The reviews from the media came in fast and furious: The Biden presidency is orderly, normal, even boring — and it’s so refreshing.
Perhaps this was a genuine expression of relief after a wrenching two-and-a-half-month transition for the country. But who’d like to place odds on how long it lasts before boring-good becomes boring-boring for the media?
First, a quick sampling of the commentary earlier this week exulting over all the normalcy:
“Biden’s inauguration offered what America needs: A ‘return to normalcy,’” read the headline on Max Boot’s WaPo column.
“Mostly, a normal, sane, empathetic presidential voice. FINALLY,” tweeted Jennifer Rubin after Biden’s inauguration speech.
Then there was the much remarked-upon contrast of JEN PSAKI’s studiously polite inaugural press briefing with SEAN SPICER’s “largest audience ever” debut at the White House podium four years ago.
“Instead of a clown show, white house briefings will return to the hallowed american tradition of being completely boring and useless. Inspiring!” noted Business Insider media reporter Steven Perlberg.
JOHN DICKERSON even penned a column in The Atlantic with this lead paragraph: “Joe Biden has a real shot at being a boring president. It will require constant work. Many forces of commerce and human nature are arrayed against him, and countless obstacles stand in his path. But if the country is lucky, entire days will pass without the president’s activities agitating the public mind.”
We could go on.
We point this out not to argue that the break from four years of mayhem isn’t a much-needed breather, only to offer a bit of a reality check: Boring is the enemy of reporters. For all the talk from the right of liberal media bias, its real bias is for a juicy story.
If the Biden administration shows some success at being boring, our bet is that the D.C. press corps will do everything in its power to make it not so. A warning to the president’s press shop: The beast may pause to take in its new habitat, but it will soon need to be fed.
On a more serious note, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan and others this week pointed to a potential pitfall for traditional media, which is now held in lower regard than post-riot DONALD TRUMP, according to polls.
“The national press — battered by four years of abuse by the president, and by the incompetence and falsehoods of his spokespeople — is in a precarious position,” she wrote. “We run the risk of being seduced by an administration that, in many cases, closely reflects our values: multiculturalism, a belief in the principles of liberal democracy, and a kind of wonky idealism. (Cue the ‘West Wing’ theme.)
“The commentary from TV broadcasters across the board, all day long, was at times embarrassingly complimentary,” she added, a point echoed by our own Jack Shafer. “Maybe that’s fine for a day or two while everyone takes a few sighs of relief that democracy has survived its stress test. But soon, I’d guess, another norm will return: the desire to appear combative and to blow things out of proportion to demonstrate toughness.”
RELATEDLY: There is one potential upside to the return of normal that reporters wouldn’t mind sticking around, as WaPo’s Erik Wemple points out: The restoration of Saturday as a day off, after four years of Trump upending their weekends.
Happy weekend folks. This is MIKE ZAPLER, the editor of Playbook, taking a spin at the wheel today. Our regular authors will be back tomorrow. On to the news …
LET’S MAKE A DEAL: CHUCK SCHUMER and MITCH MCCONNELL reached an agreement Friday evening on the parameters of Trump’s second impeachment trial. The big news is that Trump will get two weeks to prepare, as McConnell insisted on, with the trial kicking off Feb. 9. There are still unanswered questions about what Trump’s defense will look like — will he call witnesses? Will House Democrats call their own if he does? And how long will it go? Democrats want it done yesterday.
Biden sounded fine with the delay, telling reporters that the Senate can use the two weeks to confirm his Cabinet picks: “The more time we have to get up and running to meet these crises, the better.”
EYES ON MCCONNELL: As for whether Trump will be convicted, the strong sentiment is that he won’t: It would take 17 Republicans to join all 50 Democrats, and few think the GOP would break against Trump in those numbers. Nevertheless, a CNN headline drew some attention yesterday with a report that “dozens of influential Republicans around Washington — including former top Trump administration officials — have been quietly lobbying GOP members of Congress to impeach and convict Donald Trump.” Another nugget: “Mitch said to me he wants Trump gone,” one Republican member of Congress told CNN. “It is in his political interest to have him gone. It is in the GOP interest to have him gone. The question is, do we get there?”
But tellingly, Trump supporters cited in the story were quoted on the record, unlike his anonymous critics. “I don’t even think we should be having a trial,” Sen. RON JOHNSON (R-Wis.) told the outlet. Separately, Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership, told CNN’s Manu Raju: “I don’t know what the vote will be but I think the chance of two-thirds is nil.”
NEWS ON OUR DEPARTED PRESIDENT
TRUMP AFTERSHOCKS: He’s gone from office, but the you-can’t-make-this-up stories about Trump’s (mis)conduct as president keep coming. Look no further than the lead of this New York Times story that posted last night: “The Justice Department’s top leaders listened in stunned silence this month: One of their peers, they were told, had devised a plan with President Donald J. Trump to oust Jeffrey A. Rosen as acting attorney general and wield the department’s power to force Georgia state lawmakers to overturn its presidential election results.”
Trump backed off, the story continued, “but only after Mr. Rosen and Mr. [Jeffrey] Clark [Trump’s partner in the gambit] made their competing cases to him in a bizarre White House meeting that two officials compared with an episode of Mr. Trump’s reality show ‘The Apprentice,’ albeit one that could prompt a constitutional crisis.”
AND THEN THIS: A reporter for Vanity Fair embedded with Trump’s acting defense secretary recently and delivered this stunning, fly-on-the-wall story. “On the evening of January 5 … the acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, was at the White House with his chief of staff, Kash Patel. They were meeting with President Trump on ‘an Iran issue,’ Miller told me. But then the conversation switched gears. The president, Miller recalled, asked how many troops the Pentagon planned to turn out the following day.
“‘We’re like, “We’re going to provide any National Guard support that the District requests,”’ Miller responded. ‘And [Trump] goes, “You’re going to need 10,000 people.” No, I’m not talking bullshit. He said that. And we’re like, “Maybe. But you know, someone’s going to have to ask for it.”’ At that point Miller remembered the president telling him, ‘“You do what you need to do. You do what you need to do.” He said, “You’re going to need 10,000.” That’s what he said. Swear to God.’”
SHOULD IT STAY OR SHOULD IT GO NOW? — Biden press secretary JEN PSAKI was asked Friday whether the president still opposes nuking the filibuster, as he said during the campaign. “The president’s position hasn’t changed,” she said, reiterating that he wants to work with Republicans to pass his agenda. Fair enough. But this seems like a pretty futile line of questioning: After running a unity campaign, why would Biden even entertain scrapping the filibuster at this point, even if he thinks he might need to go there eventually?
But if Biden won’t go there, David Brooks will: Should “Republicans go into full obstruction mode,” the Times columnist writes, “Democrats should absolutely kill the filibuster.”
MORE TROUBLE FOR LIZ CHENEY? — House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY this week rejected kicking Rep. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) out of GOP leadership for backing impeachment. But his latest interview on the topic — with Gray TV’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” — wasn’t exactly a full-throated defense:
Van Susteren: “Do you support [Cheney]?”
Kevin McCarthy: “Look, I support her, but I also have concerns. She took a position as a No. 3 member in conference, she never told me ahead of time. One thing about leadership, if we’re going to work together, we should understand. We know that this is going to become a difficulty. She can have a difference of opinion, but the one thing if we’re going to lead within the conference, we should work together on that as a whole conference because we’re representative of that conference. So I support her, but I do think she has a lot of questions she has to answer to the conference.”
But the quote that’s raising more eyebrows this morning is this: “I also think everybody across this country [not just Trump] has some responsibility” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
POLITICO HEADLINE OF THE WEEK: “Biden says his mask mandate is common sense. Republicans say ‘kiss my ass,’” by Natasha Korecki.
BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president will meet with advisers in the Oval Office at 3 p.m. VP KAMALA HARRIS has nothing on her public schedule.
HOW CORPORATE EXECS REALLY THINK ABOUT CAMPAIGN DONATIONS: Microsoft President BRAD SMITH faced questions from employees recently about why the tech giant, unlike some of its competitors, hasn’t stopped giving to members of Congress who voted against certifying the election. CNBC reviewed a transcript of his answers, which offer an unvarnished glimpse at how corporate interests in D.C. think about donations to politicians. “I can tell you it plays an important role. Not because the checks are big, but because the way the political process works,” Smith said. “And I can tell you, there are times when I call people who I don’t personally know [asking for help], and somebody will say, ‘You know, your folks have always shown up for me at my events. And we have a good relationship. Let me see what I can do to help you.’”
— The Lincoln Project’s STEVE SCHMIDT says it’s coming after Microsoft over its current posture on donations to Republicans who opposed certifying the election.
SANITIZING KAMALA? — “The Washington Post Tried To Memory-Hole Kamala Harris’ Bad Joke About Inmates Begging for Food and Water,” by Reason Magazine: “At a time when legacy publications are increasingly seen as playing for one political ‘team’ or the other, this type of editorial decision will not do anything to fix that perception.”
ABOUT THE NEW MAJORITY LEADER — “Chuck Schumer’s 99 problems,” by Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine: “Chuck Schumer has finally realized his dream of becoming majority leader. And given the circumstances, it’s a bit of a nightmare….
Schumer is facing down a hard-nosed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is refusing to cut a deal to govern the 50-50 Senate without a commitment to protecting the filibuster. He must marshal Donald Trump’s impeachment trial through the Senate while also trying to get President Joe Biden’s Cabinet confirmed. And he has to figure out how to respond to a crippling pandemic and struggling economy while Republicans have already rejected Biden’s relief proposal.”
CORONAVIRUS TRACKER — The U.S. reported 3,980 Covid-19 deaths and 189,000 new coronavirus cases Friday.
THE STRATEGY — “Biden’s early approach to virus: Underpromise, overdeliver,” AP: “President Joe Biden, in his first three days in office, has painted a bleak picture of the country’s immediate future, warning Americans that it will take months, not weeks, to reorient a nation facing a historic convergence of crises. The dire language is meant as a call to action, but it’s also a deliberate effort to temper expectations.”
KEEPING TRACK — WSJ is out with an interactive that takes you through where vaccines have been distributed and administered.
AN EARLY BIDEN FIRING — “Biden administration ousts Victoria Coates, who was falsely accused of being ‘Anonymous,’” by Daniel Lippman: “Victoria Coates, who was hired as the president of the government-funded Middle East Broadcasting Networks in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency, has been fired by the Biden administration, she told POLITICO.” … She called the firing “a shocking repudiation of President Biden’s call for unity and reconciliation just two days ago—and a clear violation of MBN’s grant and my employment contracts.”
HEADS UP — “Intelligence Analysts Use U.S. Smartphone Location Data Without Warrants, Memo Says,” NYT: “A military arm of the intelligence community buys commercially available databases containing location data from smartphone apps and searches it for Americans’ past movements without a warrant …
“Defense Intelligence Agency analysts have searched for the movements of Americans within a commercial database in five investigations over the past two and a half years, agency officials disclosed in a memo they wrote for Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon. The disclosure sheds light on an emerging loophole in privacy law during the digital age.”
AMTRAK JOE DONS A ROLEX — Twitter was abuzz over this Times story highlighting the $7,000 Rolex Biden sported on Inauguration Day — and contrasting the timepiece with Bill Clinton’s Ironman and Barack Obama’s Shinola. “Such political power watches,” the story notes, “had gone out of style in the internet age, when most recent presidents, and politicians in general, seemed to consider the luxury watch as a signifier of out-of-touch elitism.” Though it adds, “To be fair, none of Mr. Biden’s watches scream ‘luxury,’ at least to watch connoisseurs who are acclimated to the thin air of Swiss watch prices.” Perhaps we need one of those connoisseurs to weigh in on this pressing controversy? (cc: @Shteyngart)
CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 funnies
GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:
— “Enemies, a Love Story: Inside the 36-year Biden and McConnell Relationship,” by Alex Thompson on POLITICO Magazine.
— “After Alarmism: The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news,” by David Wallace-Wells in New York magazine.
— “Donald Trump Is Out. Are We Ready to Talk About How He Got In?” by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic
— “The day my voice broke: what an injury taught me about the power of speech,” by John Colapinto in The Guardian.
— “Your Body, Your Self, Your Surgeon, His Instagram,” by Katherine Laidlaw in Wired.
— “The Democracy Factory: For decades, the vote-by-mail business was a sleepy industry that stayed out of the spotlight. Then came 2020,” by Jesse Barron in The California Sunday Magazine.
DAVID REMNICK’S FRIDAY NIGHT NEWS DUMP — via CNN’s @brianstelter: “Breaking: The @NewYorker is returning its National Magazine Award for Feature Writing for ‘A Theory of Relativity,’ the 2018 story by Elif Batuman that was re-examined last month. The magazine found that key subjects made ‘false biographical claims.’”
IN MEMORIAM — “Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87,” AP: “Larry King, the suspenders-sporting everyman whose broadcast interviews with world leaders, movie stars and ordinary Joes helped define American conversation for a half-century, died Saturday. He was 87.
“King died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Ora Media, the studio and network he co-founded, tweeted. No cause of death was given, but CNN had earlier reported he was hospitalized with Covid-19. A longtime nationally syndicated radio host, from 1985 through 2010 he was a nightly fixture on CNN, where he won many honors, including two Peabody awards.”
END OF AN ERA — Tom Brokaw is officially retiring from NBC News after a 55-year career at the network.
CHANGING THE CHANNEL: Visitors to the West Wing this week note one conspicuous difference in almost every office: the TVs have been switched from Fox News to CNN, channel 49 on the internal cable system.
SPOTTED: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) having dinner with a group at RPM on Friday night, the first night since D.C. has reopened indoor dining at 25% capacity.
TRANSITIONS — Dominique Yelinski is now legislative director for Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.). She previously was an adviser to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and is a Jodey Arrington, Bill Posey and Mark Meadows alum. … Elena Brennan will be a policy adviser for Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.). She was previously a lobbyist at Arnold & Porter and is a Marsha Blackburn and Energy and Commerce Committee alum.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Kyle Cheney, a POLITICO Congress reporter, and Hannah Cheney, a senior managing editor at Hilton, welcomed Beatrice Dorothy Cheney on Jan. 22 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. Pic … Another pic
THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):
“State of the Union”: Xavier Becerra … Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) … Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) … Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.).
“Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) … Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) … CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Panel: Jason Riley, Donna Brazile and Gerald Seib. Power Player: Bryan Cranston.
“Meet the Press”: White House COS Ron Klain … Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) … Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). Panel: Tim Alberta, Yamiche Alcindor, David Brooks and Andrea Mitchell.
“This Week”: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) … Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) … Vivek Murthy. Panel: Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, Matthew Dowd and Margaret Hoover.
“America This Week”: Austan Goolsbee … Dave Rubin … Steve Cortes … Marc Fisher … Caleb Ecarma … Katelyn Caralle.
“Full Court Press”: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) … House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
“Face the Nation”: Anthony Fauci … Deborah Birx.
“The Sunday Show”: Rep. David Cicilline (D- R.I.) … Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) … Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) … Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) … Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) … Karine Jean-Pierre.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: POLITICO is 14 … Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) … CBS’s Norah O’Donnell … POLITICO’s Scott Mahaskey, Annie Snider and Joe Anuta … Antonio Villaraigosa… Annie Shuppy … former Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) … former Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) … Alexander Castellanos … Loyce Pace, president and executive director of the Global Health Council … Mariska Hargitay
Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.