In Biden’s White House, staff members are not celebrities.
Mike Donilon is one of the most trusted presidential advisers in the Biden White House, but he comes and goes from his West Wing office almost as a spectral presence.
Described by those who have worked with him as having the demeanor of a parish priest, he abhors speaking to the news media and is not particularly chatty with his own colleagues. On conference calls, they describe him as a low talker. “Hey, it’s Mike,” he will say, often in a barely audible voice.
Mr. Donilon’s low-key presence is emblematic of the overall culture of the Biden White House: It is the least personality-driven West Wing in decades.
Because of his longevity in politics and underdog personality, combined with the depth of the crises he is facing, President Biden is undoing a longstanding Washington tradition in which staff members enjoy their own refracted fame.
The phenomenon was pronounced during the presidency of Donald J. Trump — his adviser Kellyanne Conway was so well-known that she needed her own security detail; the White House press secretary Sean Spicer was a recurring character on “Saturday Night Live”; Hope Hicks, a communications director, was photographed regularly by the paparazzi as she left her home in workout clothes. But Mr. Trump did not invent the celebrity staff.
“Every White House takes on the personality of the president,” said Paul Begala, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, who became a well-known figure himself after appearing in “The War Room,” a documentary about the 1992 Clinton campaign.
“President Clinton didn’t mind having famous staffers,” Mr. Begala said. “He enjoyed it. There’s a blue-collar sensibility with Biden and his team. You carry your pail to work, you punch the clock. You just show up every day and do your job.”