The hits just keep on coming for Joe Biden.
On Wednesday, CNN reported that White House communications director Kate Bedingfield is planning to leave her post in the coming weeks. Bedingfield’s imminent departure lands after former White House press secretary Jen Psaki left her post in May for a gig at MSNBC. And it comes amid questions about the efficacy of Psaki’s replacement, Karine Jean-Pierre.
Before we go any further, some context: The average person neither knows nor cares who the White House communications director is. It is a bit of inside baseball that won’t change a single mind about Biden and how he is doing as president.
But that doesn’t mean this series of changes in the press shop don’t matter. They do – and here’s why: Bedingfield and her team help shape Biden’s message – both day-to-day and in the longer-term.
Changing up that team means uncertainty in the message department, which comes at a challenging time for Biden.
As CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote earlier this week:
“Top Democrats complain the President isn’t acting with – or perhaps is even capable of – the urgency the moment demands.
“‘Rudderless, aimless and hopeless’ is how one member of Congress described the White House.”
That piece was the latest in a series of stories raising questions – and concerns – about what, exactly, the White House is doing these days.
“In the view of many distraught Democrats, the country is facing a full-blown crisis on a range of fronts, and Biden seems unable or unwilling to respond with appropriate force,” reported The Washington Post this week.
“Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated at what they perceive has been the White House’s lack of urgency on what some officials and voters feel are the defining issues of the moment,” read a recent story from Politico.
All of those stories, perhaps not by accident, come as Biden’s poll numbers continue to sink. A recent Monmouth University survey pegged his job approval rating among Americans at a meager 36%, the lowest point the poll had measured of his presidency.
And the pressure of all of that may well be getting to Biden. Dovere reported:
“Several officials say Biden’s tendency to berate advisers when he’s displeased with how a situation is being handled or when events go off poorly has trickled down the ranks in the West Wing, leaving several mid-level aides feeling blamed for failings despite lacking any real ability to influence the building’s decision-making. That’s contributed to some of the recent staff departures, according to people familiar.”
So, Biden is frustrated because the message is bad and chaotic. He lashes out at staff for it. That makes them more likely to leave. Which creates a bad and chaotic messaging department. It’s a vicious circle.
If you want to look on the brightest side for Biden, you can make the case that Biden has a messaging problem – not organized or urgent enough – and that the departures of senior communications strategists is addition by subtraction.
I mean, maybe? But the overall impression created at the moment by the Biden White House is listless and lost. And that’s never a good look.