A Rare Sunday Ron Klain Memo

Not a day to squander...

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Today begins a series of WWoN reader survey questions.

Please let me know how you answer the following, knowing that the more replies I get, the better I am able to serve my readership.

1. The Fake Ron Klain memo editions of Wide World of News are popular with many readers, while others find them inane.

Regarding the “Klain” memos, would you like to see

A. A few more of them every month.

B. Every edition of WWoN be structured that way.

C. The format retired forever.

D. “Memos” from Chris Dodd and Jill Biden, instead.


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FROM: Ron Klain

DATE: 10/17/21


Sorry to bother you on a Sunday.

I wanted to catch you before your workout this morning, to let you know it is all coming to a head.

As Jen always says, when the real country, the Gang of 500, and the progressive movement are all thinking along the same lines, we’ve got trouble right here in River City on the Potomac.

While our legislative plan is working perfectly, there are skeptics who don’t see the reality that as long as Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Mitch McConnell, the Progressive Caucus, the Problem Solvers Caucus, the liberal interest groups, the Democratic committee chairs in the House and Senate, and the corporate lobbyists all blink, we are going to be just fine.

And as long as you transition lickety-split from passive listener and deferer-in-chief to Nancy and Chuck to a defiant hammer, combining LBJ’s powers of persuasion and Ronald Reagan’s great communicating, we should be all set.

Now is the time, you are The One, and we can get this done.

To set the scene for you….

The Hill says

The clock is ticking for President Biden and White House officials to broker an agreement among congressional Democrats on the president’s economic agenda as patience in some corners wears thin.

Similarly, Dan Balz believes

At some point, it will be the president’s call, in consultation with Pelosi and Schumer, to settle on something and persuade all sides to get behind it. He has shown patience or passivity, depending on the perspective, but the time for choosing is not far into the future….

[A]fter Biden sells his own party on the final shape of the package, he will then need to keep selling it to the public. Then he’ll need to show that has delivered results they can feel and not just a number.

The Conventional Wisdom in DC is it’s now or never, you or no one, as per NBC News:

If Democrats don't get their act together soon on President Joe Biden's "Build Back Better" plan, they will sink their own agenda and put their hold on power at greater risk.

But no one wants to do the legislative triage necessary to slim a $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net down to $1.5 trillion or $2 trillion. The White House insists that congressional leaders need to start making politically painful choices; lawmakers say Biden has to be more assertive in negotiations.

"It's really important that President Biden use active shuttle diplomacy to get this done because my view is, we’ve got to have a good framework by the end of this month and then be able to convert that into legislation to get it passed by the mid-November period," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a telephone interview with NBC News this week.

"That shuttle diplomacy — it could be at the White House, having people in different rooms — whatever it takes, that needs to happen yesterday," he added.

And the New York Times is onto one of our big challenges – we still haven’t sold the package as a thematic whole, meaning we are touting the individual elements, which is a challenge to do, when clearly some of those elements are going to end up out of the final bill, as per the New York Times:

It remains unclear which sacrifices will have to be made, with lawmakers still at odds over the best strategy for paring down the plan, let alone how to structure specific programs. The most potent plan to replace coal and gas-fired plants with wind, nuclear and solar energy, for example, is likely to be dropped because of Mr. Manchin’s opposition, but White House and congressional staff are cobbling together alternatives to cut emissions that could be added to the plan….

Liberals remain insistent that the bill — initially conceived as a cradle-to-grave social safety net overhaul on par with the Great Society of the 1960s — include as many programs as possible, while more moderate lawmakers have called for large investments in just a few key initiatives.

In the midst of the impasse, rank-and-file lawmakers have been left to return home to their constituents to try to promote a still-unfinished product that is shrouded in the mystery of private negotiations, all while explaining why a Democratic-controlled government has yet to deliver on promises they campaigned on.

And the left is still sort of thinking you need to deliver something closer to $3 trillion than $2 trillion – or your predecessor will become your successor, as per Michelle Goldberg:

But if progressives fail to come to an agreement with Manchin and Sinema and both infrastructure bills fail, the Biden presidency will likely fail as well. The stage will be set for an unleashed Donald Trump to retake power.

Unfortunately, as we have pushed and prodded to get the progressives down on a macro numbers – and to get Senators Manchin and Sinema up on a higher macro number — we still don’t have a deal there.  And as we try to draft legislation in the various health care, education, family care, and environmental buckets, we are finding a lot of areas in which I couldn’t even say if our bigger problem is the divisions within the progressive movement or the gaps between the moderates and the liberals.

As your grandmother always said, “Joey, I wouldn’t want to live off of the difference.”

In every policy bucket, theoretical cuts are causing trouble. Nancy’s attempts to clarify haven’t stopped every Hill Democrat in the bazaar from pushing a point of view – throw whole programs from the sled, means test them, or cut back the number of years we pay for.

Every bucket of need could expand, if Bernie had his way, to fill an entire $2 trillion envelope.

What’s “must have” versus “nice to have” remains very much in the eye of the progressive beholder.

Take action on climate.  Both the Times and the Post have pieces today about what we might do now that Senator Manchin has vetoed Plan A.

Comically, the Times writes a whole piece on the premise that we could switch “to Plan B: a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.”

Sure, we will just write and overcome opposition to a consensus carbon tax in two weeks.

The Post says we are “scrambling” to figure this out this weekend, and that understates the back-of-the-envelope chaos we are channeling into success:

The White House is scrambling to salvage a critical proposal to reduce carbon emissions and deliver on President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda, as pushback from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) creates new headaches for the administration entering key international negotiations next month.

The fight revolves around the Clean Energy Performance Program, which Democrats have proposed as a way to reward utilities that increase their clean energy supply by 4 percent each year, while penalizing those that don’t. Lawmakers have included the initiative as part of a multitrillion-dollar tax-and-spending package that aims to advance Biden’s broader economic vision.

But the emissions-reduction program has drawn fierce public and private opposition from Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia depends heavily on coal. The standoff has jeopardized Biden’s pledge to halve emissions by 2030, inspiring a new flurry of last-minute policy proposals just two weeks before the president and other world leaders are set to convene the most important global climate talks in a quarter century….

White House officials are still looking at whether they can preserve the clean energy program by providing a way for coal and natural gas plants to keep operating for longer, according to three individuals. Calls continued into the weekend between White House aides and climate experts, according to one of these individuals, who said it remains unclear if Manchin even supports some of the newer ideas that the administration has floated.

It might “remain unclear” to the Post if Manchin will like these new ideas, but, uhm, I think it is pretty clear to us.

And we have another headache now to deal with. The Journal has a new story up that will be grist for the mill for those who are rooting for reconciliation, I mean, Build Back Better, to fail:

As the Democrats who control Washington reshape a multi-trillion-dollar package that would expand the social safety net and boost green energy, a key question hanging over their efforts is what impact it will have on the economy….

There is no simple answer to what return Mr. Biden’s overall agenda would yield because it has so many different components and it could take decades to fully gauge their effectiveness. Eight decades on, economists are still divided over Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Moreover, not all the intended benefits of the reconciliation bill, such as improving the quality of life for families, narrowing inequality, slowing global warming and expanding healthcare, can be measured with GDP.

Here, as I see it, is the most perilous problem. Just as some Democrats on the Hill think you have been too passive in selling the agenda, the jig is up on our rope-a-dope of Zooming the progressive groups into submission.

The countless hours and hours your senior staff has spent listening patiently to all the activists and members of Congresss on the left has paid off in the sense that we made it to October of your first year in office without a panic, either on reconciliation/infrastructure or on all the other issues they care about.

But on voting rights, the Supreme Court, the filibuster, immigration, and so much more, we have sort of reached the end of the runway.

The Washington Post suggests the sands from the hourglass have run out on voting rights:

Voting rights advocates meet once every week or two with White House officials via video conference, and in almost every session, an advocate speaks up to say that President Biden must do more, that American democracy is under threat and the president is not meeting the challenge.

At one such meeting earlier this year, a Biden aide responded that Democrats would simply have to “out-organize” the other side, according to multiple advocates familiar with the exchange who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting. The comment infuriated advocates, who believe they are watching former president Donald Trump actively and perhaps permanently undermine faith in U.S. elections.

“There’s been a lot of anger and frustration with that line from the White House, which was communicated as a response to advocates wanting the White House to do more,” said Aaron Scherb, legislative director of Common Cause, a longtime pro-democracy group…..

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said the administration’s lack of urgency about safeguarding democracy, especially by shoring up voting rights, is “appalling . . . I have heard from many of my colleagues and members that the lack of priority around voting rights will be the undoing of the legacy for this presidency.”

Politico says the immigration folks are done with us:

Dozens of immigration advocates walked out, virtually, on top Biden officials Saturday in protest of the administration’s decision to continue border policies enacted during the Trump administration, according to several people who were in the meeting.

Advocates asked for time before the beginning of a video meeting Saturday morning with several Biden administration officials, including people from the Department of Homeland Security officials and the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Esther Olavarria. The activists read a statement accusing the administration of “playing politics with human lives” and said they could no longer “come into these conversations in good conscience.”

“We have sadly reached a turning point,” they said, then most of the advocates exited the video call.

“I cannot stand one more meeting of them pretending,” said Ariana Saludares, a 40-year old advocate from the New Mexico-based Colores United, who was in the meeting. “They give us accolades on the outside, but on the inside, we're having to take out the metaphoric knives from our back.”

The senior staff has a (near) unanimous recommendation to meet all these challenges: We would like you to personally step up your public communications on your agenda.

We envision you doing a daily barnstorming schedule starting on Tuesday and continuing every day, including weekends, through the Virginia and New Jersey governors races.

Each day will consist of three rallies in three different midterm battleground media markets, along with a daily long, exclusive interview with a major media figure. 

We are thinking we need to expand beyond the “friendlies” to journalists who have expressed skepticism about your agenda and about your competence, giving them ample time to ask tough follow up questions, to which you will respond with humor, grace, bigness, inspiration, clarity, and confidence (rather than snapping at them).

This plan has numerous advantages, including that it will nip in the bud the meme/narrative/storyline coming out of this story from The Hill:

President Biden has only given 10 one-on-one press interviews since taking office in January, a low number that is drawing more attention toward the White House’s efforts to control and manage the way Biden interacts with reporters.

Biden, who has seen his approval ratings drop as he deals with a rash of negative headlines, has also largely shunned reporters’ questions in recent weeks, including after his comments on a poor September jobs report and again following the slowdown of the U.S. supply chain….

Former President Obama sat down for more than 113 interviews and former President Trump did more than 50 interviews through the summer of the first year of their respective administrations, according to Mark Knoller, the veteran White House correspondent who actively tracks presidential interviews.

Biden’s last one-on-one interview was with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in August.

As I said, the recommendation to turn the page on all this with lots of long rallies and tough interviews that will allow you to control the agenda was nearly unanimous.

So, of course, no tough interviews and limited travel.

As with Putin and Xi, we can expect all those standing in the way of your agenda to blink, as your experienced senior staff and cabinet folks work their magic.

As your granddaughters say, "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.”

Meaning, we are right on track.

Remember: You are not Donald Trump, which is more than enough for tens of millions of our fellow citizens.

Have a great workout.

Talk to you Monday morning.