The first weeks of President Biden’s administration have been a striking contrast with the chaos and turmoil of the Trump administration, bringing a sense of normality back to the White House and government.
Biden, along with Vice President Harris, begins each day receiving the President’s Daily Brief, usually before 10 a.m. His administration has revived the White House daily briefings every weekday.
And when he has signed executive actions, they have usually been paired with events where the president delivers scripted remarks on policy, and he has rarely answered shouted questions from reporters.
The White House also routinely sends out press releases that seem familiar. In the early days of the presidency, it issued a statement recognizing National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month — a day that had been routinely marked by previous administrations but ignored under Trump.
The White House is returning to making visitor logs public on a quarterly basis, a practice that was held under the Obama administration but jettisoned under Trump. Former Obama officials have described Biden’s Cabinet as an extended family of sorts, filled with people whom he has worked with for years and trusts.
“I think one of the main objectives here was giving the presidency a sense of normalcy,” said one longtime Biden aide. “Enough of the crazy shit we experienced for four years.”
After a two-hour meeting on Monday with 10 GOP senators, there were no reports of anyone insulting one another — something that happened frequently when Democrats and Trump got together — though there was no deal either. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) described the meeting as “cordial” and expressed gratitude to Biden for hosting them.
Biden’s tweets, written in lowercase letters, are frequently mundane policy missives. It’s a striking contrast with Trump’s hourly 280-character megaphone, where he often picked fights or criticized and mocked opponents.
“It’s so funny – I hear from friends on both sides of the aisle how cleansing it is to wake up in the morning without feeling that the day will be inflamed by a crazy tweet,” said former Rep. Steve Israel, who served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the Obama era. “Even people who disagree with President Biden say that at least we’re back to normal.”
Biden’s life outside of the bubble also echoes a time before the Trump era.
He went to church on his first Sunday in office — a routine White House aides expect to continue — at Holy Trinity in Georgetown and made a run for bagels afterward, with Secret Service agents placing the order at the window of the popular “Call Your Mother” deli.
The Bidens have brought their two German shepherds, Champ and Major, to the White House with them and they intend to get a cat. First lady Jill Biden, who has spent most of her career as a community college teacher, is continuing to hold a teaching position at Northern Virginia Community College.
When he was vice president, Biden sought to keep some normalcy in his life, too. He and Jill Biden slipped out of the Naval Observatory occasionally to catch a movie. He made headlines for getting pizza with one of his granddaughters.
He surprised a staffer when it was her birthday by stopping by the Italian restaurant where colleagues had gathered. He was also known to frequent Brooks Brothers on his way home from work at 1600 Pennsylvania.
The difference from the Trump years is stark — even those who worked in his White House acknowledge it.
“If you think about the first weeks of the Trump presidency, and even back in the transition, it was defined by disarray and jockeying for power,” said Anthony Scaramucci, who served as Trump’s communications director for 11 days.
From the beginning, Trump’s White House was marked by loud firings, tweets and fights that generated intense and constant press coverage. Trump’s decisions and actions were unpredictable, even among his staff, which unlike Biden’s, was filled with outsiders.
“Trump was elected because he didn’t have political or government or military experience,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “In fact, that was a selling point for him.”
She said that “in the minds of people who voted for him, it wasn’t a weakness it was a plus,” but argued that it did not lead to “informed leadership at the top.”
Chris Lu, who served as Cabinet Secretary in the Obama White House, drew a comparison between the new administration and the Obama, Clinton and Bush White Houses.
“It’s refreshing how normal it is. This is what happens in a normal White House. You have a process for making policy decisions, you have a message of the day, you have a president who sticks to the message. You have a sense of order,” Lu said.
It is not all hunky-dory, as Biden, who pegged himself a moderate Democrat during the campaign, is facing expected pressures from the left and the right as he enacts his agenda.
There have been familiar policy and political disputes ranging from the size and substance of the COVID-19 relief measure — Republicans have balked at the price tag — to whether Biden is going too far in restricting oil and gas drilling to reduce climate change.
Yet even the controversies at the White House seem like a return to normalcy. White House press secretary Jen Psaki was criticized by conservatives this week for dismissing a question about the Space Force, the sixth military branch established under Trump. She later issued a tweet that made it clear the Biden administration sees the Space Force as important, an apparent effort to dispel the criticism.
There’s a notable contrast with Capitol Hill, where tensions remain high one month after an angry pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol. The House voted on Thursday to remove first-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from her committee assignments as punishment for a string of controversies, including remarks about school shootings being staged.
Both the Capitol and White House remained fortified by large fences, a daily reminder of the violence one month earlier. Psaki told reporters this week that the perimeter would be adjusted when it “makes sense from an overall security standpoint.”
Biden’s White House has sought to project order and control while taking over amid a deadly spike in the pandemic and a severe economic downturn. Biden has also tried to manage expectations, warning repeatedly that it will take months to change the course of the virus.
Trump was elected at least partly as a response by voters who disliked the Obama years and what they represented. This could suggest there’s at least some political risk to doing things the way they were done from 2009 to 2016.
Yet Democratic strategist Eddie Vale argued voters are likely to like the signals from Biden so far as a welcome break.
“Just having a sense of normalcy and routine is already making people feel better, but, it’s actually most effective because it’s also infused with competency that is already showing people with action that we are going to come back – or dare I say build back better – from this recession and pandemic,” he said.