Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice.
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This morning, the New Yorker’s ADAM ENTOUS published an in-depth look at President JOE BIDEN’s family over the past century: the highs-and-lows of their businesses, the false family tales that have lived on, and the sad legacy of alcohol abuse.
It was originally meant to be part of a book about the president and his family, Entous told West Wing Playbook. He had significant access to the president’s immediate family including his son HUNTER and his three siblings, FRANK, JIMMY, and VAL.
But Entous ran into the worst sort of luck. He signed a book deal with Crown in late 2019 envisioning a tome that would require deep dives into various archives containing files on the Biden clan. A few months later, most of those archives — which are in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and elsewhere — closed for extended periods of time amid Covid lockdowns and with each successive variant wave.
“They were literally all closed,” he lamented. Once the archives began re-opening, there was such a backlog of researchers that Entous could only get one appointment every two weeks. “This is a terrible outcome, but I’m trying to make the best of the situation,” he said.
Even if the book is no longer happening, Entous still has spent more time reporting on Biden’s extended family history, and more time interviewing HUNTER BIDEN, than perhaps anyone else in recent years.
As Hunter himself recounted in his memoir about his interactions with Entous for a July 2019 New Yorker piece: “We soon began to talk by phone almost every night for the next several weeks.” Hunter went on to concede he didn’t tell Entous that he “was actively smoking crack at the time.” Nor did he notify his “dad or his campaign about the New Yorker story,” which caused them some heartburn when they discovered it.
Entous ultimately ended up seeing Hunter as a tragic figure in a long family line of alcoholics. “It’s just this very tortured story of a dad who really, totally loves his kid, right?” Entous told us. “And the kid who totally loves and respects his dad. The kid gets addicted and he feels all this pressure to basically make money in order to support his family. And it just goes off the rails when his brother dies.”
He added “business stuff, in my opinion, gets too much attention. The real story is the agony of this family, dealing with this problem [of alcoholism] generation after generation, and the high price it has for them.”
Indeed, Entous’s piece Monday thoroughly documents the family chronology, all the way back to 1912 when divorce records describe Biden’s great grandfather “drunkenly abusing Joseph Harry’s mother and sister before walking out on them.” He also notes how drinking led Biden’s great uncle, “Big Bill” Sheene, to be committed, repeatedly, to Springfield State Hospital. He ultimately died there in 1967, according to local records. (Biden in his memoir, wrote that he believed Sheene had died in the mid-to-late 1940’s).
The president is well aware of this lineage and it is part of the reason he does not drink. In 2008, he explained to The New York Times as he sipped cranberry juice that “there are enough alcoholics in my family.” Subsequently, he tried to convince his siblings and his children not to drink. As the eldest brother, he once told his younger siblings he’d give them $100 to avoid drinking before they turned 21, Entous reported.
He was unsuccessful and some members of the family recognize they’ve suffered for it. “I have lived and died my recovery,” Frank Biden told Entous. “I mean, I have suffered the vagaries of fucking hell and come out the other side.”
BEAU drank as an adult but later quit. As Hunter wrote in his book about his relationship with his brother: “Friends viewed us as different but not as separate. Two sides of the same coin. The biggest difference between us: I drank and Beau didn’t.”
MESSAGE US — Are you JEANNE MOORE DEROSS, senior White House ethics counsel? We want to hear from you! And we’ll keep you anonymous if you’d like. Or if you think we missed something in today’s edition, let us know and we may include it tomorrow. Email us at [email protected].
This one’s from Allie. Which president was an ardent believer that the Earth was hollow? (There’s only one that we know of…). This president was such a believer that he signed off on a mission for explorers to go to the center of the earth.
(Answer at the bottom.)
IT’S (ALMOST) OFFICIAL: The president will sign the Inflation Reduction Act into law and deliver remarks Tuesday. He’ll take a pause from his vacation to return to the White House for a signing ceremony in the State Dining Room. Congress passed the bill Friday evening.
SO IT BEGINS: After his weeks-long vacation, Biden will take a literal victory lap around the country to celebrate his recent legislative wins. He is set to speak at a Democratic National Committee rally in Maryland on Aug. 25, kicking off a flurry of political events he’ll participate in as the midterm elections get closer, WaPo’s ERIN COX reports. He’s also slated to visit Ohio and Pennsylvania in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, many of his top Cabinet members will fan out across the country starting later this week to tout the passage of the IRA, CHIPS acts, gun control, and infrastructure bills.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: The Biden victory lap articles. Chief of staff RON KLAIN retweeted several pieces giving the president credit for the passage of the IRA, including one from the Miami Herald and a Sunday analysis piece from CNN’s JOHN HARWOOD noting the turnaround in Biden’s political fortunes.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: More bad news about the federal government’s rollout of the monkeypox vaccine. A new piece Monday in the New York Times detailed the confusion that’s surrounded the distribution, which the paper said “has been blemished by missteps and confusion, burdening local officials and slowing the pace of immunizations even as the virus spreads.”
DOG DAYS OF SUMMERS: When the White House has sought help on economic issues, it has consistently turned to former Treasury Secretary LARRY SUMMERS, for counsel, our BEN WHITE reports. His behind-the-scenes involvement is especially notable because Summers had been one of the president’s fiercest critics on Covid-relief spending. More details from Ben here.
FIRST IN WEST WING PLAYBOOK: EDWARD DUGGAN is now an advisor for intergovernmental affairs at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, DANIEL LIPPMAN has learned. He is a Biden campaign alum and a former senior adviser for the Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
NATE EVANS is now director of communications at the U.S. Mission to the United Nation, Lippman has also learned. He most recently was deputy chief of staff for Sen. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-Minn.) and served as the Wisconsin communications director for the Biden campaign.
NO MONEY, NO TALKS: The Biden administration “won’t release any of the roughly $7 billion in foreign assets held by Afghanistan’s central bank on U.S. soil and has suspended talks with the Taliban over the funds after the killing of al Qaeda’s leader in Kabul,” WSJ’s JESSICA DONATI and MARGHERITA STANCATI report. “The decision reverses early indications of progress in talks between the U.S. and the Taliban and deals a blow to hopes of an economic recovery in Afghanistan.”
GRINER APPEALS: The defense team for WNBA superstar BRITTNEY GRINER, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on drug smuggling charges, said Monday it has appealed the verdict. The move comes amid increasingly open chatter between Russia and the U.S. over a prisoner swap, NYT’s IVAN NECHEPURENKO reports.
Prescription Drug Price Reforms Won’t Happen for Years (The American Prospect’s David Dayen)
Wall Street Deal Making Faces Greater Scrutiny, Delays Under FTC’s Khan (WSJ’s Dave Michaels and Ryan Tracy)
It took White House science adviser FRANCIS COLLINS some time to figure out what route in science he wanted to take.
He studied chemistry as an undergraduate and continued to study the field in graduate school — until he didn’t want to anymore. “I wanted something that was more connected to humanity and off I went to medical school,” he said on a Nov. 2020 Insights podcast episode.
Collins made the switch and began medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning his medical degree in 1977.
But he added, for those interested in following in his footsteps: “It’s a very tortured pathway and I don’t recommend it to anybody.”
But he didn’t fare too poorly. Before his current role as adviser, Collins served a dozen years as the National Institute of Health director (aka, ANTHONY FAUCI’s boss) and helped lead the Human Genome Project.
President JOHN QUINCY ADAMS believed the Earth was hollow, and he approved an expedition to the Earth’s core. But the mission was over before it began — Adams was defeated in 1828 by ANDREW JACKSON, who squashed the idea. Smithsonian Magazine has more fun details on Adams’ hollow Earth theory.
A CALL OUT — Do you have a harder trivia question? Send us your best one about the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.