The first lady is helping to salvage her husband’s campaign. Will it be enough?

Jul 10, 2024, 3:12 PM

President Joe Biden listens as first lady Jill Biden speaks during a barbecue with active-duty mili...

President Joe Biden listens as first lady Jill Biden speaks during a barbecue with active-duty military service members and their families on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, July 4, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Campaigning for her husband in Florida, Jill Biden took a break to get some tea.

She was on the second stop of a three-state swing and reporters traveling with her had tried multiple times to get her to talk to them. They were curious about what she’d tell the Democrats who were so rattled by President Joe Biden’s poor debate performance that they were calling on him to drop his reelection bid.

Leaving a coffee shop after having hibiscus tea with Tampa’s mayor, the first lady paused on the walk to her vehicle and turned to face the reporters who were lobbing questions her way.

“Why are you screaming at me? You know me,” she said, adding: “Don’t scream at me. Just talk.”

She walked away without answering their questions.

The public has gotten to know Jill Biden well over her three-plus years as a first lady who navigates multiple roles. Now, she’s jumping in to help her husband salvage his presidential campaign and coming under new scrutiny from critics who’ve cast her as a power-hungry wife pushing her elderly husband to run again so she can keep her White House lifestyle.

Adding to that, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has started going after the first lady, claiming without proof at a Florida rally this week that she and the president’s son, Hunter Biden, are really the ones running the country.

This week, the president’s wife of 47 years has logged a three-state swing to promote the Biden administration’s support for the military and she’s fulfilling a more traditional role as the nation’s hostess, welcoming NATO leaders and their spouses for the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit. She and Hunter Biden are known to be two of the people Biden listens to most closely, and both have encouraged the president to stay in the race.

Weeks before the debate, the public also saw Jill Biden in her role as the family matriarch, sitting behind Hunter in federal court in Delaware as he was tried and convicted of felony gun charges.

Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director, said Jill Biden’s most important role is as the president’s spouse, not as one of his many political and policy advisers.

“As much as any husband and wife team make decisions together that impact their lives, they absolutely do, but as she’s said more times than I can count, politics is his lane,” Alexander wrote in an email. “She’s his biggest supporter and champion, because she believes in him, and she fears for the future of our country if it goes the other way. Just as he’s always supported her career, she supports his.”

Alexander said first ladies are like most women, all of whom struggle with being supportive but not so supportive that their motives are questioned, speaking up but not too loudly and performing their duties well but without fanfare, or they risk being accused of being too ambitious or aggressive.

“Society has put all first ladies, including Dr. Biden, in an impossible situation, especially with today’s social media, bots, and the right wing machine fueling narratives and inventing false caricatures at every turn,” Alexander said.

Jill Biden stayed close by her husband as the post-debate drama unfolded, campaigning with him in North Carolina, New York and New Jersey. She broke off for some solo campaigning before she reunited with him at the White House for the Fourth of July.

She stood in for him again Monday on a swing through North Carolina, Florida and Georgia that was intended to rally support from veterans and military families but was also part of the Biden team’s broader effort to try to steer the conversation back toward Trump.

She told the crowds she supports Biden’s decision to stay in the race.

“For all the talk out there about this race, Joe has made it clear that he’s all in,” she said at all three stops. “That’s the decision he’s made. And just as he has always supported my career, I am all in too. I know you are too, or you wouldn’t be here today.”

Jill Biden, as first lady, is the first to work outside the White House. She is a professor of English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College, where she has taught since 2009.

By Tuesday, the first lady was back at the White House in her role as hostess, welcoming NATO leaders and their spouses for the annual summit. She arranged brunch for the spouses on Wednesday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and was joining the president to welcome the couples to a White House dinner in the evening.

Still, Jill Biden took on yet another role this week: fashion consultant.

As brunch with the NATO spouses wrapped up, she sent them off with advice for their visit Thursday to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains.

“Please dress comfortably,” she said. “Don’t put on those high heels because you’re gonna be going into helicopters … so please just wear flats, wear sneakers. Just feel comfortable.”

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The first lady is helping to salvage her husband’s campaign. Will it be enough?