Playbook: A first look at the big new Biden book


HomeHome / Blog / Playbook: A first look at the big new Biden book

Jul 18, 2023

Playbook: A first look at the big new Biden book

By RYAN LIZZA, RACHAEL BADE and EUGENE DANIELS 08/29/2023 06:09 AM EDT Presented by With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross A 407-page tome about Biden world drops next week: “The Last Politician:


08/29/2023 06:09 AM EDT

Presented by

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

A 407-page tome about Biden world drops next week: “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future.” | Susan Walsh/AP Photo


FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The Senate Dem-affiliated Duty and Honor PAC is launching a new ad campaign supporting Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) — by linking him to Trump! The six-figure digital buy, which will include Facebook, Google and YouTube placements, focuses on Manchin’s work with Trump on miners’ pensions and health insurance. Watch one 30-second spot

BIDEN AIDES BRACE FOR BOOK RELEASE — The first insider account of President JOE BIDEN’s first two years in office is scheduled to drop one week from today.

Atlantic staff writer FRANKLIN FOER originally set out to write an account of Biden’s first one hundred days in office, focusing on the Biden team’s response to the pandemic and the undoing of Trump’s major policies. But Foer kept reporting as the story of the American Rescue Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act, the Afghanistan withdrawal, Ukraine and ultimately the midterm elections unfolded.

Along the way he conducted nearly 300 interviews from November 2020 to February 2023. The result is his eagerly anticipated 407-page tome about Biden world: “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future” ($30).

In recent days Biden aides have been scrambling to secure a password-protected PDF of the book that has been sent to select journalists and reviewers, some of whom were required to sign nondisclosure agreements and promise not to share the contents with newsroom colleagues.

A major media rollout of the book is set to kick off this week. (In fact, we’ll be recording a conversation with Foer this afternoon for next week’s episode of the Playbook Deep Dive podcast.)

In the publishing world, “The Last Politician” is seen as a test of the market for political books about figures other than DONALD TRUMP. In Washington, the book will be a test for how a generally leak-proof White House grapples with the first detailed excavation of its successes and failures from the Inaugural through the midterms.

Minutes ago, the first excerpt of the Foer book was posted at the Atlantic and will appear across 13 pages in the magazine’s October issue. The piece — “The Final Days” — is a gripping history of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan during August 2021, a month that marks one of the low points for a team that was elected for its competence. Foer’s account is notable both for his deep reporting as well as his shrewd insights into how Biden thinks, including the president’s unsentimental views on his decision to end America’s longest war.

A message from The American Petroleum Institute (API):

U.S. Oil and Natural Gas = American Security: Oil and natural gas made, moved and improved in America is the foundation of our nation’s energy security – today and for decades to come. Sadly, some in Washington muddle efforts to strengthen new production through bad policies and negative rhetoric. Let’s be clear: America’s energy security benefits from consistent policy support for oil and natural gas over coming decades.

The entire piece is worth reading, but here are some key portions that caught our eye:

— On Biden’s self-confidence: “From 12 years as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — and then eight years as the vice president — Biden had acquired a sense that he could scythe through conventional wisdom. He distrusted mandarins, even those he had hired for his staff. They were always muddying things with theories. One aide recalled that he would say, ‘You foreign-policy guys, you think this is all pretty complicated. But it’s just like family dynamics.’ Foreign affairs was sometimes painful, often futile, but really it was emotional intelligence applied to people with names that were difficult to pronounce. Diplomacy, in Biden’s view, was akin to persuading a pain-in-the-ass uncle to stop drinking so much.”

— On Biden’s reaction to the news that Afghan president ASHRAF GHANI had fled the country: “JAKE SULLIVAN relayed the news to Biden, who exploded in frustration: Give me a break.”

— On Biden getting into the weeds of the evacuation: “Throughout the day, [Ambassador JOHN] BASS would stop what he was doing and join videoconferences with Washington. He became a fixture in the Situation Room. Biden would pepper him with ideas for squeezing more evacuees through the gates. The president’s instinct was to throw himself into the intricacies of troubleshooting. Why don’t we have them meet in parking lots? Can’t we leave the airport and pick them up? Bass would kick around Biden’s proposed solutions with colleagues to determine their plausibility, which was usually low.”

— On Biden’s attention to individual evacuees: “Throughout late August, the president himself was fielding requests to help stranded Afghans, from friends and members of Congress. Biden became invested in individual cases. Three buses of women at the Kabul Serena Hotel kept running into logistical obstacles. He told Sullivan, ‘I want to know what happens to them. I want to know when they make it to the airport.’ When the president heard these stories, he would become engrossed in solving the practical challenge of getting people to the airport, mapping routes through the city.”

— On Biden’s insistence that he made the right choice: “Biden didn’t have time to voraciously consume the news, but he was well aware of the coverage, and it infuriated him. It did little to change his mind, though. … Through the whole last decade of the Afghan War, he had detested the conventional wisdom of the foreign-policy elites. They were willing to stay forever, no matter the cost. After defying their delusional promises of progress for so long, he wasn’t going to back down now. In fact, everything he’d witnessed from his seat in the Situation Room confirmed his belief that exiting a war without hope was the best and only course.

“So much of the commentary felt overheated to him. He said to an aide: Either the press is losing its mind, or I am.”

Good Tuesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line with your reviews of Foer’s Biden book after you read it: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

A message from The American Petroleum Institute (API):

Ensure Access to America’s Oil and Natural Gas Resources: Did you know the Biden administration approved fewer than 2,900 permits for oil and natural gas energy development onshore last year – down from more than 4,900 permits in 2021? Washington must remove barriers to developing American energy to meet growing demand.

WE HAVE A DATE — There were several developments yesterday in the ongoing cases stemming from attempted 2020 election subversion, but none more significant than this: Judge TANYA CHUTKAN officially set Trump’s federal trial in D.C. to start March 4. That is way closer to prosecutors’ request (Jan. 2) than to Trump’s attorneys’ (2026). Still, pre-trial motions could potentially delay the trial further. March 4 also happens to be the start date Fulton County, Ga., DA FANI WILLIS had proposed at first for her Trump trial. More from the WSJ

The timing will place Trump’s D.C. trial smack dab in the middle of the presidential primary season: The very next day is Super Tuesday, with more than a dozen states voting. The trial “could easily become the center of gravity” of the campaign, NYT’s Nate Cohn writes, either turbocharging Trump politically among his defenders or offering rivals a chance to pounce. Even more than Super Tuesday, the following two weeks — when Georgia and Florida vote, and delegate allotments become winner-take-all for the first time — could be especially decisive, Steve Shepard writes.

MARK MEADOWS’ big day in Georgia: The former White House chief of staff took the stand at a hearing to try to move his trial to federal court. Over four hours of testimony, Meadows argued that his actions were within the scope of his job — not as a private citizen — and should therefore be a federal, not state, matter, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Rankin and Tamar Hallerman report. The quasi-mini trial has not yielded an outcome yet, but if Meadows is successful, there could be implications for the rest of the racketeering defendants.

On the home front: People’s Linda Marx has a story on MELANIA TRUMP’s reaction (or lack thereof) to her husband’s indictments, which contains a pretty incredible quote from sources who know her: “She pays only so much attention to these issues.” Though she supports Trump and shares his views on the trials, she’s focusing more on BARRON.

On the Hill: Rep. ANDREW CLYDE (R-Ga.) said yesterday that he’ll try to attach amendments to government appropriations bills that would bar funding for the prosecutions of major presidential candidates, Roll Call’s Aidan Quigley reports. Trump defenders in Congress are facing an uphill fight in seeking to defund the offices of Willis, Manhattan DA ALVIN BRAGG and special counsel JACK SMITH.

How it’s playing: From Atlanta, WaPo’s Emmanuel Felton, Fenit Nirappil and Camila DeChalus have an insightful look at what Trump’s motorcade meant to the historic Black communities through which it passed on the way to his booking. Residents expressed variously satisfaction, outrage and a sense of disconnect.

BIG MIDWEST SWING, PART I — “How Trump’s Election Lies Left the Michigan G.O.P. Broken and Battered,” by NYT’s Nick Corasaniti: “Mr. Trump’s election lies spread like wildfire in Michigan, breaking the state party into ardent believers and pragmatists wanting to move on. Bitter disputes, power struggles and contentious primaries followed, leaving the Michigan Republican Party a husk of itself.”

BIG MIDWEST SWING, PART II — “Forget about Ohio. It’s Fool’s Gold,” by Kyle Kondik in POLITICO: “[R]egardless of what happens in that [abortion] ballot measure, the Trump realignment ended — at least for now — the state’s defining role as a presidential bellwether.”

BIDEN’S TUESDAY:10 a.m.: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief.2 p.m.: Biden will speak at an event in the East Room about lowering health care costs, with VP KAMALA HARRIS participating.3:45 p.m.: Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Costa Rican President RODRIGO CHAVES ROBLES in the Oval Office.Press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE will brief at 1 p.m.THE HOUSE and THE SENATE are out.

GROWING IN THE GOLDEN STATE: POLITICO California is growing, reinforcing our role as the indispensable insider source for reporting on politics, policy and power. From the corridors of power in Sacramento and Los Angeles to the players and innovation hubs in Silicon Valley, we’re your go-to for navigating the political landscape across the state. Exclusive scoops, essential daily newsletters, unmatched policy reporting and insights — POLITICO California is your key to unlocking Golden State politics. LEARN MORE.


A student poses for a photo with President Joe Biden as he and first lady Jill Biden visit Eliot-Hine Middle School in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Aug. 28. | Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

2024 WATCH

THE EDUCATION PRIMARY — Sen. TIM SCOTT (R-S.C.) yesterday unveiled an education-focused policy proposal, a mixture of classic conservative ideals and new-wave parental rights focus, as Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and Andrew Murray scooped. It includes barring transgender girls from female sports, implementing school choice nationwide, giving parents greater ability to opt out of curricula, opposing teachers’ unions and forcing tech apps to have their country of origin labeled.

In the GOP primary broadly, the more typical Republican approach to education is clawing back some attention from the approach championed by Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS and VIVEK RAMASWAMY, NYT’s Trip Gabriel and Nicholas Nehamas report from Rock Rapids, Iowa, with other GOP candidates “seeking to frame the 2024 campaign around topics beyond their opposition to ‘wokeness’ — generally understood as liberal views on race and gender — as they try to appeal to audiences wider than conservative activists.”

One candidate who still doesn’t sound like RONALD REAGAN: Ramaswamy posted on X that the College Board should add a physical fitness section to the SAT, as a way to bolster physical and mental health and improve collegiate diversity post-affirmative action.

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS FRANCIS SUAREZ? — After declaring that any candidate who didn’t make the first debate should drop out, and then not making the first debate, the Miami mayor has gone dark the past week, NBC’s Alec Hernández and Alex Tabet report. No public events. No posts on social media. Just $5,000 in ad spending since the debate. And the campaign isn’t responding to questions about whether it still exists.

POST-DEBATE DIGEST — “Haley hauls $1 million in 72 hours after the first GOP presidential primary debate,” by Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser in Indian Land, S.C. … “Pro-Burgum super PAC revs up ad spending as second debate looms,” by NBC’s Ben Kamisar … “Drop Out, Asa,” by the National Review editors

BATTLE FOR THE BALLOT — “N.H. Republicans feud over bid to knock Trump off 2024 ballot,” by Lisa Kashinsky: “BRYANT ‘CORKY’ MESSNER, an attorney who ran on Trump’s endorsement as Republicans’ 2020 U.S. Senate nominee, is questioning Trump’s eligibility for the ballot — and wants to see the courts address it. … Yet any effort to keep Trump off the ballot will face a steep climb.”

HELLO, WILMINGTON! — “Biden campaign opens its HQ in Delaware,” by Axios’ Alex Thompson


KEEP AN EYE ON THIS — An under-the-radar legal battle might result, if Republicans are successful, in a major change to get more big money flowing into politics, Ally Mutnick and Zach Montellaro report this morning. Though Democrats and some legal experts are skeptical of the lawsuit’s chances, it “could end in [the GOP’s] biggest victory since the Citizens United ruling in 2010.” The NRSC and NRCC are seeking to end limits on coordination between candidates and campaign committees, which would obviate the need for both parties’ campaign committees to have separate independent expenditure arms and make it cheaper for them to buy TV ad time. The case looks potentially headed for the conservative 6th Circuit Court.

ON WISCONSIN — “Tammy Baldwin said to ‘stay home’ in 2020. She’d just taken a personal trip with tax dollars,” by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Daniel Bice: “Just recently, [Sen. TAMMY] BALDWIN’s office reimbursed the federal government for the cost of this trip after being asked about it by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Baldwin campaign staffers said the trip had been erroneously marked as official travel.”

— “A Wisconsin election official has bipartisan support. She may be driven out anyway,” by Zach Montellaro: “The state Senate is set to hold a hearing Tuesday on MEAGAN WOLFE, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the first step in what is likely an attempt to remove her from her position.”

NOT HOLDING BACK — “Pope says ‘backward’ U.S. conservatives have replaced faith with ideology,” AP/Rome


THE I WORD — Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY is serious about launching an impeachment inquiry into Biden, with plans to get it underway by the end of next month, CNN’s Melanie Zanona reports. He’s even more avid about it privately than publicly — but he also knows that he doesn’t have the votes from moderate members. So House GOP leadership is looking at the possibility they could forgo a floor vote to open the inquiry, which is not required by the Constitution or House rules.

Democrats are getting ready for it, too. The White House and the DNC issued new statements yesterday decrying the impeachment push as a partisan stunt that distracts from substantive policymaking, The Messenger’s Stephen Neukam and Amie Parnes report.

HUNTER GATHERING — House Judiciary Chair JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio), House Oversight Chair JAMES COMER (R-Ky.) and House Ways and Means Chair JASON SMITH (R-Mo.) yesterday demanded more information from DOJ about DAVID WEISS’ appointment as special counsel in the HUNTER BIDEN probe, The Plain Dealer’s Sabrina Eaton scooped. Raising concerns about the handling of the prosecution, they requested a range of documents by Sept. 11. The letter

A message from The American Petroleum Institute (API):

Policies Matter: To increase energy supplies, our leaders must remove leasing bans and permit delays.


POTUS ON THE ROAD — “Biden will visit Hanoi next month as he seeks to strengthen U.S.-Vietnam relations,” by AP’s Aamer Madhani … “Biden will observe 9/11 in Alaska instead of the traditional NYC, Virginia or Pennsylvania events,” by AP’s Darlene Superville: “[T]he president will stop in Alaska for a Sept. 11 observance at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage on his way back to Washington after a trip to Asia.”


FOR YOUR RADAR — “Inside Matt Schlapp’s Offer to Settle the Sexual Battery Lawsuit Against Him,” by The Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger: “The offer from [MATT] SCHLAPP was in the low six figures, according to [multiple] sources. But Schlapp’s accuser — Republican strategist CARLTON HUFFMAN, who filed the lawsuit against Schlapp and his wife, MERCEDES SCHLAPP, in January — turned it down and countered with a substantially higher sum. Schlapp did not accept the counterproposal … In a statement to The Daily Beast on behalf of the Schlapps, their publicist MARK CORALLO denied that a settlement was offered.”

ON THE SUMMER CIRCUIT — “Justice Barrett says scrutiny welcomed and she’s developed a ‘thick skin,’” by WaPo’s Robert Barnes: Speaking at the Seventh Circuit Judicial Conference in Wisconsin, Justice AMY CONEY BARRETT said “public criticism kind of comes with the job” of being a judge, adding: “I’ve been at it for a couple of years now and I’ve acquired a thick skin, and I think that’s what public figures have to do; I think that’s what all judges have to do.” Barnes notes that her questioner, appeals court judge DIANE SYKES, “did not ask about the court’s recent decisions or about ethics controversies that have dogged the justices.”


TODAY’S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT — The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is expected to unveil its long-awaited list of 10 drugs that will be first up for Medicare price negotiations, USA Today’s Ken Alltucker previews. It’s the first big moment for a radical new approach, included in the Inflation Reduction Act, to have the government play an active role in negotiating prescription drug costs to try to get them lower for Americans. Popular and pricey medications for “arthritis, cancer, diabetes or heart disease” could be among the 10, experts tell USA Today, as the pharmaceutical industry wages a legal battle to stop the policy.

THE ROB MALLEY MYSTERY — “Leaked Document: Robert Malley’s Security Clearance Revoked Over Handling of Sensitive Info, Personal Conduct, and Use of Classified Networks,” by The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo

— “An Iran mouthpiece’s ‘scoop’ draws Republican ire,” by Nahal Toosi and Joe Gould: “Republican lawmakers are calling for the State Department to probe how the Tehran Times, an Iranian state-run media outlet, obtained a purported memo informing U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley that his security clearance was suspended.”


NEW OVERNIGHT — “Top Chinese official tells the US commerce secretary he’s ready to improve cooperation,” by AP’s Joe McDonald in Beijing: “The agreement Monday was the most substantial result to date out of a string of visits by American officials to Beijing over the last three months to revive relations that are at their lowest level in decades.”

STATE OF THE UNIONS — “Biden, Lula to Call for New Worker Protections at U.N. Meeting,” by Bloomberg’s Daniel Carvalho


THE BRAVE NEW WORLD — “Schumer to host Musk, Zuckerberg for AI forum,” by Axios’ Maria Curi and Ashley Gold: “The closed-door forum, scheduled for Sept. 13, will feature a slew of heavy hitters, including X’s ELON MUSK, Meta’s MARK ZUCKERBERG, Google’s SUNDAR PICHAI, OpenAI’s SAM ALTMAN, Nvidia’s JENSEN HUANG and Microsoft co-founder BILL GATES. Microsoft CEO SATYA NADELLA, former Google CEO ERIC SCHMIDT, civil society groups and unions will also attend.”

SUBSCRIBE TO CALIFORNIA CLIMATE: Climate change isn’t just about the weather. It’s also about how we do business and create new policies, especially in California. So we have something cool for you: A brand-new California Climate newsletter. It’s not just climate or science chat, it’s your daily cheat sheet to understanding how the legislative landscape around climate change is shaking up industries across the Golden State. Subscribe now to California Climate to keep up with the changes.

Eminem wants Vivek Ramaswamy to stop rapping his music.

Eric Schultz broke down his work on “Succession.”

Joshua Wright is facing eight sexual misconduct allegations, which he denies.

IN MEMORIAM — “NW Ohio’s ‘Joe the Plumber’ dies of cancer,” by The Toledo Blade’s Luke Ramseth: “Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a conservative activist and commentator from northwest Ohio who rose to prominence as ‘Joe the Plumber’ during the 2008 presidential campaign after he questioned Barack Obama as the then-candidate campaigned on his Springfield Township street, died on Sunday. He was 49. … In 2012, he challenged U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and lost by a wide margin.”

— “Douglas Feaver, Washington Post editor who ran online operation, dies at 84,” by WaPo’s Bart Barnes: “Mr. Feaver was a copy editor, an editor of Virginia news, assistant Metropolitan editor and a business desk editor. To the reporters under his supervision, he had a reputation as a ‘just the facts’ hard-news editor. As a reporter, he specialized in transportation issues.”

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Johnny Walsh is now chief of staff to the acting deputy secretary of DHS. He most recently was deputy assistant administrator for democracy, human rights and governance at USAID and is a State Department alum.

— Mark Ranneberger is now senior adviser to Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator Dilawar Syed. He most recently was senior adviser for business engagement at the State Department and is a John Hickenlooper and alum.

TRANSITIONS — Matthew Continetti is now director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He previously has been a senior fellow at AEI and is a Washington Free Beacon alum. … Billy Gribbin is now comms director for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). He most recently was comms director for Rep. Rich McCormick (R-Ga.), and is a Trump White House and Ted Cruz alum. … Brandon Weathersby is joining American Bridge 21st Century as presidential comms director. He previously was comms director for the Milwaukee County executive, and is a Bloomberg 2020 alum.

WEEKEND WEDDING — Rudy Soto, acting director of the USDA Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Rose Petoskey, senior counselor to the assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Interior Department, got married Saturday in Northport, Mich. Their wedding was officiated by Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for Indian affairs. The couple met in D.C. through the Native American Bar Association. Pic by Allen Kent Photo … Another pic … SPOTTED: Daron Carreiro, Sean Gard, Bayly Hassell, Heather Sibbison, Alex Johnson, Delia Kashat, Noel Perez, Matthew Fletcher, Tracy Goodluck, Joaquin Gallegos, Stephanie Sfiridis, Julia Hnilicka, Maria Herrera Gallegos, Kenneth Corn, Michele Weaver and Xavier Barraza.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Josh Siegel, an energy reporter at POLITICO, and Florianne Siegel, an ICU nurse at Inova Fairfax, welcomed Ezra James Siegel on Wednesday. He’s their first child. Pic … Another pic

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): White House’s Silas Woods

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Justice Neil Gorsuch … OMB Director Shalanda Young … Rep. Don Davis (D-N.C.) … WSJ’s Paul Beckett … Clayton Cox of McGuireWoods Consulting … Garrett Arwa of Bryson Gillette … Georgetown’s Lacy Nelson … Alison Schwartz of Grow Strategic Solutions … Nancy Scola … Texas Tribune’s Sewell Chan … FGS Global’s Kyle Daly … Charlie Spies … Stacey Hughes of the American Hospital Association … IBM’s Ryan Hagemann … Ed Wyatt … PhRMA’s Tom Wilbur … Jerr Rosenbaum of HLP&R Advocacy … FTI Consulting’s Brian Kennedy … Duncan Neasham … Maurice Simpson Jr. … Nestle’s Molly Fogarty … Paul Coussan … Susan Markham … Paige Ennis … former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Jack Lew … POLITICO’s Mandeep Kaur, Morgan Connolly, Noura Arzaz and Maddie Bedrick … Rich Cooper … former Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) … National Nurses United’s Amirah Sequeira … Sacha Zimmerman … Fannie Mae’s Anna English … former Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.) … Adam Shapiro … former Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo … Wesley Dietrich … Uliana Pavlova … Connie Milstein … USA Today’s Cristina Silva … Matt Brush of Rep. Nikki Budzinski’s (D-Ill.) office

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.

Correction: Yesterday’s Playbook misidentified the office Kari Lake ran for last year. She ran for governor of Arizona.

A message from The American Petroleum Institute (API):

Plan for Production: Geopolitical events remind us that American oil and natural gas are critical to U.S. energy security.

Today oil and natural gas supply 68% of America’s energy. To continue meeting demand as population grows, America requires sound policy and planning – supported by Washington’s acknowledgement that oil and natural gas are strategic assets that take years to develop. Decreasing reliance on foreign suppliers while increasing our self-sufficiency provides immediate economic benefits and American jobs in communities from coast to coast.

America needs: