For high-profile remarks he would compulsively rehearse parts until he remembered them. And at times Biden could get downright ornery through the various iterations of outlines of remarks.
“I would never say that,” snapped Biden once at an aide, appalled by the prepared remarks he was reviewing, according to a person in the room during a speech preparation session last year. “Where did you get that?”
The adjutant said Biden had said so in a public speech a few weeks earlier.
These are the hallmarks and inconveniences that make sausage making when speaking with Biden.
Whether it’s his second butt speech that same day in Michigan or a nationally televised address, there are few roles in politics Biden takes seriously other than speaking. And maybe the difficulties he had with speaking as a child explain why.
On Wednesday, Biden, the boy who grew up with a stutter, will be delivering an inaugural address that carries more weight than any speeches he’s obsessed with in the past.
“He understands this is the most important inaugural address since Lincoln,” said Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who is a close ally of Biden.
Biden’s speech, scheduled to last between 20 and 30 minutes, is expected to reiterate topics he has encountered since entering the presidential race in April 2019, including the return of the “soul of the nation” and a pledge to become president of all Americans , even those who didn’t vote for him.
Unlike some of these earlier versions, however, the Wednesday address is more urgent. Faced with multiple crises, including a pandemic and the economic fallout from it, Biden needs support from both parties to get an ambitious agenda through Congress. A powerful inaugural address is seen as a step towards getting more naysayers by his side, say those close to him.
Longtime aides and advisors expect the inaugural address to traverse the area Biden has covered in his nearly 50-year public career, while also highlighting an agenda that will help a country ravaged by disease, economic struggle and violent political uprisings. Hope gives.
While the process behind developing Biden’s speeches can be exhausting (a longtime consultant jokingly suggested setting up a support group for Biden’s speechwriters), there is a method for doing this. Biden has entertained a core team of loyal advisors around him who have learned how to analyze when the president-elect is just ruffling and when he really wants his thoughts to be put on paper.
Biden was comfortable with editor-in-chief Vinay Reddy and senior advisor Mike Donilon, who helped him thread his narratives in a simple, informed way. The president-elect also relied on Tony Blinken, his undersecretary-designate, to help draft speeches. The new Chief of Staff Ron Klain is also there.
For his speeches, Biden receives advice – both requested and unsolicited – from a variety of lights, including historian Jon Meacham in the past. However, two people with knowledge of the preparations said Meacham did not participate in drafting the inaugural address.
“I know the speech is getting a lot of attention,” said the finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee Chris Korge. “He will turn the page and go forward for all Americans.”
The inaugural address will be Biden’s largest audience since he gave an acceptance speech on November 7th. It will be the highest-stakes speech since the speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention in August, when disinformation raged over his mental acuity. Biden’s team at the time said it was prepared for Republicans – namely, President Donald Trump – to pick up on every sentence Biden mutilated.
“People were nervous,” said a confidante speaking to Biden in the days leading up to the congressional address given by Wilmington, Del. “But Joe had thought about it and at one point he said,” I’m going to make the ancestors proud. I will make mom and dad proud. “
Cedric Richmond, the Louisiana Congressman who had just stepped down to take on a senior role in the Biden White House, said now, just as he did in August, that people are not giving Biden the credit it deserves.
“People have always underestimated his ability to rise to a challenge,” said Richmond. “No matter what, he always came up with the occasion.”
Biden will speak at a time when there is a show of force in the country’s capital, the center of the district is closed to the public and thousands of armed forces roam the streets trying to stave off the deadly riot in the Capitol on Jan. 6 .
But Matt Teper, who worked as a speechwriter for Biden in the Obama White House, predicted that Biden would spend little to no time talking specifically about Trump.
“The most important thing tomorrow is probably his tone,” said Teper. “American slaughter [the theme of Trump’s inaugural address] keeps coming up in every conversation, but nobody wants to hear that. He has to give people a sense of the future. There is currently a president in charge. As long as he projects it all, it’s a success. “
Christopher Cadelago and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.