blamed bad assessments from the intelligence community, CIA Director Bill Burns pushed back, and current chief of staff Ron Klain pointed the finger at past administrations after Leon Panetta — his predecessor under Barack Obama — went on cable television to compare the withdrawal to the Bay of Pigs debacle during the Kennedy administration.
Whipple’s treatment of Ukraine is far more uplifting. He documents the Biden administration’s efforts to convince the Russians not to invade and Biden’s stalwart opposition to Putin afterward, which Whipple even compares to Winston Churchill’s defiance of Adolf Hitler during World War II. He chronicles the moment when the United States knew for certain that Putin would invade. On the eve of the attack, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to offer one more warning about what the Russians were claiming were military exercises near the Ukrainian border. Shoigu’s chilling response was simply, “Well, those troops won’t be there for much longer. I can assure you.” Less than a week later, Russia invaded.
Update, January 13, 12:05 pm: The story has been updated with an additional statement from the White House.