2023’s Congressional Circus (with Mark Leibovich)

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This year’s Congress is off to an astonishing start. As Kevin McCarthy moves his furniture into the speaker’s office despite not having the votes, Andy talks to journalist Mark Leibovich about the shenanigans taking place within the House GOP. He explains why the Freedom Caucus is pushing for chaos, how reasonable Republicans are reacting, and what it all means for a functioning Congress. Mark also shares his opinion on whether President Biden should run for a second term.

Keep up with Andy on Post and Twitter @ASlavitt.

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Andy Slavitt, Mark Leibovich

Andy Slavitt  00:18

Welcome IN THE BUBBLE in our Friday conversation. Congress this week has been a sight to behold, C span has never been as exciting, as we have watched with, so far 9 votes and counting. And we are now still, as of Thursday, late afternoon. Without a speaker of the house, this hasn’t happened in over 150 years that Congress hasn’t been able to elect the speaker. And without a speaker, there’s no Congress. And while that might sound good, at a humorous level, it also means you’ve got no congressional staff, no congressional offices, you’ve got no committees, you got no ability to respond to a crisis, or be consulted at a national security emergency, you’ve got no access, even to security clearances for Congress, people and personnel. And this is several months after the Republicans won their narrow victory in the house. Why is this happening? I’m gonna explore that today with my friend and in bubble, guest, Mark Leibovich in a few minutes, but it’s happening because the Republican Party is broken. And by that, I don’t mean that they’ve got broken policies or bad policies. I’m not quite sure what their policies are. This is actually the first time in the modern history, when we have a party that doesn’t actually have a platform to refuse to put together a platform. Because they can’t agree. Because they’re broken, because they are, in effect, splintering into more than one party. And what they’ve done and the root cause is they have let people into the party with extreme views, and they have welcomed them into the party. And they have now basically become a coalition government, they have to negotiate with this faction of people who want to create a set of governance rules that can allow their faction, their faction of somewhere between, you know, five and 20 people to be able to dictate the agenda. And you know, we are sitting here in a country where a very small and unrepresentative minority of the country is bargaining, and is negotiating rules to be able to do that. And even if they don’t want to govern, it’s also true that they want a house of representatives that has no ability to govern. And we obviously deserve better. But they are in a position, I think, where they’ve been able to bring, you know, many ways, the country to a standstill. Now, there are people that say they’ve said on various comments that this is Trump’s doing. I don’t think it is No, I don’t think it is. I think this is actually the wave that Trump rode into office and he wrote it. In the right party. He wrote it into party where the individual is permitted to put himself or herself first to selfishly create chaos, and to disrupt. And that’s a very hard thing to govern. So I called Mark Leibovich, to get him on the phone to talk to us about what he sees going on. Mark is, was the Washington reporter for the New York Times is the Washington reporter for The Atlantic. And for the last several years, he sat in the Trump Hotel in Washington, and obsessively witnessed the behavior of Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans in Congress and how they responded to and ran their lives around this central orbital figure of Donald Trump. He wrote a book called thank you for your servitude, about their behavior, about Kevin McCarthy’s behavior specifically, and about all that Kevin has done and has been trying to do to become speaker. So I wanted his take on what’s been going on this week, and where we might go from here. And that’s where I started the conversation.

Andy Slavitt  04:34

Welcome, Mark, welcome back to the bubble.

Mark Leibovich  04:39

Thanks for having me.

Andy Slavitt  04:40

Well, we get to talk about the year in politics, and boy did it get started with a bang this week. So Kevin McCarthy moved his furniture into the Speaker’s office. Yeah, that was an interesting decision by his staff or by him. Can you just discuss the dynamics, what’s going on here?

Mark Leibovich  04:59

Here’s what’s going on here. Kevin McCarthy made a deal with the devil. Donald Trump. I mean, it’s a cliche, it’s a little derogatory compared to the devil. No, he went all in with Donald Trump. He figured that that’s what Republicans do these days. That would be his ticket to paradise. Paradise as described and Kevin McCarthy’s in Kevin McCarthy’s worldview is being speaker of the house. I think he decided a couple of years ago that if he could somehow just get the gavel, no matter how miserable he was, when he had the speaker’s gavel, how he was being, let alone led around by the nose by Donald Trump, by his caucus, if he could just get it. And then you know, if even if it doesn’t end, well, he could go his whole life and be a former Speaker of the House because you can make a lot of money being a former Speaker of the House, maybe get like a terminal named after you at the Bakersfield airport, or maybe the entire airport, right? I mean, Bill Thomas the former ways and means chair, who was McCarthy’s old boss actually got terminal so but being speaker McCarthy could conceivably have gotten all airport. Anyway, he could have went up to his boss, McCarthy just thought that if he could just suck up to Donald Trump better than anyone else, he could just bring this home and actually win enough votes to be speaker. And then the election happened. And yes, the Republicans want a slim majority. There seems to be a lot of disagreement over whether it’s a wafer thin majority or a razor thin majority, but we can leave that to the linguists. But, you know, basically, he has a cushion of four seats. He needs every Republican vote, except for, you know, three, you know, we can afford to lose three or four. And in today’s Republican Caucus, I mean, this is a whole bunch of it’s a combination of kind of mob rule, but also fridge nation, right. It’s, no one is working in any kind of coherent concert. And McCarthy has no control over that. I mean, he seems to have a strong majority of them, but a majority is going to get it there. And there have been as we’re talking now, a few ballots. And this will be resolved. And you know, a few hours a few days, not long, hopefully. But bottom line doesn’t have the votes and doesn’t look like it’s going to be speaker. And this is just utter chaos. So this followed. And yeah, this is sort of follows on the chaos theory that Donald Trump’s DOP for Donald Trump’s life has essentially been predicated on. So I think that’s what we’re seeing here. And in miniature, but also in really dramatic form.

Andy Slavitt  07:47

So here’s what confuses me. Not only did he to use your, I think very well describe word show an amazing amount of servitude to Donald Trump. But over the last couple of weeks, he’s shown that same servitude to a band of right wing extremists. People who are to the right of Marjorie Taylor Greene, people like Matt gates and Lauren Lovebird, given them a package of things, that has really sickened the remaining part of the caucus. I mean, many of the Republicans who I would hardly call centers but are referred being referred to as centrists are disgusted with the power that he’s putting in the hands of these people. And they are as Trumpy as they come. So it confuses me now that he is bending over backwards for all of them in order to be Speaker. I mean, you know, once he started, why stop there? So essentially, this leaves us with that dynamic with a very powerful, small group of people. Who, by the way, are maybe more Trumpy than Trump?

Mark Leibovich  08:56

Sure, I mean, they’re insane. First of all, I mean, again, I don’t wanna be unfair, but no, I mean, at least Donald Trump. Let’s see, how do I complete this sentence? At least Donald Trump? Yeah, he was elected president. Okay. I mean, for whatever, however, that happened. He was elected president. He’s had a life. I mean, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren bellbirds. I mean, you know, in some ways, the house is representative of the kind of fringe genius you see on both sides to some degree. I think a lot of it’s been centered on the on the right, in recent years more than had been before. But what’s confusing to me and to anyone who sort of followed politics for a long time, is nothing about what’s happening in the Republican Party right now in the house certainly is conservative. I mean, this is the idea of certainly fiscal responsibility, the idea of honor of pride of rule of law, I mean, go down the list, supporting your allies. Yeah. And on the list. And, look, there is no honor here. And not that that’s a conservative notion necessarily. But, you know, there’s a level of kind of conservative labor dignity, that a fairly, you know, well-adjusted kind of stand-up person would sort of be able to sort of see the reality of this and walk away. I mean, I thought for a second earlier in the week, that Kevin McCarthy was going to kind of go down fighting and, you know, he was sort of, you know, he was calling out the ridiculousness that was victimizing him. But that didn’t last. I mean, right now he’s just, he’s just defeated. He’s groveling. You know, Kevin McCarthy is not terribly right or strategic, or didn’t have a lot of pride here seeing him and not pretty?

Andy Slavitt  10:46

Well, you make an interesting point, Nancy Pelosi governed with the same wafer or razor thin majority. And she governed quite effectively, she got a lot done, she had full support. That caucus sticking together by the way we’ll talk about it admitted, it appears to be sticking together for Hakeem Jeffries, her replacement, but I wanted to just dig into what this group actually wants. And it’s hard to decipher. But what would this group this group of 20 people like to see happen in this Congress? Is there a reasonably coherent philosophy that we should say these are the things they’re going to be pushing for in this upcoming Congress?

Mark Leibovich  11:28

Oh, God, no, no, no, they’re pushing for chaos. They’re pushing for a circus, just self-promotion. Attention. I mean, you know, this is what happens when it to some degree, a culture but certainly the culture of the of the right of the Republican Party of the trumpets, basically rewards childish behavior. I mean, there’s a larger kind of discussion about societies like American societies that indulge his children too much, right. And there’s a version of that going on here. And, you know, and Matt gates, this is my favorite detail about Medicaid. He literally grew up in the house in Florida, where the Truman Show was filmed The Truman Show, is this movie about someone whose life is entirely on television? And what are the chances, Matt Gaetz grew up in that house somewhere in Florida. And that’s just, I just want to leave it there, because it sort of says everything. And it’s also a fabulous journalistic coincidence that I feel need to point out.

Andy Slavitt  12:34

Good, fine. Well, let’s take a quick break. We’re gonna come back with Mark, we’re going to talk about some of what’s likely to happen in the next year. And we’re going to talk about the shaping of the presidential race. Okay, yeah, we talked about Matt Gates. I’m curious about a couple of other people, if you might just have some reactions to the role. You see them playing over the course of the year. George Santos.

Mark Leibovich  13:17

So, George Santos. You know, should I tell listeners who he is? I mean, I could do it. Sure. He’s won 27 Olympic gold medals. He has been elected president. He served two terms as president, the United States. I mean, he’s had one of those decorated resumes many countries. Yeah, many countries. Yeah. I mean, he’s, he’s basically been the president of Mars. I mean, it’s been all he’s incredibly..

Andy Slavitt  13:41

He was an astronaut.

Mark Leibovich  13:43

Incredible credentialed figure now lending itself to one of the easiest jokes in Washington, George Santos, new Republican congressman from Long Island. You know, sort of your basic trump the guy, New York Times my former employer, right story, basically saying everything claimed during his campaign was false. So yeah, so here he is, there are calls for him to resign. But we are in this year, especially in the Republican Party, where shame is a superpower. And Congress has one of the very, very, very small number of jobs in the world, where, you know, you can’t really be fired, you know, until the next election. So he’s got two years in this job. I mean, if he had a regular boss, or a board, or shareholders, he’d be gone.

Andy Slavitt  14:29

He’d be fired from Subway.

Mark Leibovich  14:30

He would be fired from Subway. He absolutely could be fired from Subway.

Andy Slavitt  14:33

That was probably the only job he can he can hold. What should we do about Hakeem Jeffries? What are your thoughts about his ascension?

Mark Leibovich  14:40

He’s been tremendous. I mean, I think in general, it’s easier to unite and to lead a minority party, and you know, but it’s close and you have a total clown show on the other side. So you know, it’s a really it’s an opportunity start for him in contrast, but he has to is now on these lines about, you know, these press conferences about how debt Republicans are in total disarray, talking about what Democrats what President Biden has been able to achieve. I think he’s off to a terrific start doing more than I could have imagined, just given that he had no experience doing this. So I think it’s been great so far.

Andy Slavitt  15:22

You know, I’ve been in various Democratic caucus meetings over my years. And there are some characters on that side, too. I mean, people who would interrupt Nancy Pelosi, as she speaks, Heckle, etcetera, etcetera. But when I’ve never seen anybody get people in order, like Nancy Pelosi, and you know, there’s just as much diversity in for all the, you know, discredit Democrats get for being in quote, unquote, disarray, this group has voted as a block. I mean, the reason we’ve gotten a lot of policies done is very simply because the Democrats have always, despite their differences, settled them in caucus, and voted as a bloc on the floor. And, you know, Pelosi really gets a lot of the credit for that. Do you think he’ll be able to keep that going? How hard will that be for him to be able to keep that going?

Mark Leibovich  16:10

Well, it’s a high standard, there’s no question. I mean, I think Nancy Pelosi, I mean, you can’t be overstated. The job she’s done. She did to keep that caucus together. I mean, not just certainly, over the last few years, um, you know, the Biden years. But also, you know, during the Trump years, and certainly the Obama years, I mean, you know, the Affordable Care Act, the Affordable Care Act, you know, being one. And, you know, it’s great that she’s gotten to do that she’s gotten this documentary that her daughter Alexandra […] is terrific, everyone should see it. But there was definitely some generational tension built up, I think there was some impatience with her probably quiet in patients, but from some of the younger members for, for her to move on, and she didn’t have, you know, a much of a critical mass of resistance within the caucus, but it was there. And I do sense, especially from younger members, you know, AOC, you know, maybe just people who, you know, didn’t necessarily thrive under Pelosi, I mean, they’re just kind of a new day and a new kind of energy. They’re partly, you know, might be because they’re having so much fun, just eating popcorn and watching Kevin McCarthy, you know, we’ll pizza in and out of his temporary office. But no, I think he benefits from that also.

Andy Slavitt  17:27

What are the lesser told parts of this, by the way is the shift from the really dominant of California, to New York, there’s a lot that Nancy Pelosi did for California and leading, not just a house, but that delegation. And it’ll be interesting to see, you now have both Schumer and Jeffries, both from New York, both from Brooklyn, let’s talk about just how this Congress could play out and what the power of these between five and 20 or so people enough, essentially to block legislation without Democratic votes can be. The principal area that a lot of people focus on, and I assume you would agree is, is the debt ceiling bill, which is a must, must, must pass bill. And it appears that this is the place where normally, you would expect, hey, some centrist ish, Republicans and Democrats will get together and pass it. But what seems to be a little bit troubling is if we end up with a rule, which says that, you know, what, five people can vacate the speakership, regardless of whoever that speaker would be, right? That you could affect end up with a veto. Presuming that you’ve got, you know, a group of people that as you say, they want to sow chaos. They’re one point of leverage. They know this. They’re one point of leverage. And this is the place where they can either force ridiculous things in the bill or important things out of the bill, is that how does that play out?

Mark Leibovich  19:01

The debt ceiling is the one big serious piece of mischief that this Republican House can really so I mean, I would say and I’ve been saying, yeah, if they want to impeach, you know, Joe Biden every week, let them look like idiots, right? I mean, it’s not gonna I don’t think it’s gonna happen now. But, but you know, it’s not going to obviously go anywhere in the Senate, and they embarrass themselves. The debt ceiling, however, is a serious, serious piece of leverage. It is something that John Boehner when he was speaker, may Barack Obama’s I mean, it wasn’t Boehne, Boehner actually wasn’t driving this, but I mean, the Freedom Caucus was and a lot of people who, you know, Boehner needed to answer to was but the thing about the debt ceiling now is that I don’t think Republicans have the votes to cause that kind of mischief. I mean, yes, they can bake A chair. But there’s about 20 somewhat responsible, at least governing moderate to mainstream Republicans who are never going to go along with blowing up the American credit. Right. I mean, we’re just blowing up the debt ceiling. I just don’t see it. And, again, I mean, you don’t want to get to that point ever. I mean, I think Kevin McCarthy probably intuitively understands this. But Kevin McCarthy off at the sides, I don’t think it’s gonna be a factor. But yeah, this death, I don’t think it will come to a point of default, you know, without the kind of grown up reasonable Republicans getting involved.

Andy Slavitt  20:38

I think there’s something short of default, which is, for example, to funding Ukraine, arms to Ukraine. I mean, you could pick your list of issues that are their pet issues, you know, many of them are pro Russia. Many of them, you know, might set you know, they want their pound of flesh, whether it’s taking out the homeland security secretary, whether it’s defunding, you know, something, it’s, it’s, as you say, where they can cause mischief in their negotiation, and who knows what to expect. But I think we can certainly expect that that’s going to be a place where it’ll be full of lots of threads and an interesting ride. And hopefully, you’re right, cooler heads prevail, but in the process, there might be a tax to pay. Right.

Mark Leibovich  21:21

Yeah, I think so. I mean, I would say that, I mean, I think that one of the things that has been heartening to me in the last few days, actually, is that the grown-ups in the Republican Party seem genuinely pissed by what’s happening. I mean, I think they feel I think they feel empowered. I mean, I think they’re sick of being pushed around by the fringe, I think, you know, they feel like they have just as much leverage, as you know, the Marjorie Taylor Greene to the world. And, you know, Don bacon, somewhat moderate republican from Nebraska, and not to mention the, I don’t know what the number is, but it’s more than a couple of dozen Republicans who won Biden seats, right, or who represent Biden seats that Biden won in 2020. You know, there are a lot more calculations and people say it’s not just like, then they’re not willing to be held hostage by the fringy, or members like they might have been before and more and more as much as we would stay.

Andy Slavitt  22:17

Let’s take a final break. And let’s come back and talk about Trump DeSantis Biden and anybody else that might get in the presidential race. So one of the interesting things that happened, mark in the course of this Kevin McCarthy showdown, was that Donald Trump, who has been a supporter of McCarthy all along, pleaded, I think he might have truths. That’s the verb I think you would use to the 20 holdouts that they must support Kevin McCarthy and the vote that happened right after that. Literally none of them did. So you wrote it, you wrote an entire book, a great book, which, by the way, if people haven’t read, yeah, I mentioned it, in the introduction, and I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. It’s a great read.

Mark Leibovich  23:22

It called thank you for your servitude, you should know more than anyone that you should always mention the title of the book.

Andy Slavitt  23:29

I was gonna give you the chance to do that. And I

Mark Leibovich  23:32

You forgot the title. And you were letting me to protect you.

Andy Slavitt  23:35

I mentioned servitude. I mentioned servitude earlier than I was going back to make sure I had it right. But thank you for correcting me get it right. Thank you for your servitude. And this was a book about how Donald Trump had in many ways an uncanny power to hold these people in their grasp, many of whom, in off the record conversations and despite knowing better, would indicate that they were being held prisoner and McCarthy was one of those people. But I’m wondering if this past election cycle, which did not go Donald Trump’s way, and this inability to get his Kevin into the speakership is some evidence that the dam may be breaking.

Mark Leibovich  24:17

It could, I mean, I’ve been a little bit weary of I I’ve been burned before, I’ve said that the dam has been breaking before and I’ve been wrong many times before. I mean, so I will say he does look kind of pathetic here. I mean, what’s interesting to me and this this is an endless source of fascination for me and it has been for a while is how easy it is to play this guy, right? I mean, he’s supposedly this master dealmaker and everything. Reportedly, he is calling these members who are on the fence are not supporting McCarthy and pleading with them to do so. And then you know, he’s basically been told no by everyone and Lauren Gilbert is a great an object lesson she sent today. Donald Trump called me to support Kevin McCarthy. Now, look, he’s my favorite president, but I can’t do it. I think Donald Trump should tell Kevin McCarthy to get out of the race. Now, the only thing in that sentence that Donald Trump heard was he’s my favorite president. Right? I mean, boom. He has played he is neutered. He is, you know, he’s disarmed. He’s happy with the conversation. It’s always in remember, but so you know, and Lauren Bovard, who again, is not I wouldn’t say a master chess player. Whatever it worked, but I mean, like one after another. They’re saying, Mr. President, I appreciate it. And by the way, another thing actually, I’ve heard this, they’re saying, Mr. President, I think you should be speaker. Again, it’s a slap up McCarthy. It’s an absurd notion. But again, it’s all he heard. He’s flattered by it. He probably did mirrored in a very kind of self-aggrandizing way. But, you know, again, bottom line, I don’t think Trump cares whether McCarthy gets the speakership or not. I think he cares and so much that he probably would be blamed a little bit more his impotence would be revealed.

Andy Slavitt  26:09

But, is he looking weak? He’s just looking, weak. I mean, I kind of what I’m trying to move towards is the question of, what is his position like as he enters the presidential campaign?

Mark Leibovich  26:20

I still think it’s stronger than people think. I mean, I think there is a quick, there’s a rush to diminish his standing right now and a rock to elevate Ron DeSantis. More than he probably deserves.

Andy Slavitt  26:34

Who said Rush happening? Is that rush happening by the mainstream press and from the left, or is that also happening? On the right and center? Right. I mean, I it is interesting that the one of the protests candidates are one of the candidates for Speaker This representative Donald is a DeSantis. That’s my new phrase.

Mark Leibovich  26:58

It sounds like a terrible bacterial condition.

Andy Slavitt  27:02

By the way, I’ve copyrighted it. So don’t even think about it.

Mark Leibovich  27:07

I do think, look, there’s a lot of quiet support among Republicans. But again, no one wants to piss off Trump, which I think speaks to, you know, both their Calvinists, but also Trump’s enduring strength in the party. And look, the fact is, if Donald Trump goes out to Michigan tomorrow and holds a rally, he’s probably gonna get, you know, if it goes to the right read district 25 30,000 People in DeSantis, probably one. Not to mention, and this is, you know, as simple as math. I mean, math is never that simple for me, but I even I got this. Yeah, DeSantis Pompeo, Pence. They all get in the race, like more than one person gets in the race of Trump. I mean, the mat, they all split.

Andy Slavitt  27:49

There’s a Trump vote and anti-Trump vote?

Mark Leibovich  27:52

Correct. Right. And Mike Pence for as bad of candidate as he might be, you know, didn’t wait his whole career to run for president just so we could defer to Ron DeSantis a backbencher? You know, until he was until he went all in for Trump and got elected governor in Florida.

Andy Slavitt  28:10

You take either DeSantis or do you think any other Republican candidate has a shot against Trump?

Mark Leibovich  28:16

I think DeSantis alone, if it’s head to head could do well, however, DeSantis himself very untested, not a great or charismatic candidate. People like Trump tend to run circles around people like DeSantis, who in real life is quite uncomfortable in his skin doesn’t think well on his feet. I mean, pick your bodily metaphor here, right? I mean, he’s not a smooth operator. And again, people realize don’t realize that because they haven’t seen much. And DeSantis is operated in a very friendly bubble world of conservative media, that seems to crave him, you know, sort of and Fox News, but also in Florida. I mean, it’s become a very friendly state for a guy like him, and he’s been able to pick and choose and talk about how greatest election results were and Trump is very good at blowing himself up on his own. So he’s had the best of both worlds, it will not continue when he actually steps out and starts to play with others.

Andy Slavitt  29:10

Well, the longer he could define himself has done Trump probably the better for him. But when does that have to change? When should we expect during the course of the year that we’ll start to see action on the side of people declaring or taking the step shorter that creating exploratory committees and so forth?

Mark Leibovich  29:29

Yeah, I’m sure they’re all doing. I mean, I’m sure like people like DeSantis pence, maybe Pompeo, maybe Cruz, maybe Christie, I mean, I’m sure there’s work being done privately. I think in DeSantis case, he’ll probably just wait as long as possible because it can, you know, gets plenty of attention anyway. I mean, again, Trump, Trump continues to hurt himself. So there’s no real advantage to sort of starting the fight with Trump anytime earlier. To be asked, but I think, you know, probably after maybe Memorial Day this year, you’ll start seeing Republicans. They’re still doing Iowa, right. I know that Democrats, Republicans said they’ll probably go out to Iowa, maybe do some South Carolina, New Hampshire, and you’ll probably start seeing some of that I think the Iowa State Fair this year, we’ll probably see quite a few Republicans playing normal flannel shirt wearing, you know, Axe Throwing types.

Andy Slavitt  30:26

Got it. Let’s talk about the Democratic side. I’m gonna start by giving you a review kind of some of Joe Biden’s last 12 months, get a chip bipartisanship bill passed, got a big omnibus package passed, that gay marriage passed. Major climate bill as part of the inflation Reduction Act, showed real strength in in Ukraine and pulling the Allies together and fighting back against Russia as opposed to the year prior. And Afghanistan. Got it electoral reform bill passed, got a gun bill passed. Inflation appears to be subsiding, although we won’t know how that will look this coming year, and there’s the possibility of a recession yet he’s 80. And he’s still polling at toward a 43% sort of ceiling. What does that tell you about what his prospects look like?

Mark Leibovich  31:19

Well, I mean, I agree. It’s had a great year. I mean, it had a very good year. I mean, it’s, there’s no question about it. And one thing you didn’t mention, but I mean, it’s different category, but you had a great mentor. I mean, that’s not an adequate treatment term. I mean, you know, I think he was probably I mean; I don’t know how surprised he was or not, I was certainly surprised. So yeah, that’s all good. I mean, I think one of the reasons it’s so good that he had such a good year, and actually, two years, like legislatively is because it’s not going to happen again. I mean, he was able to sort of front load, his legislative accomplishments, or his accomplishments that required the Democratic House and Senate and just sort of accrue what he could accrue. I don’t know, I believe Biden should quit volleys ahead. But who the hell am I to say that right. And, you know, I just think that the 80s are problematic number, I think 83, which is what he would be when he’s inaugurated is a very province problematic number, if he wins, I think campaigns are hard. I think he’d be a seven by the time he walks out of the White House, if he survives second term. And these are all conversations I don’t want to be having or thoughts I don’t want to be having, but again, I’ll probably get in trouble for this. But that’s sort of how I feel. And that’s how a lot of people feel, I think that’s actually driving a lot of the poll numbers that we’re talking about here. Because I think, if he were younger, and you know, people saw him in terms of the future, people would probably be more willing to see him terms of the future, but I’m not sure they do now.

Andy Slavitt  32:48

How much does the possibility of Trump winning the nomination factor into his thinking? I mean, I think probably the first thing you think about if you’re any candidate is can I win? But I think what Trump, does that add a component to this, where he said I beat him before he’s unlikable. I don’t know if there was another candidate, particularly if they were on the kind of very progressive end, whether they would beat him and therefore safer to run.

Mark Leibovich  33:15

Yeah, I mean, I would say I would say there’s I mean, I think Joe Biden’s biggest contribution to America ever was beating Donald Trump in 2020. I mean, that was something I think he was best suited to do that. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but I certainly do now. Look, he might have to do it again. I mean, I don’t think I’m of two minds about  Trump. I mean, I think want mine but Donald Trump but a bit electorally? I think Democrats would be thrilled to get him as an opponent, I think that that would be their best chance of winning. I also think that that’s not something to hope for, because I think the result would be catastrophic. I don’t even want to think about that. But look, if it comes down to Trump, and Biden and Biden were like 98 years old, I’d vote for Biden. I mean, I think there are people probably both parties who would say the same thing. I’d vote for a head of lettuce at this point. But I don’t know, I think, you know, maybe just getting elected is his own his most important job, and maybe he’ll be called upon to do it again. And the

Andy Slavitt  34:17

other Democrats that maybe that even if Biden decided not to run that you think people should be looking out for or that will it nothing else be positioning themselves for the future?

Mark Leibovich  34:27

Yeah, I mean, look, I think one of the benefits of the midterm is that you sort of realize that the Democrats have a better bench than we might have thought. I mean, Gretchen Whitmer, Jared Polis in Colorado, Mark Kelly, and Arizona, Raphael, Warnock in Georgia. I mean, you know, a lot of people who won or did really well, I mean, I thought, if Tim Ryan had somehow pulled through in Ohio against JD Vance, which he didn’t, but he ran a great race. Fetterman I thought was terrific, but yeah, then he had a stroke which you know, is A big problem and you know, he’s still recovering from. Let’s see what else I mean, Josh Shapiro. I mean, there’s a lot so I wouldn’t I mean, that’s one of the reasons I think it’d be great if Biden stepped aside and I think you would open up this sort of fresh profusion of energy and intellect and talent that people I think, in the Democratic Party need to be showcasing more and it’s hard when, you know, the top jobs are kind of set in stone, and will be for all

Andy Slavitt  35:31

right. In fact, we’ll have one of those. One of the governors, one of the Democratic governors who won a big race and on the show next week, and Tim Walz, who is I don’t think getting a lot of minutes so yeah, I bet you’ve seen a lot of press for necessarily the guy who should be present nor do I know that he wants it although we can certainly talk about it.

Mark Leibovich  35:49

Well, let’s start it lets let’s start the walls […] like right here.

Andy Slavitt  35:53

But look, it’s interesting. You’ve got I think you’re exactly right. I think the governor’s on both sides. You know, put to put aside your politics. The governor is on both sides are a really rich place for talented people. So all in this could be an interesting political year if the if the first weeks any judge.

Mark Leibovich  36:12

Yeah, first weeks been great. I you know, again, I’m, I had the luxury of kind of enjoy stepping back and enjoying it. That’s the other thing, by the way. And I was actually watching C span yesterday. Because, you know, I’m such an incredibly excited God. And it does seem like there are quite a few Republicans who are kind of enjoying the spectacle to which actually might be part of the problem also, the peanut gallery has sort of enjoying its playtime.

Andy Slavitt  36:39

What would the sequel to thank you for your servitude, which is the book you just put out last year, which again, I strongly recommend. I had a great time reading it. What would the sequel to thank you for your servitude because if you’re writing about what, what’s going to happen in 2023?

Mark Leibovich  36:55

The sequel, thank you for your servitude we’ll be called Mark Leibovich’s personal guide to divorce. Meaning, if you’ve ever written a book, and you have is I’ve done two jobs for the last three years. It was exhausting. It was not fun to live with. I’m not doing this again for a while, but the sequel? Yeah, look, I am not doing another Trump book. If I do another book, it won’t be a Trump book. I promise that. You know, my historic rhythm has been politics, sports, politics, sports, but football a few years ago, into the NBA a lot these days, and I’m actually working on a story. You know, I’ll be I don’t know, I did. I think I usually I need at least one book off from politics.

Andy Slavitt  37:44

Sure. Well, Mark, thank you so much for being back in the bubble. Love to having you again. And we’d love to have you come back later in the year and see what the political scene looks like. Or the sports scene. We don’t talk enough about sports on this show.

Mark Leibovich  37:57

Whatever you want. I’m we don’t but it’s okay. I mean, my versatility is my trademark. So I’ll do whatever. But thank you for having me and we’ll see you soon.

Andy Slavitt  38:23

Okay, thanks to Mark for coming on and describing the chaos that is the US Congress and is the Republican caucus right now. And let me tell you, we got going on next week. Some really important shows on Monday. We’ve got a show about the new COVID XBB 1.5 variant. That is the variant that is now approaching 50% of the country. It is the fastest growing COVID variant yet. And it’s sweeping the nation Wednesday, Governor Tim Walz from Minnesota, Governor Walz not only won reelection this past November, but one of the states where they flipped the state Senate from Republican to Democrat. And so we’re going to talk about Tim’s agenda, including reversing the kind of trend towards taking away people’s voting rights and what governors around the country might be doing to restore those Friday, very special episode on women in Afghanistan. For those following and not enough news coverage has been on this. Women have recently been banned from universities. They’re already banned from secondary education, from public parks from appearing in public without a man. And it’s a direct contradiction to what the Taliban committed to 16 months ago when the US left and we’re going to talk with a former State Department official and someone who chairs a nonprofit on the ground in Afghanistan about the situation The role the US played the responsibility the US has and what needs to happen next. So big week next week with three, I think great shows. But right now it’s Friday. So go ahead and enjoy a really great weekend. We’ll look forward to talk to you next week and throughout the year.


Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.

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