1 big thing ... Scoop: Inside Biden's private chat with historians
Category: News & PoliticsVia: hallux • 3 weeks ago • 49 comments
By: Mike Allen
If there is any reason to become President, meeting with many of America's finest historians would be at the top of my list.
Hosting historians around a long table in the East Room earlier this month, President Biden took notes in a black book as they discussed some of his most admired predecessors. Then he said to Doris Kearns Goodwin: "I'm no FDR, but … "
- Why it matters: He'd like to be.
The March 2 session, which the White House kept under wraps, reflects Biden's determination to be one of the most consequential presidents.
- The chatty, two-hour-plus meeting is a for-the-history-books marker of the think-big, go-big mentality that pervades his West Wing.
The big picture: Biden's presidency has already been transformative, and he has many more giant plans teed up that could make Biden's New Deal the biggest change to governance in our lifetimes.
- Biden, who holds his first formal news conference today at 1:15 p.m. in the East Room, started his term with the $1.9 trillion COVID bill, with numerous measures tucked in to reduce inequality.
- Vaccines are rolling out, positioning Biden to get ahead of the pandemic. Democrats in Congress are pushing the most sweeping changes in voting rights since the 1960s.
- And he's preparing an infrastructure and green-energy plan that's bigger than the original tab for the Interstate highway system, to be followed by a domestic proposal (free community college, universal pre-K) that brings the pair of packages to $3 trillion, with possible pay-fors that would dramatically rebalance the tax system.
Attendees tell me that the afternoon session with historians was held in a White House that was ghostly quiet, because many fewer aides are working in Biden's COVID-era West Wing than are typical. To some of the guests, it felt like a snow day.
- The session was organized by Jon Meacham, the presidential biographer and informal Biden adviser who has helped with big speeches from Nashville, and serves as POTUS' historical muse.
- Besides Goodwin, participants included Michael Beschloss, author Michael Eric Dyson, Yale's Joanne Freeman, Princeton's Eddie Glaude Jr., Harvard's Annette Gordon-Reed and Walter Isaacson.
Biden made it clear to his guests that he knew the gravity of the multiple crises facing America. He knew a lot about Franklin D. Roosevelt, and peppered Goodwin with questions about the World War II leader.
- Beyond the icons (Lincoln, LBJ), the conversation got as granular as the Jay Treaty of 1794.
- They talked a lot about the elasticity of presidential power, and the limits of going bigger and faster than the public might anticipate or stomach.
Afterward, Biden told an aide: "I could have gone another two hours."