As the Election Comes Into Focus, Pressure Builds in the West Wing

A former adviser to President Biden has compared life in the White House to dog years: Every day feels like a week, every year like seven. And then there are times like these when it can feel as though an entire term plays out every few days.

The past couple of months have become a particularly stressful period in the White House. The president is heckled at his speeches and mocked over his age. The secretary of state has protesters camped outside his house throwing fake blood at his car. The defense secretary is in and out of the hospital. The homeland security secretary just got impeached.

As if those were not enough, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who is a scholar of genocide, was confronted by her own employees, demanding that she resign over the U.S. policy on Israel. The president’s son faces trial on criminal charges. And the White House staff is grappling with two intractable wars, not to mention obstructionist Republicans, anxious Democrats and, oh yes, a re-election campaign that, judging by most polls, Mr. Biden is not currently winning — and the fate of the country is on the line.

For some working in the West Wing or its nearby environs, it can be hard just to catch a breath. Meetings are marked by occasional gallows humor about what catastrophe lurks around the corner. Farewell celebrations in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building are, for those not leaving, reminders of the trade-offs of endless hours of policy, politics and disaster management.

Even to some officials with experience in multiple administrations, this period has felt like one of the most intense ever, made all the more bristling because of sharp internal disagreements over the president’s approach to the Israel-Hamas war. Other officials shrug off the tension, remembering other pressure-filled moments, from the time Mr. Biden’s campaign nearly crashed after early primary debacles to the opening months of an administration that inherited a deadly pandemic and devastated economy.

“Yes, it is an extremely stressful time,” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the president, “but that is part and parcel of the moment. This White House has never had an easy time. This president has never had an easy time.”

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