Playbook: Biden’s crude move to the center
With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
DRIVING THE DAY
DON’T CALL IT TRIANGULATION (YET) — Last night brought another policy development from the Biden administration that is causing agita on the left, this time from environmentalists.
Biden officials are reportedly set to approve a major oil drilling project by ConocoPhillips in Alaska. Bloomberg calls it “one of the most momentous climate decisions” President JOE BIDEN has had to make — one coming after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine massively shifted the global energy outlook and prompted Biden to pressure fossil fuel companies to increase domestic production.
Known as the Willow project, it has been targeted by green activists as a top priority, akin to a 2023 redux of the Keystone XL pipeline. It could eventually yield 180,000 barrels of crude daily — about 1.6% of current domestic production, per Bloomberg — and AL GORE recently said moving forward with it would be “recklessly irresponsible” and “a recipe for climate chaos.” He added, “The pollution it would generate will not only put Alaska native and other local communities at risk, it is incompatible with the ambition we need to achieve a net zero future.”
— NYT: “The approval of the largest proposed oil project in the country would mark a turning point in the administration’s approach to fossil fuel development. The courts and Congress have forced Mr. Biden to back away from his campaign pledge of ‘no more drilling on federal lands, period’ and sign off on some limited oil and gas leases. The Willow project would be one of the few oil developments that Mr. Biden has approved freely, without a court or a congressional mandate.”
— Bloomberg: “Environmental activists who helped put Biden in the White House insisted approval would be a betrayal of his campaign pledges. At the same time, Biden has faced intense pressure from lawmakers, unions and many indigenous communities in Alaska who say the Willow project would provide an economic lifeline to the region, providing critical revenue to combat poverty, support local schools and even boost longevity.”
In a statement, White House press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE says not so fast: “The Department of the Interior will make an independent decision on the Willow Project. No final decisions have been made — anyone who says there has been a final decision is wrong.”
We didn’t detect much of a classic triangulation strategy in Biden’s State of the Union speech — the junk fees riff was an exception — but since then he has made a series of high-profile moves that are disappointing progressives and creating a “Biden-moves-to-the-center” narrative.
- Deficit reduction: The Biden budget turned out to be very centered on reducing deficits, to the tune of $3 trillion over 10 years. Several old Biden tax policies that were originally pay-fors for liberal priorities have been retooled to pay down debt.
- Crime: Biden shocked congressional Democrats this month when he announced that he would not veto a resolution killing the D.C. Council’s overhaul of the city’s criminal code, which would have reduced maximum penalties for some violent crimes.
- Immigration: Biden drew the wrath of activists over moves to curb access to asylum for some migrants and consider reinstating a policy of detaining families who cross the border illegally.
For two-plus years, Biden has done a better-than-expected job keeping progressives and moderates together. He seems awfully unlikely to draw a primary challenger from the left, especially given the fact that the most influential progressive, Sen. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.), is already backing Biden. And the DNC’s recently adopted primary schedule offers additional insurance by making South Carolina, where moderates have an advantage, the first primary state.
So are we seeing the reincarnation of Clintonism, or is the press just over-analyzing a few recent policy data points? On the one hand, little of this is new. In the 2020 primaries, Biden stressed deficit reduction and stood out for his more moderate positions on crime and immigration. As Sarah Ferris and Nancy Vu noted yesterday, the Biden budget has united Democrats: “The president’s entirely aspirational document has managed to do for Democrats what the new Republican majority can’t accomplish yet: please every corner of the party.”
“The punditry has never understood Biden — and they still don’t,” RON KLAIN told us. “The president set an all-time record for deficit reduction during his first two years by raising taxes on big corporations, and closing loopholes.” He added that the new budget is just a “continuation” of that.
On the other hand, Biden’s current political situation obviously creates more incentives to tack to the center. He now has a Republican House that is cooking up a series of votes, like the crime-law repeal, to force Biden into difficult choices, and the simmering budget fight also gives him an incentive to emphasize spending restraint. With no primary opponent in sight, Biden is also highly motivated to see all big policy decisions in terms of how they will affect the general election, where moderate suburban voters, many of whom only recently fled the MAGA-fied Republican Party, will once again be the crucial swing vote.
We checked in with ANDREW BATES about the Biden/centrism debate, and FWIW here’s the White House response:
“President Biden’s values and agenda have demonstrably unified congressional Democrats across the full spectrum of the party — as well as the country more broadly — and are consistent with what he ran on and fought for over many years. That agenda has delivered the strongest legislative record in modern history, from judicial confirmations to gun reform to climate change and Medicare. It has also meant historic bipartisan progress. These same principles galvanized Democrats when President Biden won the most votes of any candidate in history, when he led the best midterm outcome for a new president in decades, and now.”
Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line with all your Gridiron gossip: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
GRIDIRON PREVIEW — The 138th annual dinner of the Gridiron Club is tonight in Washington.
- Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN on behalf of the Biden administration
- Former VP MIKE PENCE for Republicans
- New Jersey Gov. PHIL MURPHY for the Democrats
The musical skits — yes, that’s a thing at the Gridiron, and once you’ve seen your favorite Sunday morning pundits singing and dancing in costume as, say, KEVIN McCARTHY or ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, you’ll never watch C-SPAN the same way again — per a Gridiron source:
- A DON LEMON character will sing about NIKKI HALEY being past her prime. (All eyes at the 650-person event will be on the CNN table crowded with company executives for that one.)
- A Mickey-and-Minnie troupe will meet RON DeSANTIS.
- A GEORGE SANTOS stand-in will expand on his resume.
- NANCY PELOSI and HAKEEM JEFFRIES characters are also expected.
We also hear “a Chinese spy balloon may be lurking.” (Note to J.D. VANCE: This is a prop so please don’t shoot it if you’re going to the dinner.)
Break a leg, Sudeep! And best of luck to Secretary Blinken, who we hear is having some last-minute tux issues.
— Pence world tries to convince Adam Wren that DONALD TRUMP’s straight man is actually really funny: “But like so much of comedy, the evidence they provide is,” Wren writes, “well, let’s just say audience-dependent.”
— Murphy gets an NYT profile: “Mr. Murphy, a wealthy former Democratic National Committee finance chairman and ambassador to Germany who amassed a fortune at the investment bank Goldman Sachs,” writes Tracey Tully, “has never completely closed the door to running for the White House should the president’s plans change.”
BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.
VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
9 THINGS THAT STUCK WITH US
1. THE TRUMP PROBES: In another indication that the Manhattan DA’s office is circling a likely criminal indictment for Trump, MICHAEL COHEN will testify before their grand jury next week, NYT’s Ben Protess, William Rashbaum, Jonah Bromwich and Maggie Haberman scooped. At least seven other witnesses have gone ahead of Cohen, and the “weekslong presentation of evidence” has been a pretty clear sign of a prosecutor seeking an indictment. That step in the STORMY DANIELS hush money case could come as soon as this month.
Trump is meeting with his lawyers in Florida this weekend to figure out their strategy, NBC’s Adam Reiss and Zoë Richards report. JOE TACOPINA says they don’t plan to meet with DA ALVIN BRAGG’s office, and they’re “not convinced they will bring a case.”
Meanwhile, a federal judge said yesterday that Trump won’t be able to block portions of the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape from being played at E. JEAN CARROLL’s defamation trial against him. More from ABC
The upshot of everything swirling around Trump is that he “finds himself in growing peril, both legal and political,” WaPo’s Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Holly Bailey write in a step-back piece. “Multiple investigations into him and his actions are entering advanced stages, all while many in the Republican Party — in private conservations and public declarations — are increasingly trying to find an alternative to him.”
To wit: Trump has so many lawsuits ongoing that they’re starting to bump into each other. “Trump’s lawyers have until Wednesday to explain how they tried to play two New York judges off each other by double-booking trials to potentially delay them both,” The Daily Beast’s Jose Pagliery reports.
2. BIG DeSANTIS INVESTIGATION: The Florida governor insisted publicly that his removal of Hillsborough County Prosecutor ANDREW WARREN was about policies that made the community less safe, not politics. But a major new story from NYT’s Alexandra Berzon and Ken Bensinger says that wasn’t true: “DeSantis’s lawyers lamented that they could find nothing in [crime statistics] to support the idea that Mr. Warren’s policies had done harm,” forcing DeSantis to strike a reference to the data from his executive order. The NYT finds “a governor’s office that seemed driven by a preconceived political narrative, bent on a predetermined outcome, content with a flimsy investigation and focused on maximizing media attention.”
3. WHAT WENT WRONG: “Silicon Valley Bank’s demise began with downgrade threat,” by Reuters’ Echo Wang: “Friday’s collapse sent jitters through global markets and walloped banking stocks. Investors worry that the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate increases to fight inflation are exposing vulnerabilities in the financial system. Details of SVB’s failed response to the prospect of the downgrade … show how quickly confidence in financial institutions can erode. The failure also sent shockwaves through California’s startup economy.”
Related reads: “SVB’s collapse could lead to ‘contagion’ among regional banks — but experts say it’s not a systemic risk to the entire financial system,” Fortune … “SVB Chief Pressed Lawmakers To Weaken Bank Risk Regs,” The Lever … “Biden officials say ‘resilient’ banking system can withstand collapse of Silicon Valley Bank,” NBC
4. DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS: “How Beijing Boxed America Out of the South China Sea,” by WSJ’s Niharika Mandhana: “The U.S. missed the moment to hold back China’s buildup in part because it was focused on collaborating with Beijing on global issues such as North Korea and Iran, and was preoccupied by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. … China’s gains in the waters are now so entrenched that, short of military conflict, they are unlikely to be reversed.”
5. LEFT OUT: “China role in Saudi, Iran deal a tricky test for U.S.,” by Reuters’ Phil Stewart and Michelle Nichols: “The surprise deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore diplomatic ties offers much for the United States to be intrigued about, including a possible path to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program and a chance to cement a ceasefire in Yemen. It also contains an element sure to make officials in Washington deeply uneasy — the role of China as peace broker in a region where the U.S. has long wielded influence.”
6. ROWS AND FLOWS OF ANGEL HAIR: “Biden admin’s cloud security problem: ‘It could take down the internet like a stack of dominos,’” by John Sakellariadis: The White House is “embarking on the nation’s first comprehensive plan to regulate the security practices of cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Oracle … The fear: For all their security expertise, the cloud giants offer concentrated targets that hackers could use to compromise or disable a wide range of victims all at once.”
7. VON DER LEYEN’S VISIT: “U.S., EU Try to Defuse Subsidies Dispute to Focus on Russia and China,” by WSJ’s Andrew Duehren and Kim Mackrael: “The U.S. and Europe agreed Friday to new steps aimed at resolving a spat over subsidies for clean-energy technology … They said they would formally begin talks on a new trade deal focused on critical raw materials.”
8. ACCOUNTABILITY READ: “Broken promises: Biden hasn’t revisited presidential immunity despite campaign pledge,” by the Washington Examiner’s Misty Severi: “Biden [said in 2019] that if he were elected, he would tell the [Justice] department to perform a comprehensive review of the opinions that were issued during the Nixon and Clinton eras. … Since Biden has not ordered the review since taking office, the opinion could shield him from being indicted.”
9. DREHER GETS CUT: “How Rod Dreher’s Blog Got A Little ‘Too Weird’ For The American Conservative,” by Vanity Fair’s Caleb Ecarma: “He has warned that so-called sissy hypnosis porn is ‘profoundly evil;’ detailed the ‘formal’ Catholic exorcism of a friend’s suicidal wife; and recalled—in unsettling detail—the time he witnessed a Black classmate’s uncircumcised penis. But one particular reader, upon reading the last of said posts, determined the blog had simply gotten too weird … That disgruntled reader was HOWARD AHMANSON JR., the heir to a California banking fortune and the sole benefactor of Dreher’s six-figure salary.”
CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 17 funnies
GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:
— “What the Neocons Got Wrong,” by Max Boot in Foreign Affairs: “And How the Iraq War Taught Me About the Limits of American Power.”
— “The Real Wakanda: How an East African Kingdom Changed Theodore Roosevelt and the Course of American Democracy,” by Jonathon Earle in POLITICO Magazine: “The fictional kingdom portrayed in the Marvel cinematic universe has a real-life antecedent — and its legacy reverberates throughout American and European history.”
— “Inside the ‘Blood Sport’ of Oscars Campaigns,” by Irina Aleksander in the NYT Magazine: “War rooms. Oppo dumps. Eight-figure budgets. How the quest for awards-season glory got so cutthroat.”
— “The Obesity Revolution,” by Stat’s Elaine Chen and Matthew Herper: “New weight loss drugs are changing the narrative on obesity, with a push from pharma.”
— “On the Trail of the Fentanyl King,” by Benoît Morenne in Wired: “An Iraqi translator for the US military emigrated to Texas to start a new life. He ended up becoming one of the biggest drug dealers on the dark web.”
— “‘It changed the world’: 50 years on, the story of Pong’s Bay Area origins,” by SFGATE’s Charles Russo: “How Atari created the world’s most famous video game.”
— “How an FBI agent’s wild Vegas weekend stained an investigation into NCAA basketball corruption,” by the L.A. Times’ Nathan Fenno
— “The Untold Story Of Andrew Tate, The Internet’s Most Notorious Influencer,” by BuzzFeed’s Tom Warren and Ikran Dahir: “Tate, who stands accused of human trafficking, comes from a family of violent, competitive men and high-achieving women. Those who knew him in his younger years are asking, ‘What happened to Andrew?’”
— “The Justice Department investigated Jeffrey Epstein’s death. Then it went silent,” by Insider’s Jacob Shamsian: “Over three years later, the DOJ inspector general hasn’t released the results of its investigation. Epstein’s accusers — and his brother — still want answers.”
— “China’s Faith in All-Powerful Xi Shaken by Chaos of Covid Pivot,” Bloomberg Businessweek: “After imposing three years of sacrifice, Xi Jinping’s government let Covid tear through the population in two months. Moving on won’t be easy.”
— “Bigger, Deeper, and More ‘Fucked Up,’” by Andrew O’Hagan in The New York Review of Books: “When asked why HBO took such bold risks on shows that were darker, more libidinal, and more surreal than than those on other networks, a company executive replied, ‘Because we can.’”
Steve Buyer was convicted on four insider trading counts.
Mitch McConnell is “doing well” but “agitating” to leave the hospital after his concussion.
Joe Biden is going with the classic Raymond Loewy blue and white for Air Force One.
George Santos says he didn’t mastermind that credit card fraud scheme.
OUT AND ABOUT — Much of the White House press corps and White House press/comms/digital teams gathered for a goodbye party for Remi Yamamoto on the Vue Rooftop at Hotel Washington last night. There was an intimate toast with the president beforehand. SPOTTED: Lucas Acosta, Megan Apper and Andrew Bates, Reema Dodin, Mike Donilon, Vince Evans, Stef Feldman, Katie Fricchione, Alex Haskell, Christiana Ho, Michael Kikukawa, Tericka Lambert, Grace Landrieu, John McCarthy, Landon Morgado, Terry Moynihan, Kevin Munoz, Alicia O’Brien, Robyn Patterson, Katie Petrelius, Jing Qu, Vinay Reddy, Carlyn Reichel, Steve Ricchetti, Jen Rubin, Emilie Simons, Gene Sperling, Nina Srivastava, Louisa Terrell, Opal Vadhan, Chris Whipple and Kate Berner.
WHITE HOUSE DEPARTURE LOUNGE — “Kevin Munoz, White House aide leading Covid-19 messaging efforts, to depart,” by CNN’s Betsy Klein
TRANSITIONS — James Miller will soon leave his role as the NSC’s top official for the Australia-U.K.-U.S. military alliance, Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer report. … Robert Zirkelbach will be EVP of public affairs and strategic initiatives at PhRMA. He most recently was global head of issues and advocacy at ExxonMobil. …
… Mike Burns is now senior director of comms and public affairs at Mathematica. He previously was deputy assistant HUD secretary for public affairs. … Dane Pedersen is now a government relations & policy specialist with Bracewell LLP’s policy resolution group. He previously was manager of policy, comms and strategic partnerships at D&P Creative Strategies.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Nikki Budzinski (D-Ill.) … Rupert Murdoch (92) … Ben Becker of Precision Strategies … Michael Holley … Claire Burghoff of Cornerstone Government Affairs … Curt Cashour … NBC’s Miguel Almaguer … MSNBC’s Christina Arvanites and Erin Clifford … Matt Sobocinski … Joe Quinn of SAFE Commanding Heights … Alice Stewart … DIA’s Jeff Hayes … Carrie Pugh … Lauren O’Brien of Sen. Todd Young’s (R-Ind.) office … Suzanne Hammelman … Jon Cohen … Tim Mack of Rep. Madeleine Dean’s (D-Pa.) office … Amy Weiss of Weiss Public Affairs … Libby Marking of the National Wildlife Refuge Association … CNN’s Emily Riley … former Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead … former Interior Secretary Gale Norton … Eloisa Melendez … Qorvis’ Brad Klapper… Sam Donaldson
THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):
Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures”: Speaker Kevin McCarthy … Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis … South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem … Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.).
CBS “Face the Nation”: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen … New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy … Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) … Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) … Sarah Ellison … David Folkenflik.
CNN “State of the Union”: OMB Director Shalanda Young … Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) … Vivek Ramaswamy. Panel: Ashley Allison, Scott Jennings, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Paul Begala.
FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) … Finnish President Sauli Niinistö … Benjamin Hall. Panel: Marie Harf, Jeff Mason, Kevin Roberts and Michele Tafoya.
ABC “This Week”: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) … Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) … National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy. Panel: Rick Klein, Laura Barrón-López, Charles Lane and Molly Ball.
NBC “Meet the Press”: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) … Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) … Sheila Bair. Panel: Brendan Buck, María Teresa Kumar, Jonathan Martin and Marianna Sotomayor.
Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )