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.)
TGIF! It’s cartoon feature time. This one is by MIKE LUCKOVICH. Our very own MATT WUERKER publishes a selection of cartoons from all over the country. View the cartoon carousel here.
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.”
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: This piece by AP’s WILL WEISSERT about how Biden’s 2024 campaign strategy may have to be different if he’s in it to win it: “Though the GOP primary race is only just beginning, a general election pitting Biden against any other Republican could look very different from one against Trump, with Democrats perhaps seeing enthusiasm to stop Trump at all cost evaporate.”
HOT TAKE: Our MICHAEL SCHAFFER is out with a column for POLITICO Magazine … ahead of President’s Day…about how Americans are tired of presidents. Schaffer writes that “it appears that having a country where any chief executive is lucky to crack 50 percent approval ratings is having an impact on the institution itself. The long weekend formerly known as George Washington’s Birthday may now be known as Presidents Day, but the country is in no mood to celebrate.”
A TECHY PROMOTION ON THE TRADE BEAT: STEPHANIE NGUYEN, who has served as the Federal Trade Commission’s chief technology officer since 2021, is leading a new office within the agency — FTC’s Office of Technology, Global Competition Review’s BEN REMALY reports.
ANOTHER ONE GONE: Deputy political director CARLA FRANK, a veteran of Biden’s 2020 campaign who often travels with the president, is leaving the administration. Her final day was Friday. Our DANIEL LIPPMAN has more details.
WHOOPSIE: The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade said that one of the balloons shot down over the Yukon last weekend “could have been our balloon,” our MATT BERG reports. News surfaced Thursday that a balloon from the group was missing, though the Biden administration has not yet confirmed one of the balloons shot down belonged to them. “We haven’t recovered it so it’s very difficult until you can get your hands on something to be able to tell,” National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY said Friday.
SEND IN THE JETS: A group of bipartisan lawmakers are calling on the president to send F-16 warplanes to Ukraine, arguing that the jets “could prove decisive for control of Ukrainian airspace this year,” our CONNOR O’BRIEN reports. “The provision of such aircraft is necessary to help Ukraine protect its airspace, particularly in light of renewed Russian offensives and considering the expected increase in large-scale combat operations,” the lawmakers wrote.
From ‘Birth of a Nation’ to ‘Till’: Confronting Racism in the White House Screening Room (NYT’s Zolan Kanno-Youngs)
50 years ago, depression ended a campaign. That’s changed, politicians say. (WaPo’s Jonathan Edwards and Praveena Somasundaram)
U.S. Watchdogs Want to Deploy Staff to Ukraine War Zone to Track Arms, Aid Up Close (WSJ’s Warren P. Strobel and Gordon Lubold)
If EPA Administrator MICHAEL REGAN could make a Mount Rushmore of the most influential rappers and hip hop artists to him, here’s who he’d pick: First, rapper KRS-ONE, he said on the “Think 100%: The Coolest Show” podcast in Nov. 2021, who created hits like “Sound of Da Police.”
Next, NAS, because he’s “one of the greatest,” he said. “Of course JAY-Z. I think in terms of lyrics and trying to deliver a message and awaken that consciousness.” Two others he’d want up there — KENDRICK LAMAR and BLACK THOUGHT from the hip-hop group The Roots.
“It’s hard when you try to create a Mount Rushmore … because when I wake up many days I’m looking for many things from music and there are so many different artists that can feed that,” he said.
A few issues here. 1. Mount Rushmore only has four faces on it. 2. No Biggie?
President GROVER CLEVELAND married FRANCES FOLSOM in the Blue Room of the White House on June 2, 1886, and has since been the only president to do so.
Cleveland, being the sitting president at the time, worked ahead of the ceremony, and it was a small one — with only 28 attendees, which included “relatives, close friends and members of the Cabinet with their wives,” according to History.com.
A CALL OUT — Do you think you have a harder trivia question? Send us your best one about the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.