Biden campaign out of step with admin's positions as officials try to walk delicate line

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President Biden’s campaign is increasingly out of step with his administration’s positions, and White House officials appear to have their hands tied. 

When pressed, officials have repeatedly declined to provide clarity on the White House’s positions on issues while privately acknowledging any comment would reflect negatively on the incumbent president’s re-election effort.

Hours before President Biden’s State of the Union address — in which he would highlight the importance of NATO and contrast his support of U.S. alliances with former President Donald Trump’s — the Biden campaign shot off an email that contained a weighty foreign policy statement, referring to the right-wing prime minister of Hungary, a NATO ally, as a “dictator.”


President Biden at the YMCA

President Biden speaks at the YMCA Allard Center in Goffstown, New Hampshire, on Monday. (Jason Bergman/Bloomberg)

“Who’s Donald Trump’s squad? Let’s take a look at their rap sheets,” Biden-Harris 2024 Rapid Response spokesperson Sarafina Chitika wrote. “Donald Trump is kicking off the general election with a starting lineup guaranteed to repel the moderate Republicans… Hungarian dictator Viktor Orbán, and convicted felon Roger Stone.”

The punchy note titled, “Donald Trump: Who U Wit?,” was written by Chitika, a 2019 Harvard graduate who was also responsible for a Democratic National Committee statement in January that mocked the end of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s 2024 bid, prompting President Biden to direct his chief of staff to apologize to Hutchinson by phone.

In the highly choreographed foreign policy world, statements representing the views of the incumbent President of the United States would not be made without careful consideration — much less in the footnote of a campaign email. In fact, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visibly winced when President Biden referred to Chinese Communist President Xi Jinping as a dictator when questioned by reporters at a recent summit. Chitika’s remark about Hungary’s Orbán also comes as the Biden administration is withholding support for Ukraine’s accession to NATO, citing outstanding democratic benchmarks.

Although U.S. officials have previously voiced deep concern over Hungary’s democratic backsliding and close ties to Russia, no U.S. administration has deemed Hungary to be a dictatorship. In 2014, Sen. John McCain sparked a diplomatic feud that prompted Hungary’s foreign minister to summon the U.S. envoy after McCain said in a speech that Hungary was “on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator.”

For several days following Chitika’s email, White House and campaign officials ignored or declined requests to comment. At Tuesday’s White House briefing, national security adviser Jake Sullivan dodged answering whether the U.S. officially sees its NATO ally as a dictatorship.

Jake Sullivan

At the White House briefing, national security adviser Jake Sullivan dodged answering whether the U.S. officially sees its NATO ally as a dictatorship. (Susan Walsh)

“I know why you’re asking the question. I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Biden campaign. You should direct those questions to the campaign,” Sullivan said. “What I will say, as the Biden administration, is that we have made no bones about our deep concerns about Hungary’s assault on democratic institutions, including the judiciary, Hungary’s corruption and other erosion of democracy in Hungary from the leadership there.”

Orbán has openly supported former President Donald Trump’s 2024 candidacy, including in a meeting at Mar-a-Lago in Florida last week. Biden remarked on it at a campaign stop near Philadelphia on Friday. “[Trump] thinks Putin is a strong, basically decent guy,” Biden said. “You know, he’s meeting with today down at Mar-a-Lago, Orbán in Hungary — who stated flatly he doesn’t think democracy works. He’s looking for dictatorship.”

Hungary protested Biden’s comments as a “very serious insult” and burden to the bilateral relationship, demanding a meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Budapest. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said at a press conference, “We are not required to take such lies from anyone, even if that person is the President of the United States.”

Trump shakes hands with Orban outside the White House

President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2019. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Sullivan, asked about the incident Tuesday, again attempted to walk the delicate line between upholding the campaign-trail commentary of his boss and the official positions of his boss’s government. “The president stands by his statement, and I’m not walking back his statement,” Sullivan said. “All I’m saying is that our position is totally consistent.”


The Biden campaign has also encountered contradictions with the administration’s official position through its embrace of TikTok. Despite reportedly vowing last year that it would not join the app, the campaign launched an account last month as part of its strategy to “reach the voters where they are.”

The decision boxed in White House officials once again, with the federal inter-agency committee known as CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) still mulling its decision to recommend a nationwide ban over national security concerns. White House national security adviser John Kirby said in a Feb. 12 briefing, “I can only tell you that it’s not allowed on government devices. That policy remains the case. And I just can’t speak for the campaign on their decisions.”

Kirby declined to answer why the president would partake in videos on a platform his administration deems to be a threat.

An iPhone screen with the TikTok app.

Despite reportedly vowing last year that it would not join TikTok, the Biden campaign launched an account last month as part of its strategy to “reach the voters where they are.” (iStock)

This week, FBI Director Christopher Wray affirmed at a Senate worldwide threats hearing that the app is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and poses a significant national security concern, in part because its algorithm could be manipulated to help or hurt candidates in the 2024 U.S. election.


“The key point is that the parent company is, for all intents and purposes, beholden to the CCP,” Wray said.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill with both Democratic and Republican support that could pave the way for TikTok to be banned in U.S. app stores.