Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With Allie Bice.
“Her portfolio is trash.”
That’s what BAKARI SELLERS, one of the most public and vocal defenders of Vice President KAMALA HARRIS, thinks of the slate of policy issues she’s been assigned to address.
Speaking as part of a panel for Politics & Prose earlier this week moderated by theGrio’s APRIL RYAN, Sellers knocked President JOE BIDEN for not utilizing Harris properly, and for giving her “a portfolio that’s not meant for [her] to succeed.”
That portfolio is full of issues that, given the political realities, are difficult to tackle — the two biggest being shoring up federal voting rights (which she asked for) and curtailing the number of immigrants coming to the southern border from Northern Triangle countries by fixing the root causes of migration. The fact that one of Harris’ most public allies was saying, essentially, that Biden saddled her with it raises the obvious question: Was he sanctioned to do so?
In an interview, Sellers was very clear his comments weren’t a form of backdoor complaining from the VP’s office, and emphasized that he hadn’t talked to her office before he made them.
“My only point was if you’re going to task her with voting rights, then the president needs to be passionate in his push to narrow the filibuster,” Sellers said. “The work she’s doing on it is amazing. No doubt. But the ultimate success comes from the president actually taking on the very real issue of the filibuster.”
West Wing Playbook asked around to see if Sellers’ comments were causing any friction internally. They’re not … for now. “The Vice President appreciates the faith the President has in her and her ability to tackle tough assignments,” Harris’ Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told POLITICO.
Still, as far as D.C. parlance goes, it’s rare for a surrogate to take such complaints public. Indeed, we had trouble thinking of a past time when such a prominent ally of a sitting Vice President openly complained about the work the president had handed him.
But Sellers does love to speak his mind. He is one of the most recognizable Democratic pundits on TV. In 2006, he became the youngest African American elected official in the country as a member of the South Carolina legislature. During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, his much sought after endorsement went to Harris. He was later chosen as a co-chair for the Harris campaign and continues to be one of her most vocal defenders.
Sellers says his frustration lies in what he sees as a larger under-utilization of Harris as the administration looks to sell its “Build Back Better” agenda — trillions of dollars worth of spending on infrastructure and domestic programs packaged in two pieces of legislation currently being debated in Congress.
A White House official pushed back on Sellers’ characterization of Harris’ portfolio as quixotic. “The most pressing issues confronting our country are what make it to the vice president and the president. The easy things don’t make it there,” they said. “Vice President Harris is taking on pressing issues no different than the vice presidents before her.”
And aides note that the vice president has been on the road multiple times promoting aspects of the two bills. On Friday, Harris was in New Jersey pitching the child care provisions that are expected to be included in the Democrat-only bill the party is looking to pass via budget reconciliation. “Our nation is strongest when everyone is able to participate. This is fundamentally what the issue is about when it comes to working parents,” Harris said during a roundtable.
On voting rights, Harris has spent months conducting meetings with key stakeholders and amplifying the work of groups like the Texas Democrats who came to D.C. to delay a vote on a restrictive state law. But with almost zero appetite from Senate Republicans to support federal voting rights legislation, it’s not going anywhere unless the chamber’s 50 Democrats decide to overhaul filibuster rules. And that’s not happening, at least anytime soon.
After Sellers’ “trash” comment went public, he received some blowback from Harris fans on Twitter who were concerned he wasn’t helping her cause. But he says he’s not going to stop. “People want to punish me for being critical or being opinionated but I don’t care,” Sellers said.
“One of the things the vice president has done is be a team player. I know those questions were always looming when she was nominated [as Biden’s vice president] but she’s been nothing but a team player. My advocacy is that it goes both ways,” Sellers said
PROGRAMMING NOTE: West Wing Playbook will not publish on Monday Oct. 11. We’ll be back on our normal schedule on Tuesday Oct. 12. We hope absence makes the heart grow fonder.
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This one is courtesy of CHARLES BROLL — which president had the most children?
(Answer at the bottom.)
Every Friday, we’ll feature a cartoon of the week — this one is courtesy of ROB ROGERS. Our very own MATT WUERKER also publishes a selection of cartoons from all over the country. View the cartoon carousel here.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: Chief of staff RON KLAIN and rapid response director MIKE GWIN both shared NEIL IRWIN’s story from The New York Times with the sunny headline, “The New Jobs Numbers Are Pretty Good, Actually,” and a lede that read, “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Klain took out this part of the story: “The story of the economy in the second half of 2021 remains one of steady expansion … more rapid than other recent recoveries. It is being held back by supply constraints and … the Delta variant. But the direction is clear, consistent and positive.”
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: The New York Times’ BEN CASSELMAN’s assessment of the jobs numbers, which was not quite so optimistic. “The latest coronavirus wave led to a second straight month of disappointing job growth in September, as Americans avoided restaurants and travel and were reluctant to rejoin the work force,” went his lede.
The White House tried to tout the lower unemployment rate of 4.8 percent but Casselman reported “that was partly a result of people leaving the labor force entirely — a sign that public health fears and other disruptions from Covid are still keeping people from looking for work.”
WEDDING BELLS: Deputy Press Secretary CHRIS MEAGHER had to wear a “Groom To Be” sash at the press briefing today ahead of his wedding next weekend.
CALLISTA GINGRICH’S REPLACEMENT — Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, will nominate former Indiana Democratic Sen. JOE DONNELLY to be his ambassador to the Vatican. Donnelly was one of five new ambassador nominees the White House announced this afternoon.
EPA HIRE: ROD SNYDER, president of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, has been appointed to serve as a senior adviser for agriculture under EPA administrator MICHAEL REGAN, Snyder announced. Snyder’s company promoted sustainability for commodity crop farms.
TRUMP RECORDS FAIR GAME — Biden will not invoke executive privilege to shield an initial set of records from DONALD TRUMP’s White House that’s being sought by congressional investigators probing the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, NICHOLAS WU, KYLE CHENEY and BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN report.
“After my consultations with the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, President Biden has determined than an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified as to any of the Documents,” White House Counsel DANA REMUS wrote in a letter to Archivist of the United States DAVID FERRIERO.
Biden’s uneven jobs recovery underscored by labor report (POLITICO’s Rebecca Rainey and Megan Cassella)
Is Biden’s legislative agenda popular? Yes but Democrats may not be (Vox’s Andrew Prokop)
Latino members of Biden’s Cabinet defend policies on Covid, immigration (NBC’s Suzanne Gamboa)
Biden signed the HAVANA Act of 2021 and K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021 into law this morning before delivering remarks on the latest jobs report.
He later joined national climate adviser GINA McCARTHY, Interior Secretary DEB HAALAND and Council on Environmental Quality Chair BRENDA MALLORY to speak about the administration’s initiative to restore national monuments and conservation areas in Utah and New England.
He heads to Wilmington, Del. this evening, where he’ll spend the weekend.
She was in Newark, N.J., where she participated in a roundtable conversation on child care at the Ben Samuels Children’s Center at Montclair State University. She also toured a vaccination site at Essex County College and made an unscheduled stop with Gov. PHIL MURPHY and Sen. CORY BOOKER at Tommie’s Minis, a cake and cupcake shop in Newark, where she bought some red velvet cupcakes and slices of carrot. pineapple coconut, and sponge cake with chocolate icing. Harris returned to D.C. later in the afternoon.
With three kids, White House deputy chief of staff JEN O’MALLEY DILLON (aka JOD) not only handles presidential matters, but also things like helping her daughters earn the latest Girl Scout badge.
But this year’s Girl Scout cookie season caught her off guard: “I hadn’t realized you have to sell a certain amount of cookies in order for them to get a badge — you have to sell something like 150 boxes to get a badge,” she told Insider’s ADAM WREN in September.
JOD admitted that White House chief of staff RON KLAIN came to the rescue.
“Later that day, Ron sent me a note on his personal email and asked for the girls’ link, because he had overheard the conversation and wanted to make sure to buy cookies,” she said.
Klain pressed to help even more, telling her: “You have two daughters, you have to send me the other one, too. I have to buy cookies from both girls.”
Thin Mints or bust!
JOHN TYLER fathered the most children — 15 kids over two marriages.
AND A CALL OUT — A big thanks to Charles (again!) for sending over this question! Do you have a harder trivia question about the presidency? Send us your best one and we may use it: [email protected].
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Edited by Emily Cadei