Europe’s jitters about Joe Biden dominating US politics will worsen after the sacking of the former US vice-president and fellow Democrat Valerie Jarrett
Joe Biden’s former foreign policy adviser in Europe, Charles Lyons, has said that Valerie Jarrett, the popular Democratic adviser from Chicago who worked with Biden when he was in the White House, has resigned as chair of the campaign group Organizing for Action (OFA).
By putting Jarett, 34, in charge of the left-leaning umbrella group, former president Barack Obama brought back into his family the formidable operative who quietly became the most trusted adviser to him when he first ran for the White House in 2008.
Jarrett is credited with helping Obama reshape the Democratic party from the inside, helping the party through the George W Bush years and maintaining a sceptical relationship with the Clintons even as she became one of Hillary Clinton’s most effective campaigners. Now, after nine years on the board of OBFA, she has decided to move on.
The decision, widely reported this week, is widely seen as a hint that the 69-year-old Biden will run for the White House in 2020, not least because it signals that Jarrett – whom Biden has known for more than 40 years – is close to leaving the political scene for good. Biden has refused to rule out a run and has refused to say whether he thinks Jarrett is leaving, although some speculate that she may leave as a bid for the presidency gains more momentum.
Lyons, a partner at the consultancy firm Poughkeepsie Associates, has known Jarrett since he worked for Senator Paul Simon. After spending four years in the Obama administration as a special envoy for the Middle East, Lyons stayed on the campaign team, accompanying Biden across the globe to rally supporters.
“Valerie Jarrett was an instrumental player in building Barack Obama’s grassroots organisation,” Lyons said, adding that she and Biden remained in close contact after the election. “In my conversations with Joe I have repeatedly emphasized to him the importance of growing this grassroots organisation and ensuring that the voter turnout in 2020 is the highest it has ever been in our country.”
The move would appear to also reflect a concern that a four-year-old organisation once described as a “war room” could be overtaken by Biden, who reportedly has remained active in the annual strategy meetings of the campaign group over the past year.
Although Biden is the party’s most popular figure abroad, it is not just the jitters about 2020 that is causing other European politicians to distance themselves from him. This summer, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, wrote an open letter to the Democratic party’s president-elect in which she advised Biden not to run. She argued that a president should not be defined by the party leadership, and said Biden’s interest in the “European thing” was growing, partly because he was “amazed by how little the American people know about our relations with other European countries”.
Europe’s anxiety that Biden could pose a threat to Macron and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has increased following his speech to Nato’s gathering of defence ministers earlier this month. Macron had been involved in trying to lure Biden to the EU level – but, following Biden’s choice of Newport, Wales, as the venue, Macron’s aides have refused to attend.
Timothy Bale, professor of political science at Queen Mary, University of London, said that even if Biden did not win the Democratic nomination, a confident, seasoned campaigner such as him could have influence on the Democrats’ US congressional election strategy, probably because he and his wife, Hallie, were able to travel extensively abroad.
“Biden doesn’t really need to run and he could help tremendously,” Bale said. “The Democrats need to convince people that they can win back the White House and it’s going to take more than a ticket of people with blond hair.”
Nevertheless, Bale pointed out that Biden is a maverick who is often left out of the Democratic chain of command and, had he sought the Democratic nomination in 2008, might have had less success in mobilising voters because he had already been in public office before Obama.
“Biden can say the Democratic party has nothing to offer voters and is out of touch,” Bale said. “He can go back to DC and make decisions.”