WASHINGTON (WNEW) — Vice President Joe Biden’s May 2012 comments expressing support for same-sex marriage were not planned as a trial balloon for public opinion, but instead sparked “chaos” in the White House ahead of the November presidential election, according to a new book on the legalization of gay marriage.
The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt of NYT journalist Jo Becker’s new book, “Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality,” which provides a behind-the-scenes look at President Barack Obama’s lengthy “evolution” on the topic of gay marriage.
“Tempers flared” at the White House when the press team received a transcript of Biden’s May 2012 MSNBC “Meet the Press” interview, Becker writes, as Obama senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, reportedly accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”
Becker illustrates that both Obama himself, and his advisers, were deeply conflicted whether or not the president should publicly announce support for gay marriage prior to the 2012 election – but Biden’s May 2012 off-the-cuff comments forced the president’s hand on the issue of gay marriage. According to The New Yorker, Senior Advisor David Axelrod says that Obama “has never been comfortable” opposing same-sex marriage, and that it was not until Biden made the unscripted remarks on “Meet the Press,” in early May, 2012, that Obama decided he could no longer keep quiet on the issue.
“I am vice president of the United States of America,” Biden replied to David Gregory’s question on whether or not Biden’s outlook on same-sex marriage had changed. “The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction– beyond that.”
Biden stopped short of saying that the Obama administration would fully “come out behind same-sex marriage” during the second-term, responding that he “couldn’t speak to that.”
Immediate reactions varied greatly as the White House scrambled to weigh the political backlash of backing gay marriage.
“What VP said — that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights — is precisely POTUS’s position,” tweeted David Axelrod, Obama’s top political adviser.
Biden’s office, however, would tell NBC News, soon after the “Meet the Press” interview, that he was speaking on his own and not on behalf of the administration.
Becker writes that political commentators speculating that the Biden comments were simply a trial balloon were “not privy to the chaos that erupted inside the West Wing after an emailed transcript of the interview landed in the inbox of the White House press team,” Politico reports.
A few weeks after Biden’s comments, Obama told ABC News that although he does endorse gay marriage, he made clear he was expressing a personal view, but quibbled with the belief that marriage was a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Politico reports Obama’s public “evolution” was advised to be done with a female interviewer.
Becker’s book shows that Jarrett and First Lady Michelle Obama were both pressuring the president to finally go public in support of same-sex marriage, although Biden had “gotten in front of the president on gay marriage,” according to communications director Shailagh Murray’s comments, Politico reports.
To be published next Tuesday, Becker’s book follows the four years the author spent embedded with the legal team behind the overturning of the Prop. 8 same-sex marriage legislation in California. The book shows Obama’s political and personal conflict on the issue, and the support that inevitably accelerated the national conversation on same-sex marriage.