Disputes over legal strategy and fraught personal relationships caused President Joe Biden’s team to break with longtime Democratic Party lawyer Marc Elias, several sources told Axios.
The split has divided the party’s legal operation heading into the 2024 elections, with Elias representing the Democrat committees for Senate, House and state legislative races and Biden’s team and the Democratic National Committee getting legal help from other sources.
Elias had reportedly represented the DNC since 2009.
The schism between the president’s team and Elias is also indicative of a larger fight within the Democratic Party over how to best protect and expand voting rights.
While Elias contends that Democrats ought to be using the media to drum up public support and filing a barrage of lawsuits, Biden’s team, which is guided by lawyer Bob Bauer, wants to be more selective in picking legal fights. There is also concern among Biden’s team that Elias’ approach could backfire with the conservative judiciary.
Apart from the strategy disagreements, Biden’s team had become increasingly frustrated with Elias during the administration’s first two years.
The longtime Democrat lawyer reportedly often filed lawsuits related to voting rights and election laws in battleground states without consulting with the DNC or the White House, and Biden officials found out he had filed some lawsuits only when he announced them, which was often on MSNBC or Twitter, Democrats familiar with the matter told Axios.
“Marc was the DNC’s counsel and he was consistently giving them and the president’s team the middle finger,” a person familiar with the tensions told the outlet.
Some on the president’s team were also unhappy with the fees Elias charged for his counsel. The DNC and the Biden campaign paid Elias’ firm more than $20 million for his work on the 2020 general election and more than 60 post-election lawsuits that he won.
“Marc has created a legal strategy he has convinced people is a political strategy, that it is actually a business strategy,” a person familiar with the issue told Axios.
The friction between the two sides is also partly due to the complex relationship between Elias and Bauer, who is married to senior Biden aide Anita Dunn.
When Bauer became President Barack Obama’s White House counsel in 2009, he reportedly supported Elias moving into his previous role as head of political law firm Perkins Coie, which Bauer founded.
The two attorneys could not have more different styles, however, with Bauer preferring to work behind the scenes and Elias embracing a public figure role.
Elias told Axios that his legal approach is guided by Biden’s stated goals.
“When I see the president of the United States and the vice president of the United States saying this is ‘Jim Crow, 2.0,’ and the people living under it are saying, ‘Please, people help us’ — that is powerful support,” he said.
Biden’s former Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Axios that “relations between Marc Elias and Biden world remain good.”
Klain, who is reportedly involved in Biden’s reelection campaign, said the DNC’s dropping of Elias was about streamlining the structure.
“Given that Marc’s principal client is the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee], the DNC should have legal leadership focused on the DNC,” he said.
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