Alarms raised over exiled Biden adviser’s likely return

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“It’s hard to believe that in the post-#MeToo, anti-bullying world we live in, that the president’s team would be this tone-deaf,” said Michael LaRosa, the former press secretary for first lady Jill Biden.

“If true, it represents a stunning lack of judgment by those whom he entrusted to responsibly staff his reelection campaign. It’s not like there is a lack of Democratic talent in D.C. or across the country to choose from,” he said. “Hiring former personnel who embarrassed and humiliated him in his first three weeks in office and created an unnecessary distraction in the briefing room and for the first family feels counterintuitive to me.”

With the campaign still taking shape, official roles are highly coveted among Democratic operatives and veterans of Joe Bidens 2020 campaign. Only two full-time hires have been announced. And one of them, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the incoming campaign manager, doesn’t even leave her White House position for another two weeks.

Against that backdrop, Ducklo’s anticipated return has sparked debate and controversy among former Biden administration and campaign staffers — some of them vying for campaign jobs themselves — about what type of behavior is forgivable in a public role. It has also led to an outpouring of support from his former colleagues, underscoring the enduring bond among the original staffers who helped launch Biden’s 2020 campaign and their deep conviction about giving Ducklo a second chance.

“From the very start, TJ earned confidence and trust at every level of the campaign — because of his abilities and because he went the extra mile for his colleagues,” said Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn, speaking with West Wing Playbook in what she stressed was her personal capacity. “TJ made a mistake, took responsibility for it, and paid a price. He continues to be a valued friend in our community and an incredibly talented professional.”

More than a dozen of Ducklo’s former colleagues from the 2020 campaign and the White House reached out Tuesday to West Wing Playbook, arguing that he has made amends for his actions and deserves another stint in Biden world. The news coverage of his behavior was humiliating, they said. After enduring treatment for stage 4 lung cancer throughout the campaign, Ducklo was forced to step down from a dream job after Vanity Fair reported on his verbal altercation with a then-POLITICO reporter who planned to publish a story on his relationship at the time with an Axios reporter.

In the end, Ducklo took responsibility and apologized — a move that earned him goodwill among senior Biden officials.

“TJ is strategic, whip smart and loyal through and through — any campaign would be lucky to have him,” said Kate Bedingfield, who was deputy campaign manager in 2020 and left her position earlier this year as White House communications director. “I’ve known TJ well for a long time and I can say without hesitation that he learned from his past mistake, which is all any of us can do. He has experience and grit, and he’d be an exceptional asset to the president’s reelection team.”

As former deputy communications director for strategic planning Meghan Hays put it, in a refrain echoed by multiple former colleagues: “No one deserves to be defined by their worst day.”

Ducklo, whose possible reentrance into Biden world was first reported by Bloomberg, declined to speak to West Wing Playbook for this report. But for a White House often reluctant to go on the record, there was no such hesitation to defend him by name. Other staffers who worked with him on the campaign and in the Biden administration, including Kamau Marshall, Carla Frank, Andrew Bates, Megan Apper, Kate Berner and Robyn Patterson, offered similar messages of support in a personal capacity, as did others who asked to speak on background.

Ducklo’s resignation came less than a month after Biden, on his first day in office, told a group of presidential appointees he’d fire anyone who treated others with disrespect. Many who worked closely with Ducklo during the 2020 campaign described him as kind and empowering, a generous mentor to junior colleagues.

But other Democratic staffers said he could be difficult to work with and combative with some reporters. They pointed out that Ducklo has found a relatively soft landing already.

After leaving the White House, he worked for Risa Heller’s communication firm before moving back to his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., to be a senior adviser to Mayor John Cooper. He has stayed close to the Biden White House and helped organize Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Nashville last month after two legislators were expelled from the state House for protesting gun violence.

Among those eager to bring Ducklo back, his work in Nashville represents another reason why. He has sharpened his skills, some noted, especially when it comes to higher level strategic communications work, and helped organize a politically sensitive visit that, by all accounts, went off swimmingly.

But some former staffers from the Biden campaign and the White House said that such tactical benefits don’t change the fact that hiring Ducklo on the reelection campaign would be an unforced error — one that would inevitably distract from the president’s message during his campaign and invite otherwise avoidable scrutiny.

“I am all about forgiveness but there were also several loyal Biden campaign staffers fired by the White House for marijuana use. Do they get their White House or campaign jobs back, too?” LaRosa said. “Smoking pot is a lot less offensive than the type of workplace behavior we’re talking about here.”

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( With inputs from : )

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