Biden had slow adjustment to 'cold' White House, new book claims

Also according to "Peril," Biden and his aides grapple with Trump's legacy.

September 20, 2021, 9:51 AM

A new book details scenes from the early days of Joe Biden's presidency, including that Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly complained to Biden about calling him a "killer" in an ABC News interview.

"I'm upset you called me a killer," Putin said to Biden on an April 13 phone call, Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa wrote in their new book, "Peril."

Biden told Putin his comment, made in a March 16 interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, was "not something premeditated," according to the book.

"I was asked a question. I gave an answer. It was an interview on a totally different topic," Biden said, before he invited Putin to meet with him in person.

Stephanopoulos interviewed Woodward and Costa Monday on "Good Morning America," in their first interview about the book's contents.

The book, obtained by ABC News ahead of its Sept. 21 release, recounts the 2020 presidential election and the chaos of the final months of the Trump administration -- before and after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot -- based on more than 200 interviews with firsthand witnesses and participants.

"Peril" also chronicles the first several months of Biden's presidency, detailing his administration's efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, early efforts to work with Congress and internal deliberations over the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

This includes how Biden has apparently adjusted to life in the White House, which he reportedly called "the tomb" and likened to the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

"It was lonely. Cold. The virus made social events impossible, at least at the start," Woodward and Costa wrote, adding that Biden preferred "relaxing with the grandkids back in Delaware."

"Being upstairs at the White House feels like you're staying at someone else's house," White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain is quoted as telling others, according to the book.

In this June 16, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.
Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE

The book also describes how Biden and his aides reportedly refer to Trump in private: The president and his advisers "hated to utter Trump's name," and aides avoided using "the 'T' word," the authors claim.

"Trump's existence permeated the White House, even the residence. One night, Biden wandered into a room where a huge video screen covered the wall. To relax, Trump used to upload programs to virtually play the world's most famous golf courses," they wrote. "'What a f------ a------,' Biden once said as he surveyed the former president's toys."

Biden's aides "noticed he could be prickly and tough at times and would walk into the Oval Office unhappy some mornings about another round of Trump talk on MSNBC's pundit roundtable, 'Morning Joe'," Woodward and Costa wrote in the book.

Woodward and Costa claimed Biden's aides worked to keep him away from "unscripted events or long interviews" to avoid gaffes, a "cocooning of the president" known as "the wall," they wrote.

On Afghanistan, Biden eventually overruled Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in his decision to withdraw U.S. troops, after both secretaries suggested a phased pullout to try to encourage a political settlement with the Taliban, according to "Peril."

"Our mission is to stop Afghanistan from being a base for attacking the homeland and US allies by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, not to deliver a death blow to the Taliban," Biden said in a National Security Council meeting, according to the book.

Biden "said he did not know what would come next. The outcome was unclear, he acknowledged," they claimed in the book.

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