Biden hoping for an Alaska bailout

Biden hoping for an Alaska bailout

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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Labor nominee JULIE SU’s backers are hoping that one of JOE BIDEN’s favorite Republican senators, LISA MURKOWSKI, will help rescue her embattled nomination. But, so far, the Alaskan appears uneager to enter the fray.

The White House and Senate Democrats are struggling to nail down 50 votes for Su, the first Cabinet replacement fight they’ve faced in Biden’s presidency. The nomination has been pending longer than any Cabinet nominee did during the first months of the president’s term.

The problem: there are not yet 50 out of the 51 Democratic Senators ready to vote for Su. And, for now, Murkowski is passing responsibility to them.

“I don’t know that all the Democrats are supporting her,” Murkowski said Thursday when asked if she’s decided how she would vote on the floor. “I’m wondering what the Democrats are going to do.”

The Senator said it’s been a while since she talked with the White House on the nomination.

Murkowski voted against Su’s nomination when it came before the Senate HELP committee in April. That would have seemed to end any speculation that she would be a yes on the floor. But she’s flipped on Su before (backing her nomination for deputy secretary when it came before the committee in 2021 only to oppose her on the floor), giving hope to Senate Democrats, White House officials and outside labor supporters.

Murkowski and Biden have had a long-term, mutually-beneficial partnership. The Alaska Republican went out on something of a limb to support Interior Secretary DEB HAALAND, and Biden initiatives such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In March, the White House granted approval to the Willow pipeline — a pet project of Murkowski’s — over the environmental community’s opposition.

With Murkowski expressing reluctance to flip on Su again, however, Democrats are now frantically looking for the votes within their own ranks.

Sen. JOE MANCHIN of West Virginia is publicly undeclared but Democrats are proceeding as though he’s a no, according to several people familiar with the nomination. A handful of other senators who caucus with Democrats — JON TESTER of Montana and ANGUS KING of Maine — are officially undecided but viewed as possible yes votes. That leaves Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA, the Democrat-turned independent of Arizona, who steadfastly doesn’t reveal her position ahead of votes.

If Su’s confirmation continues to stall, she would still be able to serve in the role as an acting secretary through the entirety of Biden’s term. But it would come at some cost: no White House wants the specter of being unable to move their own nominees for key roles through a Senate under their party’s control.

White House officials and outside groups — including labor unions — have maintained a steady drumbeat of support for Su’s nomination, according to a White House official granted anonymity to detail private conversations. They regularly participate in a “war room” call to sew up her confirmation.

At the White House, chief of staff JEFF ZIENTS and director of legislative affairs LOUISA TERRELL are in regular touch with majority leader CHUCK SCHUMER and other senators, according to the official. The official declined to reveal the senators they’re targeting.

The war room calls continued during debt ceiling negotiations but a “full court press” launched in recent days, the official said.

Still, the lengthy debt ceiling debate may have derailed momentum for the nomination, said Rep. JUDY CHU (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Chu is one of several members of Congress that Terrell is working with to coordinate support for Su.

“I do think that is what interfered with the progress we were making,” Chu said. “Julie had done her due diligence, meeting with all of them,” she said of Democrats sitting on the fence, and “also meeting with Lisa Murkowski and addressing the questions that they had.”

As Su’s nomination drags out, Schumer has declined to commit to getting her confirmed — or scheduling a vote. Her supporters, in turn, have grown increasingly frustrated with the uncertainty.

“I haven’t been told factually why people would be against her. We’re not even talking about the Republicans,” said Sen. MAZIE HIRONO (D-Hawaii). “I’m just at a loss.”

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This one is from Allie. What year was the White House movie theater built?

(Answer at bottom.)

Cartoon of the Week

Cartoon by Michael Ramirez

Cartoon by Michael Ramirez | Courtesy

TGIF. It’s about that time of the week when we feature a cartoon! This one’s by MICHAEL RAMIREZ. Our very own MATT WUERKER publishes a selection of cartoons from all over the country.

The Oval

ALWAYS BE SELLING: Our ADAM CANCRYN reports that the White House is pivoting — from bragging to progressives about how Democrats’ legislative achievements were protected in Biden’s debt deal with House Speaker KEVIN MCCARTHY to selling the benefits of infrastructure and others wins.

Deputy chief of staff NATALIE QUILLIAN is overseeing a new initiative to get infrastructure projects, along with initiatives resulting from last year’s climate and health care law, moving faster. The president and cabinet members are also readying an “Investing in America” tour later this month to highlight new projects in several states. “This is the mission of his presidency: to rebuild America,” said infrastructure coordinator MITCH LANDRIEU.

Right on cue, the White House on Friday announced some of the president’s upcoming travel plans: a visit to Connecticut next Friday, followed by a stop in Pennsylvania next Saturday. Sam suggested another reason why Biden may be heading to Connecticut: he “clearly just wants a good slice.”

BIDEN THE ELDER: It’s not lost on anyone that the president is 80, almost twice as old as British Prime Minister RISHI SUNAK, who he met with Thursday. Eli and Politico Europe’s ESTHER WEBBER have a look at how the age gap has actually helped the president connect with the young Tory— and a new generation of other world leaders. Sunak, who Biden aides say he vibes with far better than he did BORIS JOHNSON, has shown a lot of deference to the president, recognizing his years of experience and leaning into the teacher-apprentice dynamic. As one senior U.S. official put it, Biden “sees these meetings with Sunak and some other younger leaders as an opportunity to talk about the future of the world he sees, in hope they see things the same way.”

TRUMP? DON’T KNOW HIM: The White House has stayed quiet about Trump’s legal woes, and Vanity Fair’s CHRIS SMITH says the latest indictment of Trump related to his handling of classified documents will test that strategy yet again. “Surely, in the coming days, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will repeat variations of that refrain: The matter is in the legal system, we don’t have any comment,” Smith writes.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: This piece by USA Today’s MAUREEN GROPPE about the executive order Biden signed in North Carolina on Friday directing federal agencies to take steps to “help military spouses overcome employment challenges, a significant reason military families give for considering leaving active duty service.” First lady JILL BIDEN, who Groppe notes is a military mom herself, is quoted in the piece: “Their partners in uniform question how long they can serve their country when their spouse is unhappy or feels unfulfilled,” she said. “We can’t ask our servicemembers to choose between their love of country and their love of family.” Deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES tweeted out the piece.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: This POLITICO Magazine piece by MICHAEL HIRSH about how “the Pentagon is freaking out about a potential war with China.” Hirsh writes that “the failure to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and the stress this has put on the U.S. defense industrial base should be sounding alarms for the U.S. military posture vis-a-vis Taiwan, many defense experts say. Yet critics on both sides of the aisle say the Biden administration has been slow to respond to what is minimally required to prevent an Indo-Pacific catastrophe, which is the need to rapidly build up a better deterrent.”

THIRTY SEVEN MINUTES: That’s how long Biden spent working the rope line after signing that EO in North Carolina today. The pool report noted that he came down from the stage at 4:06 pm and then went on a “handshake, selfie and chat marathon” that lasted until 4:43 pm.


AWKWARDDDDDDD: West Wing Playbook wrote yesterday about how the race to replace Rhode Island Rep. DAVID CICILLINE was causing some drama among White House staffers. After that piece posted, NICK AUTIELLO, the candidate that former FLOTUS press secretary MICHAEL LAROSA is consulting for, announced he would visit the White House on Saturday.

In a press release, the campaign said Autiello would “attend a Pride Month Celebration on the South Lawn of the White House at the invitation of President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.”

BLINKEN TO BEIJING: Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN is expected to travel to Beijing next week, after his scheduled trip earlier this year was postponed following the Chinese spy balloon discovery, our PHELIM KINE and DOUG PALMER report. The State Department is still finalizing the trip’s details, but Blinken’s visit would be the highest-level visit of a U.S. official to China since 2018, when then-Secretary of State MIKE POMPEO visited.

Agenda Setting

HONESTLY, WE KINDA SAW THIS ONE COMING: The Biden administration declassified intelligence that conveys a “deepening defense relationship between Russia and Iran, releasing imagery on drone manufacturing and delivery to the battlefield in Ukraine,” our LARA SELIGMAN and ALEXANDER WARD report. The intelligence shows that drones are being “built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea to Russia — with a port Iran helped develop — and then transferred to two air bases.”

GOING ALL IN ON EVS: The Biden administration announced Friday it will “provide a $850 million loan to KORE Power for the construction of an advanced battery cell manufacturing facility in Arizona as part of its effort to boost the domestic supply chain for both electric vehicles and energy storage systems,” our KELSEY TAMBORRINO reports for Pro subscribers. The announcement is also part of the administration’s efforts to have more EV manufacturing in the U.S., as it is currently dominated by China.

What We're Reading

Jill Biden To Headline Los Angeles Fundraiser For President’s 2024 Reelection Campaign (Vanity Fair’s Ted Johnson)

I Crashed Henry Kissinger’s 100th-Birthday Party (Jonathan Guyer for NYMag)

New York Failed the Smoke Test (The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey)

The Oppo Book

Vice President KAMALA HARRIS still has the first voicemail Second Gentleman DOUG EMHOFF ever left on her phone when they began dating, but not exactly because it was romantic.

“It just rambled on and on and on,” Harris told JENNIFER HUDSON in an interview back in April. “It was just the cutest thing. I mean he just kept going and going: ‘Okay, well I guess I’ll talk to you at some point.’”

“We laugh about it,” she said.

Life… it imitates art.


The White House Family Theater was built in 1942. It was “converted from the East Wing cloakroom by a pair of movie nuts called Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt,” according to The Economist. “Space has always been limited to 42 –— with front-row armchairs and foot rests for the First Family –— but over the years it has become more like a proper picture palace and less like the breakfast room of a frosty DC hotel.”

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.

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