Marianne Williamson is entering the chat

Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice.  

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PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off this Monday, Feb. 20 for Presidents Day but will be back in your inboxes on Tuesday, Feb. 21. We hope absence makes the heart grow fonder.

It’s not unheard of in modern American politics for an incumbent president to face a primary challenger. RONALD REAGAN ran against President GERALD FORD in 1976, TED KENNEDY took on President JIMMY CARTER in 1980 and PAT BUCHANAN ran against President GEORGE H.W. BUSH in the 1992 primary.

As President JOE BIDEN gets ready for an expected reelection campaign, no competitive Democrat seems likely to challenge him. But that doesn’t mean that a longshot candidate won’t jump into the race. In fact, we may get one soon.

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, the self-help author who went viral during the 2020 Democratic primary for her debate moments before dropping out ahead of the Iowa caucuses, appears on the verge of announcing she’s running again. Williamson spoke with West Wing Playbook this week about her decision and why she doesn’t think that Biden is the right person to lead the party. Here’s a condensed, edited version of our conversation.

First, have you decided whether to run for president in 2024?

I’ll be making a statement this weekend.

If you were to run, would it be as a Democrat, or an independent?

Absolutely a Democrat.

What’s factoring into your decision?

Apparently Biden’s going to run on a message that the economy is getting stronger. I think that speaks to the disconnect between the analysis of party elites versus the struggle of everyday Americans. We’re being asked to limit our political imaginations — to just accept the low unemployment and low inflation rate, that that is sort of the best that we can get. 

But that is a hollow victory. The majority of Americans are still struggling to survive. 

Is there anything that you think Biden has done a good job on?

If Build Back Better had passed, that would have been quite extraordinary. But there’s a lot of sleight of hand here. 

For instance, there is more money in the Inflation Reduction Act given to green energy investment, all of which is good. But on the other hand, once again, there are more drilling permits than even were given under the Trump administration.

[Note: Biden approved more oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in his first two years in office than President DONALD TRUMP.]

What are your thoughts on the changes to the Democratic primary calendar? 

How can the Democratic Party present itself as a champion of democracy and do something as undemocratic as overtly engineering the primary schedule to make sure that their chosen candidate would win it? 

That is spitting in the face of democracy. 

Ok, so if you run with this primary calendar, what would be your strategy? 

My strategy would be to tell the truth as I understand it. Did Donald Trump in 2016 have a strategy? I don’t think he had a strategy. He hit a nerve. 

Your critics say you have no conceivable path forward and that running again is a vanity project.

Abolitionists would not have thought that abolishing slavery was possible. The suffragists would have had days when they didn’t think women’s suffrage was possible. Civil rights workers would have thought that desegregation wasn’t possible. 

Biden has been discussing his decision about whether to seek reelection with his family members. What does that process look like for you?

In discussing it with my daughter recently, she said, “I do wish you had a less stressful dream.”

You moved to Washington, D.C. a few years ago. How has living here influenced you?

The problem is that those in power do not have the solutions and those with solutions do not have the power. 

It’s almost heartbreaking to see all the people in this town, who work for NGOs who work for humanitarian organizations, who are talking about green energy, regenerative agriculture, climate change, carbon sequestration, peace building — the most they can get is a returned phone call. That is not the way to run a government.

What did the media get wrong about you in the last campaign cycle?

Where should I begin?

I’m certainly not anti-science. I’m not anti-vax. I’m not the crystal lady. I didn’t tell people they got sick because they didn’t pray enough. Basically, I’m not stupid. 

Can you say any more about your weekend plans?

I will be in New Hampshire.

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This one is from Allie. Who was the only president to get married in the White House?

(Answer at the bottom.)

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A NOD TO MENTAL HEALTH: Biden tweeted his support Friday for Sen. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-Pa.), who checked himself in for treatment for clinical depression this week. “Millions of people struggle with depression every day, often in private,” Biden wrote. “Getting the care you need is brave and important. We’re grateful to you for leading by example.”

Press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE also opened her portion of Friday’s briefing by recognizing Fetterman for doing “the brave thing” and highlighted the administration’s “unprecedented investments” in expanding access to mental health.

HARRIS IN DEUTSCHLAND: Vice President KAMALA HARRIS offered a preview of her remarks at the Munich Security Conference in an interview with NBC’s ANDREA MITCHELL. In the interview, she vowed that the U.S. will not waver in its support for Ukraine. “I know the American people feel a sense of moral outrage and a sense of responsibility for our nation to stand with the Ukrainian people,” she said.

Harris also took issue with two possible GOP challengers to a potential Biden-Harris ticket in 2024. She called Florida Gov. RON DESANTIS’ effort to restrict the teaching of Black history “wrong-headed” and dismissed former South Carolina Gov. NIKKI HALEY’s suggestion that Biden, at 80, is too old to seek another term.

The sit-down with Mitchell is the first television interview Harris has done while overseas since speaking with NBC’s LESTER HOLT on her June 2021 trip to Guatemala, when she struggled to articulate the administration’s border security strategy.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?: The administration is finally responding more forcefully to a coordinated campaign by the nation’s biggest HMOs to fight proposed changes to Medicare Advantage. As we wrote last week, several Republicans have seized on the group’s claim that the changes proposed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services amount to a cut.

On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary XAVIER BECERRA hit back in a lengthy Twitter thread, calling claims of cuts to Medicare Advantage “categorically false,” and blasting the “deep-pocketed insurance companies and industry front groups” for suggesting as much. HHS also put out a fact sheet “correcting the record.” But the slow-footed response has frustrated some Biden aides, according to two sources familiar with the matter, given that the industry’s campaign has complicated Biden’s broadsides over GOP calls for cutting Medicare.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: This report by the Washington Post’s HANNAH NATANSON and LORI ROZSA on concerns about DeSantis’ threat to eliminate Advanced Placement courses from Florida high schools. Such a move, parents worry, could put students at a competitive disadvantage given that AP courses and test results often boost college applicants and, in some cases, reduce tuition costs. The president himself tweeted out the piece Friday, elevating the issue – and a potential 2024 challenger. “I think every kid, in every zip code, in every state should have access to every education opportunity possible,” Biden wrote. “I guess, for some, that isn’t the consensus view.”