On the Road with the Fearless Jill Biden

Central Lake, Michigan – here, in the northern part In the Michigan cherry orchard, Democrats had only good feelings to share with Jill Biden.

The First Lady strolled through the barn at King Orchards Wednesday afternoon, hearing from members of the King family about told him about their various cherry products. The kings Standing at the barn entrance waiting for her to arrive, everyone was smiling and waving big hands when Jill stepped out of her SUV in a navy, daisy-printed dress. “The last time we saw you, we were all hiding behind masks!” one of them said, recalling her last visit during the 2020 campaign.

the stop — only 20 minutes long — seemed like any other event a first lady might attend during an election year. There were babies to kiss, selfies to take, cherry juice to taste. The first lady's staff had loaded up motorcade cars with fruit, pies and cider to take back to the White House — so much, in fact, that aides had to find new seats to go back to the airport.

Still, the mood after this pleasant blue bird day was, understandably, sour among Democrats. It had been that way since last Thursday, when President Biden gave a disappointing performance in the debate against his opponent, former President Donald Trump, raising immediate concerns that the 81-year-old president might not be able to persuade Americans to vote for him in November. Following the First Lady's entourage on this 30-hour, four-stop trip was like watching a split screen: In the pleasant scene before a crowd of supporters, everything appeared normal. Wheels up, wheels down – each landing brought media reports and worrying takes, indicating more trouble for Biden's campaign.

The cherry orchard was the final stop on the trip, Jill Biden's first solo trip since the debate. She began the trip Tuesday afternoon in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to promote the Biden administration's community college programs. On Wednesday morning, she arrived in Middleville, Michigan, where she talked about summer nutrition programs for children and visited a sleepaway camp for children of service members. She arrived in Traverse City, Michigan, that afternoon to celebrate the opening of a new campaign office for the Democrats.

The itinerary was set before the debate and remained unchanged afterward. As for addressing the looming crisis, she did so just once: “Because there’s been a lot of talk about this, I want to reiterate what my husband has said very clearly: Joe is the Democratic nominee and he’s going to defeat Donald Trump, just like he did in 2020,” she said in Traverse City.

Move forward. In Jill's world, it's simply forward motion.

It wasn’t as if everyone in the garden was ready to move on. Suzanne Clark, from the nearby town of Bellaire, wanted to discuss the debate. “We need to stop talking about whether Who Clarke led the first lady into a corner near a hard cider bar and said, “We need to talk about whether trump Said – How he is going to destroy the world!

A mother with three young children approached Jill near a display of fresh cherries to thank her for her work. Then, arching an eyebrow: “I hope you're well,” she said half-heartedly. The first woman gave her a slight smile and a heavy nod before turning to the next waiting supporter.

“Have a safe trip and God bless you,” said a middle-aged man with short hair as he walked out of the shop.

IEvery leg of the trip played out like an alternate timeline — one in which the president isn't 81, hasn't appeared to stray from his ideology on the debate stage and hasn't faced calls to cut his campaign short. As the First Lady said As the plane took off for Allentown, Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) became the first Democratic member of Congress to call on Biden to withdraw from the race. By the time she landed, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), one of the president's leading congressional supporters, had said he would support Vice President Harris as the nominee if Biden withdrew. Three Democratic lawmakers met Meanwhile, at the Allentown airport, Jill showed no signs of discomfort. Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Susan Wild (D-Pa.) all greeted her with warm hugs.

“It's so wonderful that you were able to come this time,” Barragan said later, introducing the first lady at a community college event. “Just so you know, I've been trying to get into their program for a long time — they're so popular!”

Rep. Hillary J. Scholten (D-Mich.) was so upset by Biden's debate performance that she raised concerns with Democratic officials, Scholten told The Detroit News on Tuesday. And yet, when Jill's plane landed in Grand Rapids that evening, Scholten was there. Her eldest son handed Jill a bouquet.

The first lady was speaking to children of military families in the YMCA camp’s mess hall with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) when The New York Times reported that her husband had privately considered dropping out of the race. She was sitting with a small group of campers at a picnic table and discussing the plot of “Inside Out 2” when CNN confirmed the report 20 minutes later.

“I don't think there's been a better president for Michigan in my lifetime,” Stabenow said after the event. Did she discuss the debate or its aftermath with the first lady? “No, we didn't discuss it,” she replied.

Anita McBride, author of “Remember the First Ladies,” said first ladies are generally protected from political stigma, even when their husbands have been unpopular or controversial. who served as Laura Bush's chief of staff. But the display of affection is in contrast to the changing narrative around Jill.

Some have compared her to Edith Wilson, who took over the White House after her husband's stroke in 1960. 1919. Others have cited the example of Lady Macbeth, a power-hungry Shakespearean queen who subdues a weak man.

Biden's right-wing critics have long been leveling such parallels at Jill. What has changed is that some members of the president's own party are now calling him a “savior” repeating them — specifically in response to Jill's cover story for the August issue of Vogue published online on Monday, in which the first lady is photographed in a dress that cost about $5,000. There is frustration among the first lady’s aides that the story’s timing (dropped long before the debate) and optics (a profile in an elite women’s fashion magazine) have obscured its content: A source close to the first lady, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to comment on behalf of the campaign, says the story highlights how Jill is “organizing, motivating and speaking to female voters” — and the dress is, purposefully, white, a nod to enfranchised women.

“Jill Biden is, always has been, and always will be there for her family,” said Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director. “These facts may not get clicks or go viral like a bot-fueled Shakespearean caricature, but they are true.”

Just weeks ago, she was seen as a pillar of strength for her embattled family, spending several days at the courthouse in Wilmington, Del., when her son Hunter was being tried on federal gun charges. Her show of support has drawn sympathy even from critics of the president and the Biden family. “Now, everything is about a president who may not be fit for office,” McBride said. “This is no longer a personal family tragedy. This is now an American tragedy.”

The first lady fully supports her husband's staying in the race, and her aides insist that it is just that: support. “The president has plenty of political and policy advisers — that has never been his role,” Alexander said. “As much as any husband and wife team make decisions together that affect their lives, they certainly do,” but “politics is their way.” Alexander said the first lady faces an “impossible situation” when it comes to her husband's candidacy status. “There is an inherent tension for all first ladies — one that may be familiar to many women in their lives — you are supportive, but you can't be so supportive that your motives are questioned.”

However, such clarifications do little to assuage sentiments over whether the First Lady has a role to play in the continuation of her husband’s candidacy.

“If she’s not the only player, she’s the deciding player,” said a former Obama White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations among Democrats. “President Biden will perform the way Jill Biden does. And so I think it’s almost entirely up to her judgment.”

“If she’s not the last person, she’s up there with Valerie Biden,” said Democratic mega-donor John Morgan, who said he had raised at least $100,000 for Biden as of Monday, referring to the president’s sister who has managed most of his political campaigns. “That’s where it all ultimately boils down.”

Donna Brazile, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee and a longtime friend of Biden, said the efforts to corner Jill are misplaced. “If I wanted to say something that was purely political — and it’s something I really wanted the president to do because I have a stake in the game — I wouldn’t call Jill Biden,” Brazile says. “I would call her sister.”

Jill's role is different, Brazile explained: “This is a moment where you look for steady hands, and you look for people who know how to keep the ship afloat. If there's one person who knows how to keep the ship steady and how to keep people calm, it's Jill Biden.”

TeaThat’s what the first lady attempted to do at the opening of a campaign office in Traverse City on Wednesday afternoon. A crowd of about 75 people filled a room. to see him speak at campaign headquarters with Chasten Buttigieg, who owns a home in Traverse City with her husband, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. There was little room to move, and it warm; A woman fainted moments after the First Lady's speech.

But there was enthusiasm, not the kind of enthusiasm a paramedic needs. Jill took the microphone and there was enthusiastic applause. A wave of excitement swept through the room. When he said to them, “Who Is the Democratic candidate and he Is I'm going to defeat Donald Trump.” When she finished speaking, most attendees lined up to take pictures with her.

“I’m still supporting Biden,” said Traverse City local resident Noreen Morin. “I think they’re trying to discredit Jill Biden now — they’re going after the Democrats at the top.”

“Look at this room! We have energy,” Buttigieg said.

“Everybody was in a good mood,” said Chris Cracchiolo, chairman of the Grand Traverse Democrats. If anyone wanted Biden to back down, “I didn’t feel any of that today,” Cracchiolo said. “Obviously, that’s not the first lady’s message either.”

Trenton Lee almost broached the subject. The 31-year-old candidate for county commissioner said his friends were disappointed that Biden remained in the race — and he intended to send that message to the first lady. “I think the next generation of voters want a better choice this time around,” Lee said. “The debate didn’t give us a lot of confidence, and I had the same feelings after today’s event.”

But when it was their turn in the photo line, they stayed quiet. “She looked pretty upset,” he said, and they opted to just pose for a photo. At the end, The only dissent recorded – if it was recorded at all – came from two elderly men standing near the convoy waving homemade posters. They said, “Step aside, Joe.”

At the end of their visit to the cherry orchard, the first lady's senior adviser Anthony Bernal picked up a box of cherries and told them he had picked out some pies for them. “Everybody is coming to the White House — my whole family, for the Fourth of July,” Jill told her orchard hosts. She and the president will also host military families for a picnic on the White House lawn.

As she returned to the motorcade, news broke that Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) had become the second Democratic member of Congress to call on the president to step down from his reelection campaign. The First Lady heeded a few more photo requests before getting into her car.

Voght reported from the first lady's campaign. Rodriguez reported from Washington.

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