When Vice President Joe Biden voiced support for marriage equality back in May 2012, he threw the White House staff into a panic and forced President Obama’s hand on the issue, says a new book, Forcing the Spring, by prize-winning journalist Jo Becker.
Becker claims that Biden’s comments, made on Meet the Press, were by no means a trial balloon to see how the public would react to the president endorsing same-sex marriage, reports Politico, which obtained an advance copy of the book. Becker writes that those who subscribed to that theory were “not privy to the chaos that erupted inside the West Wing after an emailed transcript of the interview landed in the inbox of the White House press team.” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was particularly outraged and accused Biden of “downright disloyalty,” according to the book.
Obama, Becker writes, had been weighing the idea of coming out for marriage equality, and in November 2011, former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Melhman, who is gay, advised the Democratic president how to do it — with a female interviewer and First Lady Michelle Obama present — and suggested what to say. When the president did so, he used wording similar to what Mehlman suggested, and he did speak with a female journalist, Robin Roberts, but he did the interview alone. And it was six months after Mehlman offered his advice, “and only after Biden forced him,” notes Politico.
On the way home from the Meet the Press studio, Biden’s communications director, Shailagh Murray, told him, “I think you may have just gotten in front of the president on gay marriage,” Becker writes. Her book also says Jarrett and Michelle Obama had been pushing the president to endorse marriage equality, but he had anxieties about doing so for both personal and political reasons, Politico reports.
An encounter with a gay couple’s children at a Los Angeles political event the month before the Meet the Press interview may have influenced Biden to express his support for marriage equality, according to an excerpt from Becker’s book that will appear in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine and is available online now. After Biden met the two young sons of the hosts, HBO executive Michael Lombardo and architect Sonny Ward, political activist Chad Griffin asked Biden to state his position on marriage rights. Becker quotes the vice president’s response as follows:
“I look at those two beautiful kids,” Biden began. “I wish everybody could see this. All you got to do is look in the eyes of those kids. And no one can wonder, no one can wonder whether or not they are cared for and nurtured and loved and reinforced. And folks, what’s happening is, everybody is beginning to see it.
“Things are changing so rapidly, it’s going to become a political liability in the near term for an individual to say, ‘I oppose gay marriage.’ Mark my words.”
Becker’s book is due out Tuesday.