The much-documented bromance between former President Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden has inspired numerous GIFs and envy amongst their political peers, but a new book reveals that they weren’t always so enamored with each other.
“At [Barack Obama’s] first meeting of the Senate foreign relations committee in 2005, which happened to be a confirmation hearing for Condoleezza Rice, Obama passed an aide a note in the middle of one of Biden’s long monologues,” writes journalist Kate Andersen Brower in First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, that came out Tuesday. “It read: ‘SHOOT. ME. NOW.'”
In her book, Brower references the more than 200 interviews she conducted — including discussions with all six living former vice presidents — to portray the complicated relationships that have existed between vice presidents and the powerful men they served. And, in Brower’s mind, Obama and Biden’s complex relationship stands out from the rest because it grew, rather than deteriorated, over time.
“Their friendship is more interesting than it’s often portrayed because it was not always easy,” former White House press secretary Josh Earnest told Brower, according to the book. “They were a political odd couple whose strengths were complementary and mutually reinforcing. But there were significant differences in style — and occasionally in perspective.”
Brower explains that, when deciding to become Obama’s running mate, Biden had to accept the fact that Obama was the main lead, which was a hit to his own political ambitions. Obama also acknowledged that Biden’s “deep experience on foreign policy and national security issues,” would help make up for the presidential hopeful’s lack of experience in those areas.
“Both of them ate a certain amount of s— to see the virtue in the other person,” an unnamed “former Obama administration official” told Brower.
According to the book, the two men agreed to five different rules when Biden took on the role of VP: The biggest, as Biden explained to Brower, was that he “be the last guy in the room” during all major decision-making. While they proceeded to follow these rules during Obama’s two terms in office, it wasn’t always easy.
Brower writes that there were times when Obama “grew exasperated with Biden.” For his part, Biden had to deal with the difficult job of being VP (which many former VPs have described as thankless), and was “furious” when he learned that in 2011, Obama’s team had polled to see if Hillary Clinton should take over his role on the 2012 ticket.
“When the research came back near the end of the year, it suggested that adding Clinton to the ticket wouldn’t materially improve Obama’s odds,” journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann wrote in their book, Double Down, according to The New York Times. “Biden had dodged a bullet he never saw coming — and never would know anything about, if [those in Obama’s circle] could keep a secret.”
First in Line reveals that the duo’s “starkest disagreement” was that, in Biden’s opinion, “Obama should never have threatened Syria if he did not intend to follow through,” according to a Biden aide.
Despite these issues, Brower reveals Obama and Biden’s relationship is as giving and warm as the candid, brotherly photos dispersed by the media suggest. According to her interview with Biden, they spent four to seven hours a day together during their time at the White House.
During that time, their respect for each other grew exponentially. (After a year in the administration, Biden told an aide that he was “wrong” when he said he’d “be the better president.”)
In a Jan. 2016 interview with CNN, Biden explained that then-President Obama offered to pay off the Bidens’ mortgage during Beau Biden’s illness. Joe and Jill Biden were going to sell the house to help his son’s family while his son battled brain cancer (Beau Biden died on May 30, 2015).
“[Obama] said, ‘I’ll give you the money. Whatever you need, I’ll give you the money. Don’t [sell the house], Joe — promise me. Promise me.'” Biden told CNN.
While Obama and Biden have extremely different personalities, their close friendship created space so they could learn from one another.
“Biden says he helped Obama be more demonstrative with his own emotions and trust his instincts,” Brower writes. “Obama, Biden said, ‘was constantly looking for more information, more data.’ Biden saw it as his job to get him to listen to his gut.”
Obama’s increasing emotional openness, as well as his deep love for his vice president, were on full display when he delivered the eulogy at Beau Biden’s funeral at Joe Biden’s request, according to the Washington Post.
“To Natalie and Hunter — there aren’t words big enough to describe how much your dad [Beau Biden] loved you, how much he loved your mom. But I will tell you what, Michelle and I and Sasha and Malia, we’ve become part of the Biden clan,” Obama said. “We’re honorary members now. And the Biden family rule applies. We’re always here for you, we always will be — my word as a Biden.”
First in Line is on sale now.