In early 2022, as it became clear that a steep rise in consumer prices would be more severe and longer-lasting than his own aides had predicted, President Joe Biden began to widen the circle of people giving him economic advice.

While his predecessors might have turned to Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Biden’s White House reached out to corporate executives such as Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Bank of America Corp.’s Brian Moynihan, and the leaders of retailers Target Corp. and Walmart Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

Biden’s most frequent calls were with labor leaders, several of whom the president’s known for years. He talked occasionally with former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, whom the president calls “Lar,” and gleaned tidbits of information about the US economy from people he ran into at church, golf and his grandkids’ field hockey games back home in Delaware.

The president had much less contact with oil companies, many tech CEOs and big Wall Street players such as Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Biden’s circle came to reflect his political sensibilities: working-class people and union members more likely to shop Walmart than Inc. and hold accounts with Bank of America than investment firms.

Despite the torrent of advice, the White House has struggled this year with a consistent message for Americans worried about their economic futures. Biden has veered between empathizing with people angry about rising food and fuel prices and trying to portray the economy as strong. On Wednesday, Biden’s team deleted a tweet claiming credit for the biggest bump in Social Security payments in a decade after Twitter Inc. appended a note pointing out that the increase is due to inflation.

‘What Are You Worried About?’
The president’s growing circle of economic advisers reflected rising concern in the White House about the US economy’s recovery from the pandemic, the impact of the war in Ukraine and November elections that would determine control of Congress. Those fears were well placed, as Democrats now look poised to lose control of the House and potentially the Senate next week over voter anxiety about prices and a recession many economists consider all but certain.

“The calls themselves are private one-on-one calls, not with a particular agenda,” Brian Deese, the director of Biden’s National Economic Council, said in an interview. “They’re just like, ‘What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are you worried about? What should we be paying attention to?’”

The addition of informal advisers to Biden’s circle also followed Senator Joe Manchin’s increasingly vocal warnings about inflation in December 2021. The West Virginia Democrat cited rising prices as his rationale for killing off Biden’s social spending package, known as ‘Build Back Better.’

Outside experts like Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, and Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley’s chief economist, were brought into the White House to discuss macroeconomic conditions with the president, according to people familiar with the matter.

Most of the people familiar with Biden’s conversations about the economy asked not to be identified, as the discussions have been largely private.

Who the president speaks with about the economy -- both to understand gyrations in markets and the effects on consumers -- will matter a great deal in coming months, as Biden works with allies also wrestling with broad inflation and high energy prices.

Biden frequently talks with about a dozen labor leaders to gauge how union members view economic conditions. They include Lonnie Stephenson of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Lee Saunders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Tom Conway of the United Steelworkers.

The president also regularly checks in with Democratic party economic stalwarts like former Treasury Secretaries Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson and former deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, now the senior chairman at Evercore Inc.

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