Politico’s Playbook: Pulse of Political Pop Culture
July 17, 2017
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’m Bob Schieffer.
H. ANDREW SCHWARTZ: And I’m Andrew Schwartz.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And these are conversations about the news. We’re in the midst of a communications revolution. We have access to more information than any people in history. But are we more informed, or just overwhelmed by so much information we can’t process it?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Our podcast is a collaboration of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at TCU and the CSIS in Washington.
MR. SCHIEFFER: In this first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, we’re talking to the reporters who are covering the president the closest.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Our guests today are Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman who, along with Daniel Lippman, just one year ago took over one of Washington’s most-read notebooks, Politico’s Playbook, what Vanity Fair calls, “the always insightful, relentlessly insidery bible for Washington’s swamp-creatures.” And they have huge shoes to fill. Playbook was started by the indefatigable Mike Allen, a swamp creature who, as far as I could tell, never slept, showed up at every Washington event large and small, and managed to come up with scoops to match. They’ve also got a book coming out about how Washington works, have a new podcast. And by the end of this podcast, I’m sure they’ll probably have something else in the works. (Laughter.)
So let me just ask both of you, how did you get to Politico?
ANNA PALMER: So I’m originally from North Dakota. So I have kind of a circuitous route. But I was a Senate page in high school and then I went into journalism and kind of lived the D.C. dream. I came up two weeks after graduating college with my waitress shoes and my resume and worked my way up. I started at Roll Call and a lot of other kind of publications. But I’ve been at Politico about seven years, almost.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And you, Jake?
JAKE SHERMAN: I went to GW. So I came here as an 18-year-old, wide-eyed and ready to take over the world. And I always knew I wanted to be a reporter. So I knew – I worked at night in my local paper in Connecticut doing sports agate. I worked at The Washington Post at night when I was here in college. I was the editor of my college paper. I went to journalism school, grad school, and then I did internships throughout all of – you know, throughout college. I worked at a local paper in New York, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis’ Washington Bureau, Newsweek. And then I came back – after doing a year at Columbia I came back and worked at The Wall Street Journal in Washington. And then this small thing, Politico, was starting up in 2008, 2009. (Laughter.) And I met some people and there – I’ve been there ever since.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, you know, I would just say to all aspiring journalists and young reporters who want to know, how do you break in, how do you get these good jobs in Washington, just remember what you just heard because there are no shortcuts. (Laughter.) That’s exactly the way that one goes about doing it.
MR. SHERMAN: Try, try, try. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: And – yes. And I did the same thing. And somewhere along the time lightning strikes, if you’re lucky.
MS. PALMER: Yeah.
MR. SHERMAN: Right.
MR. SCHIEFFER: But it won’t strike unless you’re out there working.
MR. SHERMAN: Right.
MS. PALMER: Can’t be afraid of no.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Yeah. And so, when we talked to Dan Lippman about Politico and working with Mike Allen, I said, how is it that Mike Allen got so many scoops? And he said, you know, he treated everyone like it was their birthday. (Laughter.) And I’ve always remembered that. So do you all follow this, or do you have some new technique? (Laughter.)
MR. SHERMAN: Well, I don’t think I treat everyone like it’s their birthday. I think the one actually – one thing that’s stuck with me that Mike Allen always said, which was so true – and it might seem insignificant but it’s not. And it stuck with me, and Anna and I talk about it sometimes. When you’re reporting, don’t let the person you’re reporting on be surprised by what’s going to appear in print, because most people – even if you write something that they don’t like – if you give them a chance to say what they want to say, they’ll feel good about it. And that’s kind of guided us.
And I think we take a somewhat similar approach to how Mike did his job, but different in a lot of ways. We – our frame of reference is Capitol Hill. Mike was primarily a White House reporter, so his frame of reference was always the White House. We believe, for better or worse, that Capitol Hill is the most fascinating story on planet Earth. And we believe it’s the center of the – center of our universe. We spend every day in the Capitol, because that’s where 535 people with election certificates work every day. And there’s no better place to just go up there. As you know, Bob, you go walk around and talk to anybody. And so that – I think that’s how we – we just talk to a lot of people all the time. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: That’s what I always loved. I covered Capitol Hill for 15 years. It was the beat I was longest on. I covered the White House. And the great difference is that when you’re at the White House, everybody works for the same person.
MR. SHERMAN: Right. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: You get up on Capitol Hill, they’re all independent contractors.
MR. SHERMAN: They all work for themselves.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And that is where news comes from. Like you all, I think the Capitol is the center of Washington, not the White House, no matter who’s president.
MS. PALMER: Yeah, I definitely agree. I mean, I think I covered money in politics and lobbying for a long time, and have been up on the Hill for 10 years plus. And so I think for our – from our perspective, you know, you just – you think in stories, right? You know, when – just like Mike, and I think Mike really trained his sensibilities this way – was anywhere you’re at, whether it’s at events at night or whether it’s you’re talking, having coffee with your friends, or you’re up on the Hill, people say things all the time that they don’t deem newsworthy. But if you put a couple of those little small things together, all of a sudden you can have a very big story.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Exactly. So let’s talk about how you do it these days, because I’ve been here a long time and this is the most unusual time that I can recall in my 40-something years in Washington. How do you cover this administration? Is it different from anything you were doing before?
MS. PALMER: I think the benefit of Playbook – I mean, it’s definitely different. But the benefit of Playbook is the White House and congressional leaders really use it to shadowbox. They like to send signals back and forth with – that maybe they can’t have in actual conversations. And so there’s a real utility purpose to it. I think that we try to cover it as much as possible, you know, just like we would cover any administration. I don’t think either of us see our role as the opposition party to Donald Trump, as much as he might want the media to be. And so kind of every day you’re just – you know, you want to get as much information out of what they’re doing and how they’re going about it. And particularly for Politico, the story that we are always interested in is the backstory. How do deals get made? How do deals fall apart? And that’s where we kind of see our role.
MR. SHERMAN: And I think also like – yes, it’s very unusual to – I mean, this is a baseline, right? It’s a very different White House. But at the end of the day, I believe – and maybe I’m wrong; I’ve gotten out of the prediction business – but I believe that voters are going to judge the president and the Congress on what they get done and how the economy is and whether they get health care overhauled or whether they get a tax reform bill. So that process is still – plays out as it would in any other administration, maybe not in the same methods, to say the least. But bills still need to pass to get things done. The economy is still going to show signs of weakness or strength. So we kind of use the Capitol to tell that story, more than the president’s tweets or more than what the White House says because I think actually in the White House this time around there are a lot of independent contractors in a way –
MR. SCHIEFFER: That’s exactly right.
MR. SHERMAN: I think Stephen – Steve Bannon when he says he wants tax rates on the highest income people raised to 40 percent, that’s not reflective of what any Republican wants. So I think actually a lot of news organizations get stuck chasing those kind of little tidbits from the White House, without giving it the overall context that actually that doesn’t mean anything because that’s not the White House’s position or the position of any other Republican.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So, tell me what your workday is like.
MR. SHERMAN: Oh, boy. (Laughter.)
MS. PALMER: This is the question we get most often, what time do you wake up?
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah. We wake up around –
MS. PALMER: Between 3:30 and 4:00.
MR. SHERMAN: Between 3:30 and 4:00. Playbook is done by about 6:45, it’s out every morning.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So do you write it that morning?
MR. SHERMAN: Yes.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You don’t write it the night before?
MR. SHERMAN: No, because we feel – and Mike, I think, felt this too when he was doing Playbook – you want it to be the most current, the most fresh, the – you know, listen, there are pieces of news that we get the day before and we sometimes write those up in advance so we’re thinking with a clearer head at 5:00 than we are at – at 5:00 at night than we are at 6:00 in the morning.
MS. PALMER: But I think part of the reason is also the news cycle has changed, right? Before, you know, when it started 10 years ago, the news cycle, you know, after you file it, you know, 7:00 a.m. or something, you could start kind of getting those tidbits. But with Twitter, with everything happening and things moving so fast, you know, oftentimes if Trump does tweet in the morning, that could change the entire topic of Playbook because all of a sudden the whole message of the day changes.
MR. SHERMAN: And we’ve added an afternoon edition to Playbook because it’s – just the story changes so quickly. What’s true at 6:00 a.m. might be completely different when we publish at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. So – and then we – from 2:00 to, you know, 8:00 p.m. at night, we’re doing some combination of getting the information for the next day’s Playbook, reporting on the Hill, reporting at the – or, on the White House, and also working on this book, which we hope to publish in March of 2019.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So what do you do in your spare time? (Laughter.)
MS. PALMER: Jake always says – I was going to say – he says we have 28 hours for most people’s 24-hour workday. (Laughs.)
MR. SHERMAN: I have a wife, so she – and she likes to see me once in a while. (Laughter.) But it becomes your routine. People wonder, you know, in television, Matt Lauer has been hosting the “Today Show’ for 20 years, and he seems to survive just fine getting up early in the morning. So, you know, it just becomes part of your life.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Andrew.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thanks, Bob. It’s great to have you all here. I mean, one of the things – as we were talking about before you guys came in, I was having lunch with your boss a couple weeks ago. We were not spotted by Playbook, so I won’t say where we were. (Laughter.)
MR. SHERMAN: That’s a failure on our part.
MR. SCHWARTZ: But your boss, Patrick Steel, who is now, you know, managing – or, he’s now CEO of Politico, we were talking about how the franchise of Playbook is such a big deal. I think you all have your finger on, you know, the political pop culture of the moment. Can you tell us what – you know, what do you think about that?
MR. SHERMAN: We actually always say – and when we were talking to publishers about our book, it’s politics as pop culture, right? That’s what we are living in now. I think, Bob, you’ll find this fascinating, that we’ve taken note that CNN and MSNBC have basically set up sets on the Capitol – the East Lawn of the Capitol, and are doing full shows at four or five hours of broadcast from right outside the Capitol, as if it’s, like, a crime scene, you know? As if they’re broadcasting from, you know, outside the Vatican or something like that. So that just shows how much interest there is in what we do.
But, you know, Playbook’s the one – since we’ve taken over one year ago now, we’ve focused on a few things. We’ve focused on – we know who we are. We are a newsletter in, about, and of Washington. That’s our game.
MR. SCHWARTZ: We should say, this is the one-year anniversary this week.
MS. PALMER: Yeah.
MR. SHERMAN: Yes.
MR. SCHWARTZ: This month is the one-year anniversary –
MS. PALMER: This week.
MR. SHERMAN: This week too.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And this week of when you guys took over.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, we made it. (Laughter.) But we tried to make sure that the people in power centers like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston – that they know that they’re going to be dealing with the government at some point, and they should be interested in what their government’s doing. And we are the Cliff Notes for that. So that’s been something that we’ve wanted to do. And one other thing, and then I’ll kick it over to Anna, is like, we aren’t embarrassed that we try to be the kind of – not the – we’re a society – we do a lot of society reporting. And people like that. So instead of trying to cram things down people’s throats that they don’t like, people like to know who’s out and about. And it’s – it is part of the social fabric of Washington.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I think it’s a big part of the Washington story.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah.
MS. PALMER: Yes.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Very much.
MS. PALMER: Absolutely. I mean, I think the Playbook community is something just as Hill reporters, I don’t know that we had an appreciation for as much as we do now, where it’s who’s spotted where, what power lunching is happening. There’s a lot more actual kind of substance behind what those meetings are about and how you can kind of tie to the actual web and framework of what’s happening in Washington.
But I think as far as what you’re talking about, I mean, we looked at this as a second-generation relaunch of a brand. We looked at everything from products, which we’ve expanded, to an audio, to a PM edition, to an – you know, to our events, where we expanded that, and really nationalizing the brand. We have six Playbooks in six states. We have a Playbook in Brussels. We’re launching one in London. So it is in terms of – you know, we were able to take over something that had a great, rich history, and then really build on it.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I mean, the world is watching Washington right now as if it is entertainment, it is pop culture. I mean, we have a president of the United States who is basically a semi-retired guy from Palm Beach who watches television all day long. (Laughter.)
MR. SHERMAN: That’s one way to put it, yeah.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I mean, you know, so people in LA are watching us like it’s entertainment.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, you kind of actually see the – what’s become popular media consumption-wise, right? I mean, “Pod Save America,” which is the podcast started by a number of former Obama administration officials, is one of the most popular podcasts in the country, if not in the world. I mean, it’s very, very, very popular. So people are – whether they like Trump or not – are looking at it with interest and bemusement.
MS. PALMER: And I think the movement really happened before Trump, though, I mean, I think he capitalized on something that was already happening, right? The cable news TV personalities, “House of Cards,” the kind of, you know, fascination around Obama and the star of the Hollywood stars being – wanting to come to inaugurations and White House correspondents’ dinner. That didn’t happen when I came here, you know, 15-plus years ago. That was kind of the small Washington circuit. And there – I think he has just – has his finger on the pulse of that and has kind of magnified it.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me – let me just ask you something. We hear these reports of – you know, that’s it’s like a grade 5 hurricane inside the White House right now, and generally pretty much total chaos out in the press room. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. All the old ways of doing things, nobody knows quite how it’s going to go or where it’s going to go. What is the atmosphere up on Capitol Hill now? What – my sense is there’s a lot of elected officials up there that, for want of a better word, are just kind of confused about where to go from here.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It feels – it feels rudderless.
MS. PALMER: I mean, I think there’s a lot of frustration. I think that has been kind of latent in terms of – you know, Republicans campaigned on the concept that if you give us the White House, you give us the Senate, and you give us the House, we will do things. You know, give us the keys to the kingdom and then we’re going to repeal Obamacare, we’re going to do tax reform. So they have now gotten that. And I think there’s a frustration that there isn’t leadership in the White House that they feel like in terms of actually signing onto that agenda that, you know, they all campaigned on forever.
And then I think there’s also just nervousness in terms of 2018 and 2020. You know, they’re going to have to answer to constituents on stuff. And right now, you know, in particular we’re looking at this Obamacare repeal fight in the Senate. And it really feels like it’s not going anywhere.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, that’s the thing I was going to ask you about, because I know you all are both not in the predicting business. And that’s a good place to be. (Laughter.) But do you see them going home or going – leaving town at the end of August and not have a health care bill?
MR. SHERMAN: I think it’s certainly very possible. I think Senate Republicans have a new bill out, which is – it doesn’t seem to have moved the number of people that it needs to. And, again, I don’t want to get into the predictive business, but just from initial comments, it doesn’t appear that it’s going to move enough people. Listen, I think this is a very complicated matrix, because if it passes the Senate, which I think is – right now, Mitch McConnell doesn’t even have the votes to –
MR. SCHIEFFER: To get it out of the Senate.
MR. SHERMAN: To get it even onto the floor, to move into debate. So, if he gets into debate, can he pass it? Still up in the air. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem likely at this point. Then it goes to the House, where it’s really a tough, tough, tough path for Paul Ryan, because last time you saw this in kind of miniature. You saw the moderates move away when conservatives got what they want. So I think it’s completely possible. Although, I think what McConnell’s betting – and we had this in Playbook – I think he’s hoping that from the ashes comes a new kind of resolve to get this done, because there’s nothing like crashing and burning to get something to happen.
MS. PALMER: I think, if nothing else, he is a total political machine. So I think they are really looking at the midterms. I think there’s a distinct nervousness among House Republican leadership that if they don’t pass something that, you know, looks like some kind of Obamacare repeal, that they will pay for it in 2018.
MR. SHERMAN: But one more thought, I think at this – I agree with Anna completely. At the same time, I think Republicans just want to get done with this issue. It’s not a good issue for them. They’re just talking about – whatever the truth is and whatever you think of the bill, right now they’re arguing about whether will lose insurance, whether people will lose Medicaid, whether states will have to give up on – I mean, those are never good topics to be on. Losing things are not really what you want to be talking about. And they can’t seem to get out of that narrative.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Are the – is the atmospherics between the two parties – I mean, in the old days, when I came to Washington, you know, everybody knew everybody. You could invite Republicans and Democrats to the same party. Their wives knew each other. The kids all went to school together. Now, nobody really knows anybody. What is – how about the relationship between the Democrats and Republicans these days? Is the gap as deep and wide as it appears from the outside?
MS. PALMER: I think it’s pretty toxic. I think that we’re in – I think has been something that’s manifested itself over several years, though, where you’re kind of always into election season the day after the last election. And I do think because of the social culture where, you know, most members don’t move their families anymore to Washington, oftentimes they’re living in their offices, because that was kind of a great talking point for a while. And so none of those things kind of engender that kind of camaraderie where you could have, you know, two people from very different parties that could come together on something because they have a basic level of trust.
I do think the dynamics of home states in terms of Republicans, Democrats, there is that a little bit still. I mean, I think they do a lot more with their own delegation. So that’s kind of the one silver lining, I think.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I mean, I think a lot of long for the days of when there were giants in Congress. And, you know, we’re not seeing that anymore. And in fact, the overall approval rating of Congress is so low, the approval rating of the White House is low. If you look at the rest of the country, you know, we’re all here in Washington and Washingtonians are among the richest Americans every year. You know, we’re following every move of every politician very closely here, en masse. But it feels like sometimes the rest of the country wants to – not just California – the rest of the country wants to secede from Washington. Do these guys on the Hill feel this at all? Do they feel pressure from home? Do they get a sense that their people across America feel that there’s rudderlessness going on right now?
MR. SHERMAN: I think the biggest problem is most members of Congress, their principal political hurdle is a primary. So at that level it’s so much easier to be against – you can’t be against things enough for most members of Congress, you know what I mean? There’s almost – I mean, out of the 435 seats in the House, there’s maybe 100 competitive races. And even those are not incredibly competitive. And you know, even if you’re in a competitive race and you raise $2 million and you’re going to spend, let’s say, whatever – $2 million, some outside group is going to come in and fill the gap and just swamp whoever your opponent is, or the other way – I mean, it’s just – so I think it’s just so much easier to be no at this point.
And there aren’t any giants – I mean, there really are no giants in – and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but there’s nobody – you know, so much of how we view Congress is shaped by the leaders that we know, right? Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Paul Ryan. And John Boehner, and you know him well, Bob, but he’s a very – I found him to be a very – he’s a complicated guy.
MS. PALMER: He’s a fun guy to cover.
MR. SHERMAN: He’s a very fun guy to cover. (Laughs.) Fun guy to be around. But, you know, he wanted to get the big deal. He was always in search of the big deal. And he felt scorned, and all that. But – and everyone said – when Paul Ryan gets in, conservatives trust him. And he’s the guy who could really get the big deal. And now conservatives hate him. (Laughter.) So I just believe, to be honest with you, the places, the institution – the institution of the speakership is so broken that it’s just very difficult to see how it’s going to get put back together.
MS. PALMER: I would – and just to add onto that – one thing is I would say the committee process is so broken. Everything is so leadership managed.
MR. SHERMAN: Centric, yeah.
MS. PALMER: Yeah, centric, that a lot of those giants – when you think of the people that were crafting the tax bills, you know, the 1986 tax reform, those people just don’t have – the chairmen don’t have that same kind of power that they once did.
MR. SHERMAN: Kevin Brady is not Dan Rostenkowski.
MS. PALMER: No.
MR. SHERMAN: And – you know? And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Kevin Brady’s a very skilled guy. But it used to be you get a mark out of a committee and it’s going to – you know, it’s a big deal. Now it’s just not as much anymore.
MR. SCHIEFFER: But I think it goes right back to the point that you were making. When your goal is not to have a primary opponent, if that – if that is, above all, the one thing you’re most worried about, you’re not going to get much done. I mean, I’ve gone back and leafed through history books. I can’t find anybody who got into the history books because it said they didn’t have a primary opponent. (Laughter.)
MR. SHERMAN: Or they beat a primary challenge, right? I mean, it’s – yeah, but that is everybody – and this is something my father told me when I was a kid about Congress, and he was right. He was just an observer of politics. The goal is to get power, keep power, and increase power. And that’s everybody’s maxim. And everybody is – the districts are drawn in a way that just make it very difficult to – it just makes the atmosphere toxic.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I think we have made the whole electoral process so onerous, and so just disgusting that our best and brightest people are just turning away from it. That’s – the talent pool is so much different now than when I came to Washington, where you had people who came for – they were very serious people. They had things in mind they wanted to do. And now, you know, all this fundraising that you have to do, the campaigns you have to go through, too many good people are saying: Look, I could just spend more – my time better doing something else. And so I think we have – I think the talent pool is just much weaker than it used to be. And what we – what we have in the Congress now are the people who are willing to do all of that. And it’s a different group.
MS. PALMER: I’d definitely agree. I mean, I think the fundraising aspect, which we’ve played on a little bit, is really one of the biggest, you know, kind of hurdles for people who want to run for office. I mean, to be having to spend two hours a day calling, dialing for dollars, and going to fundraisers, and doing that is just such a laborious process that if you’re really interested in changing policy on something, that’s not really where you want to be spending your time.
MR. SCHIEFFER: But I’d also say it’s not only – it’s not only that dynamic, which I agree with in general principle, but I believe in the last six years a lot of – and this isn’t a criticism of their point of view, I want to make that clear – but a lot of Republicans that have got elected do not believe in a role of a federal government – do not believe in traditional roles for the federal government. So you come to Washington to serve in the federal government, to create federal policy, and you don’t believe in the federal government’s role in almost anything, then where are you? What are you going to do, right? (Laughs.)
So it’s not like people came to Washington saying: I want to build an interstate highway system. I want to reform the tax code. I want to protect the environment. I want to boost military spending. Now most – a lot of people who were elected, were elected in reaction to too big a government.
MS. PALMER: Well, and I think that’s what you start to see with the White House, right? There’s a lot of criticism that they aren’t filling some of these roles at some of these agencies. And I think that is partly a tactic and a strategy by a lot of the people that are very senior in the White House who don’t necessarily want these agencies to run like they have always been running.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Or, have convinced themselves that they don’t really need all those people.
MS. PALMER: Right, right.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I mean, I think you’ve seen that at the State Department, where there are some people who say, look, the State Department doesn’t get anything done. We don’t need to fill all these posts. I mean, and so basically you now have a secretary of state who’s walling himself off from his own bureaucracy.
MR. SHERMAN: A secretary of state who’s obviously a very smart buy, but has never served in the State Department before, so needs – and this isn’t a criticism – but probably could need as much help as anybody, right? Actually, the funny thing about Tillerson is he’s the kind of person that you – independent of any political leanings – say, this is the kind of guy we want in government, right? Ran a huge corporation, very successful, knows the world. But that doesn’t mean he’s impervious – that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t want to surround himself with smart people who know about Asia in a way that he doesn’t, right? So I –
MR. SCHIEFFER: Smart leaders always do.
MR. SHERMAN: Right. They always put smart people around them.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Dumb leaders never do, because they’re afraid they’ll be overshadowed.
MR. SHERMAN: Right.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, full disclosure, we know Rex Tillerson very well. He was on our board here for the last 11 years at CSIS before he went into government. And the way he’s operating isn’t necessarily the person we know. He is the person who surrounds himself with brilliant people. And I think, you know, any secretary of state takes on some of the characteristics of the boss. And the – you know, in this administration, you had just alluded to it before – one side of the White House wants to tax people in a certain way, the other side of the White House doesn’t want to tax people. Do you see any sense of the government actually functioning or running?
MR. SHERMAN: I just want to say, we had a story in Politico a couple weeks ago about how Tillerson had a blow up with the director of presidential personnel, a guy who we know from – worked on Capitol Hill for John Boehner for many years, Johnny DeStefano, who is basically the guy tasked with filling the federal bureaucracy. And I know Johnny well, and I think – I don’t know whether this is an order from Trump – but it would appear to be that he was – that the department was fulfilling someone’s orders, right? I mean, Tillerson wanted –
MS. PALMER: Was putting people up, and they were getting rejected.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, there was just a big clash between Tillerson and the White House over personnel, is the point I’m trying to make.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Sure.
MR. SHERMAN: And I think that seems to dovetail with what you’re saying.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Where do you see all this going? I mean, are we in the middle –
MR. SCHWARTZ: That is the question.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You know, Walt Mossberg, when we were talking to him and we were talking about the shift from print to digital and all that, and he said, you know, when you’re in the middle of something it’s hard to analyze what’s happening. And he said, we’re right in the middle of this right now. Well, the current administration hasn’t been there very long, but this – I mean, it’s like everything is running at 500 miles an hour, and nobody knows quite which directions it’s running or exactly what the destination is. And I wonder, how long can this sustain itself?
MS. PALMER: It’s an interesting question. I think one of the things in Congress – Congress hasn’t really been working very well for a long time. They’ve basically been going from deadline to deadline as a way of leadership. And so as far as that, there’s not a big change, right? There’s –
MR. SCHWARTZ: A lot of kicking the can down the road.
MS. PALMER: Yeah, they’re going to have to raise the debt limit. Then we’ll do that. They’re going to have to figure out to fund the government. I mean, that’s basically what they’re been doing for the last couple of years. And so they’re trying to do some big things. But this is kind of business as usual, to some extent. I do think some of these – the fatigue in terms of the investigations is something that’s starting to wear. I think that kind of the daily deluge of the drip, drip, drip of just, you know, new information coming out on Russia and collusion and, you know, that is definitely a distraction.
MR. SHERMAN: I think I actually made the mistaken assessment at the beginning of this Congress, when Trump was elected, that there was pressure built up from years of not doing anything, and you’d have to kind of release that pressure, or else people would go insane, you know? And I do hear a lot from members of Congress who kind of say: What am I doing here? If we’re not doing anything, I can go make a couple bucks, be a lawyer, you know, go back home and live my life. (Laughs.) And I think that’s real dynamic to watch.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Not to mention the shooting at the baseball practice I think made some people think, well, I’m risking my life to do this, possibly.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah. I think that’s right. I still am holding out some – I wouldn’t call it hope – but I still think it’s possible that some stuff does get done in this Congress, against the odds, whether it’s health care, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s infrastructure. I don’t –
MR. SCHWARTZ: Whatever happened to infrastructure?
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah. I mean, the president said May 15th, I think, it was going to be out a few weeks.
MS. PALMER: A couple weeks. That’s a constant refrain of this administration in terms of when they’re going to kind of be able to put things out there.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah. So I wonder – I mean, listen, we’re writing a book, which we talked about off-air. And it’s about whether – how things get done and whether they do get done, and what that looks like from the Hill. And you’re right, we’re in the middle not only of this administration, but in the middle of kind of the nitty-gritty of tax reform and health care and stuff like that. So it’s difficult to see what happens. But I still think it’s possible.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you find – Adam Entous was on our podcast. And one of the most interesting things he said to me, he said, I’m finding now that people are more – it’s easier for them to just tell an outright lie on the first time you ask them about something. And he said, you know, I feel like I’m an FBI agent now. I have to go and ask them something and then say, yeah, but I’ve got this right here and I’m going to charge you with perjury. I want to give you another chance.
And he told me about – and not just at the White House, but on Capitol Hill. And he told me about some of his adventures there, where he would go to people and they’d just flat-out lie the first time around. He’d come back with more information and they’d say, no, we have people in the meeting. Five people will say that’s absolutely wrong. And then he comes back and says, yeah, well, here’s a tape recording. And they say, well, give me an hour. And then they call back and say he was just joking. Do people lie to you now?
MS. PALMER: I mean, I think people are always self-interested, right? As a reporter –
MR. SCHIEFFER: And always have been.
MS. PALMER: Right.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And I’ve been spun hard over these many, many years here. (Laughter.) But I can just – it’s almost – I can count on my nose the number of times that people just told me an outright lie.
MS. PALMER: I think that often might be staff trying to protect their boss, would be my guess. I mean, I don’t know the exact instance that you’re talking about. But I think one of the benefits, hopefully, that Jake and I have is that we’ve been there for a long time, so we have personal relationships. In a way that we talked about the Republicans, Democrats don’t have with each other, that we actually have with a lot of lawmakers, where their word, and they know that you’re going to be there every day and they’re going to have to see you, and if they lie to you to your face it’s a lot more difficult. I do think we see that at the White House, partially because I think people are saying things that they might believe to be true at that moment, but they – you know, talking to Trump – he might turn around and talk to somebody else, and then they are going to – somebody else is going to say this is what they believe at that moment to be true.
MR. SHERMAN: I think that’s right.
MS. PALMER: Right? I mean, it’s just a complicated mixture.
MR. SHERMAN: I actually think a lot of people – I think there are people in the White House who just lie because why not. But I do think there are people in the White House – many people in the White House who say what they believe to be true at the moment, right? (Laughs.) And –
MR. SCHWARTZ: There’s a lot of well-intentioned people working in the White House too, who are working on real things.
MS. PALMER: Of course. Of course.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah. And I just – I think that they leave meetings and they’re like, oh, well, the plan is – I was talking to a White House person the other day – without revealing too much, I got to be careful about how I say this – who is working on issues and trying to rally coalitions around issues. And then the president will go out and say something completely contrary to what he had been working on. And that’s a very difficult dynamic to deal with, when you’re trying to build coalitions to get things done.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And it’s a difficult dynamic to report on too. I mean, I think you all just said something that really makes me understand the inherent value of Playbook. Your personal relationships and the personal relationships that Politico and Playbook have with this town are what makes your product so authentic.
MR. SHERMAN: Thank you.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And really what makes it so readable on a daily basis.
MR. SHERMAN: So what we try to do – what we feel like – because –
MS. PALMER: (We put ?) this in today.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah. And, well, we – I want to say this in a way that makes sense, and I think you’ll agree with me on this. We – so, since our kind of frame of reference is Capitol Hill, we didn’t – we both covered the presidential campaign a little bit, not as much as some other people. So, while we know a ton of people in the White House and we’ve dealt with the president before, we don’t pretend to be, you know, Trumpologists. We’re not – we don’t have our Ph.D. in Trump. So what we try to do is we try to kind of translate what he says. If Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, says, well, we’re going to get tax reform done by August recess, we’re able to say, well, actually, you’re not.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You’re not. (Laughter.)
MR. SHERMAN: Right? But really, based on what we know about Congress and what people are telling us, who you need to work with, you’re not going to get that done. And that’s not a biased thing or a partisan thing. It’s just like, well, actually, that’s not how things work. (Laughter.)
MS. PALMER: The process just does not work that way.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You all are beat reporters. And the heart of journalism, what makes journalism work, is the beat reporter, covering the beat – not sending somebody to cover city council meetings but sending somebody down to city hall every day. And it’s relationships that you all have built up over the years. That is your greatest – your greatest asset. And that’s what makes journalism work. And just listening to you all, you’re both very young – everybody’s very young to me –
MR. SHERMAN: I’m feeling my age.
MR. SCHIEFFER: But you are, believe me. You all are doing it the right way.
MR. SHERMAN: Thank you.
MS. PALMER: Thank you very much.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And I think that’s what makes your product so good.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And this comes from a man who last night was the subject of a question on “Jeopardy.”
MR. SHERMAN: Oh, is that right? I missed “Jeopardy.” What was the question?
MS. PALMER: Oh. (Laughs.) Wow.
MR. SCHWARTZ: The question was, you know, who is the former anchor of “Face the Nation,” who is now working in a new medium, podcasting, called “All About the News.”
MR. SCHIEFFER: And is 80 years old.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And is 80 years old?
MR. SHERMAN: Is that right? Did the person get it right?
MR. SCHIEFFER: No. They said it was Dan Rather. (Laughter.)
MS. PALMER: That’s great.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It’s a sin. It’s a sin. But we have a photo of it. I’ll send you the picture.
MS. PALMER: Yes, please do.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It’s really great. It’s really great.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Andrew, this is just great. We’ve really enjoyed talking to both of you.
MR. SHERMAN: Thank you.
MS. PALMER: Thank you so much.
MR. SCHIEFFER: It’s always fun.
MR. SHERMAN: It is a lot of fun.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I just love to be around reporters. And I love to see this new generation. I find myself now literally working with the children of my friends – (laughter) – who were reporters.
MR. SHERMAN: Well, thank you. We’re honored to do it.
MS. PALMER: Yeah, absolutely.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, it’s great to see you and best of luck.
MS. PALMER: Thank you so much.
MR. SCHIEFFER: For Andrew Schwartz, this is Bob Schieffer. Thanks for listening.