Good Friday Morning, especially to the Tennessee Titans, who are 7-0 against 2020 playoff teams, the first team in NFL history to have accomplished that feat. Who knows where this ends, but it’s a fun ride so far. Hopefully, they keep the AFC’s top seed, Derrick Henry comes back fresh, and they rip through the playoffs.
While writing this newsletter, the House lined up to pass Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. The vote is getting postponed because Kevin McCarthy has gone 5+ hours of talking. McCarthy lost ground in his bid to become speaker when the infrastructure bill passed with Republican votes; this long speech is his bid to win back that ground. Will it work? We’ll see. The big thing he has going for him at the moment is that there isn’t a consolidated opposition to him in the House.
The CBO scoring came back, and the bill will cost somewhere between $1.7-2.0 trillion. The WSJ has a breakdown of what’s in the legislation. The irony, which I’ve written for my Friday CI column, is that Democrats are passing legislation that focuses on benefiting their base in cities on the coast. If you live in a high-tax blue state, you make out well because they’re upping the SALT deductions from $10,000 to $80,000, which means you can deduct your state/local tax at an even higher rate. This is a boon for people living in places like NY or CA.
This week, I’m diving into the news surrounding Kamala Harris. As I explain below, I found it all extremely odd, and it seemed worth writing about this week—links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Biden’s weakness emboldens Russia and China – The Conservative Institute.
Same story, same results with Biden on inflation – The Conservative Institute.
The White House comes out with guns out on Kamala Harris.
Full admission: I have no strong feelings towards Kamala Harris. When Biden picked her as his Vice Presidential candidate, I said, “My short take on Biden’s VP: It’s a bad choice. He should have gone with Sen. Cory Booker. Harris is dead weight on the campaign, and will likely cost Biden the race. I think she opens up a viable path of victory for Trump.” I was wrong about costing him the race, but I was right about her being a poor choice. The problem is that she’s the only remaining good option. After the Afghanistan fallout, I said Biden needed to resign, and Harris needed to assume the Presidency. I stand by that.
I say that to establish upfront I don’t believe Harris was ready for this job. She was four years into her first Senate term, having been the Attorney General for California before that. She’s very much a rookie at politics, and Washington DC is a big pond. I’d rather have her in charge right now because I find Biden to be an utter disgrace — and judging by polling numbers, most Americans agree with that. I realize I’m a minority on the right about Harris over Biden, but that’s my read on things now.
That said, the directed attacks against her this past week were extraordinarily odd and suspicious. Harris got sent to France by the Biden White House on a light diplomatic trip to repair relations damaged by the Biden administration over Afghanistan. While there, a full broadside from the mainstream media sources poured out against her.
As the onslaught started, I mostly ignored it. Democrats fighting Democrats — I subscribe to Sun Tzu and Napoleon’s advice, when your enemy is defeating himself, don’t stop him. But Brett Baier’s All-Star Panel Podcast (which is good, by the way) stopped me in my tracks and caused me to go back and reread the Harris coverage. The short version is this clip on Instagram.
FoxNews Congressional reporter Chad Pegram, commenting on all these stories, said he had a well-connected source who told him that Pegram needed to start researching how Vice Presidential replacement proceedings were confirmed in Congress (emphasizing the process in the House). A VP replacement caught my attention. That’s highly out of character for modern politics, especially outside a scandal. The last VP replacement was Gerald Ford nominating Nelson Rockafeller as his VP after the resignation of Nixon.
This is an extremely odd story. FDR replaced multiple Vice Presidents. But outside that, in the post-WWII era, replacing a VP is extremely uncommon without a crisis present (deaths or Watergate resignations).
Typically, you can chalk up reports about tensions between a President and Vice President as political gossip. It’s useless. As other VP’s can attest: “John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president, … said the job was “not worth a bucket of warm p***.” Cheney said Gerald Ford described it as the worst nine months of his life and urged him not to become George W. Bush’s running mate.”
Replacing a Vice President, however, is an entirely different bridge. The news stories in question suggest that Biden could elevate Harris to the Supreme Court in the event of a nomination (the most likely spot is Stephen Breyer’s replacement if he retires next July). There’s also the question as to “why?” Biden would want to replace Harris — or, more correctly — why Biden’s advisors dislike Harris.
To answer an immediate question I’ve gotten: Yes, a President can replace the Vice President. The easiest way is for the Vice President to resign. The President nominates a successor, who must pass through the House and Senate confirmation process (all through the 25th Amendment). That last part is vital: after 2022, if Biden wanted to replace Harris, he’d have to get a replacement through the Republican-controlled House and/or Senate OR wait until 2024 to create a new ticket. Any Harris replacement right now would have to go through a divided Congress.
Politically speaking, kicking Harris out of the VP slot makes no sense. You’d instantly deflate the part of the Democratic base that likes Harris, and Black voters would (correctly) perceive this as a betrayal. That means the only logical way to “get rid” of Harris in the White House is to “promote” her out. A Supreme Court vacancy is the first logical choice. It fulfills Biden’s promise to elevate a black woman to the Supreme Court (a difficult task as the list of acceptable nominees is slim for Democrats).
Maybe you convince Harris to run for Governor of California; the Senate is out. The Senate is a demotion, and there are no clear seats. It’s all a mess. The Supreme Court is the only thing that would tempt someone like Harris enough. And as a conservative, I’d rather live through eight years of President Harris than have her as a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
It’s hard to see what the Biden White House is thinking here, so little of it makes sense. Usually, that would be enough to ignore these machinations. But it’s also clear: the White House is very much thinking along these lines.
One of the things I’d forgotten about Harris’s selection as VP was how planned and coordinated the White House was about it. In the piece I first wrote about the choice, I quoted several reports saying Harris’s selection was known weeks in advance. Every other option floated was a smokescreen by the White House.
The same is true about these attacks: the White House staff coordinates these hits against Harris and creates the storylines. Here’s the timeline, first Harris travels to France. Then:
On Sunday, CNN published a story in which dozens of unnamed officials described an air of “exasperation and dysfunction” about the vice president’s job performance, along with accusations that she is being “sidelined” by the president. That same day, a report from Politico suggested she isn’t “scaring off” any prospective challengers for the Democratic nomination should Biden choose not to run for reelection. All this comes a week after the release of a poll showing Harris’s approval rating at just 28 percent.
After those stories drop, the top communications aide to Harris immediately announces that she’s stepping down in a Vanity Fair spread that continues the line of attack against Harris.
The critical line of attack comes from CNN. I have no doubt CNN got this piece approved by the White House. Here’s how they describe their sources, “Interviews with nearly three dozen former and current Harris aides, administration officials, Democratic operatives, donors and outside advisers — who spoke extensively to CNN — reveal a complex reality inside the White House.”
It’s not that complex, and while the sources around Harris are likely varied (and, notable, don’t include her!), the White House sources are far more controlled. And the person running the attacks on Harris is the White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain. Here’s the evidence in the CNN piece. One of the negative storylines was Harris’s mismanagement of the border, which Biden pawned off on her because it’s unimportant to him. Here’s the CNN section:
As CNN has previously reported, Harris herself has said she didn’t want to be assigned to manage the border, aware that it was a no-win political situation that would only sandbag her in the future. But Biden’s team was annoyed that Harris fumbled answers about the border, including when she gave an awkward, laughing response about not visiting it during a spring interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.
As some around Harris see it, the White House failed to come to her defense. That was especially galling since they had given her the unpleasant task on her first foreign trip of carrying the administration’s harsh “do not come” policy, according to one source familiar with the workings of the office.
A number of West Wing aides were mad when, a few weeks later, she made a sudden trip to the border after her staff gave only a few days warning to the White House, particularly after White House aides had taken time to knock down the idea that she should go as half-baked Republican spin. But this was in part a misunderstanding: White House chief of staff Ron Klain and a small circle of West Wing aides had known about the trip far in advance but had been careful not to spread the word to avoid leaks.
Here’s where the CNN piece reveals their primary source. In DC gossip pieces like this, the clue to understanding who is the source is the person who gets painted the best in the story. That person is Ron Klain in the CNN piece. Here, Klain steps in and says he knew all along about Harris’s sudden pivot to go to the border (unlikely). In the following paragraphs, he’s painted as Harris’s best defender (lol):
Aware of her stumbles and the ticking political clock, Harris’ chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, went to Klain over the summer: They were drowning; they needed more help.
Klain is known as a Harris defender in the West Wing and does a weekly one-on-one meeting with her in her West Wing office to help her strategize. As a former chief of staff to two vice presidents, Klain knows the dynamics well. Talking with Flournoy about the staff, Klain said the vice president’s office budget was separate, and advised her to think creatively about drawing on other resources in the office and reassigning staff.
Klain, in a statement provided to CNN, downplayed any criticism of the vice president, saying Harris and her team “are off to the fastest and strongest start of any Vice President I have seen.” Citing a range of work from stressing Covid-19 vaccine equity to meeting with many foreign leaders, Klain added, “Anyone who has the honor of working closely with the Vice President, knows how her talents and determination have made a big difference in this Administration.”
So how is Klain the source? You’ll notice that he paints himself as a person who knows the VP role well and constantly gives her advice and strategy. He also magically knows about her plans when no one else does. How do you make this all Harris’s fault? You paint a story like this CNN piece does where Harris is essentially not taking Klain’s advice.
In essence, this is a power struggle where Klain is torching Harris to gain more power than her in the White House. Political insiders have long joked that Klain is the “real President.” Mitch McConnell and other Republican Senators call him the “Prime Minister” of the White House. The New York Times gave Klain a profile that glowed so bright you would be forgiven for wondering who really ran for President. Matthew Continetti correctly noted that he’s the most powerful Chief of Staff in recent history.
And now, Klain has decided to bring Harris down a peg. He calls himself a defender, but he’s sourcing the CNN attack piece, he’s getting people to talk, and in all likelihood, he gave CNN the final signoff of the White House’s approval of that piece.
So what’s happening here? Harris is the novice; Klain is not. There is a real fight over what happens post-Biden. If Republicans wipe the Democrats out in 2022 — a likely outcome — Biden will face pressure to step aside like LBJ did as the Vietnam War destroyed his polling numbers. Klain is trying to establish his control over the White House and all future roads to the White House through him. In essence, he wants Harris beholden to him, just as he does any of the other contenders.
What are his ultimate aims? Who knows. He likely enjoys his perch and wants to keep it or keep equal access in the future. But it’s anyone’s guess. This situation is interpersonal power politics at its very base form, people jockeying for position in the court — much like a king’s court. Klain views himself as lord over the entire court, and he’s got the power to prove it right now.
Given the utter disaster that the Biden administration has been, Klain can be blamed for a lot of stupidity (though Biden escapes none of that blame since he hired Klain). There are other people with Klain, but he’s unquestionably the center of this attack from the White House on Harris. This storyline bears watching moving forward because it appears he’s trying to amass more power for himself.
History is typically unkind to the court minister who thinks himself higher than his boss and treats and amasses power accordingly. In the Trump administration, the person who believed himself the center of everything (amazingly, even with Donald J. Trump in the same room) was Steve Bannon. As you may have noticed, he’s facing federal charges at the moment.
Links of the week
Democrats are stuck in their own echo chamber: For a party concerned about the health of our democracy, ignoring the growing concerns of voters is a foolhardy thing to do. – Josh Kraushaar, National Journal
‘This experience broke a lot of people’: Inside State amid the Afghanistan withdrawal: The chaos that came with ending America’s longest war extended to Foggy Bottom, where staff were left with psychological scars. – Politico
Democrats Shouldn’t Panic. They Should Go Into Shock. – Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times
The Steele dossier: A reckoning – Marshall Cohen, CNN
Ford, GM Step Into Chip Business: Stung by semiconductor shortage, Detroit’s two biggest car companies are looking to align with computer-chip makers to develop and potentially manufacture chips – WSJ
Joe Biden’s America-Last Energy Policy: Biden’s approach to energy represents in microcosm his approach to the presidency in general. – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
The Rising Danger of Space Debris: Russia’s anti-satellite test exposed a problem scientists have been grappling with for years. – Haley Byrd Wilt, The Dispatch
Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know – Astral Codex Ten
Prosecution Rests in Ahmaud Arbery Murder Trial – Reason Magazine
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!