Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With Allie Bice.
KAMALA HARRIS is never missing her AirPods. That’s because she’s wary of them.
While a growing number of consumers are going wireless, the vice president is sticking with the classics. She has long felt that Bluetooth headphones are a security risk. As a result, Harris insists on using wired headphones, three former campaign aides told West Wing Playbook.
That caution has continued since the election.
In the oft meme-d video of Harris calling JOE BIDEN last November to congratulate him on winning the election (“We did it, Joe!”), she can be seen holding the tangle of wires from her headphones. In television interviews with MSNBC’s JOY REID last December and the co-hosts of ABC’s The VIEW in September, Harris is jacked in with wired headphones, as well. After casting the tie-breaking Senate vote on the American Rescue Plan in March, reporters captured Harris with wired headphones in hand. And during the campaign, she filmed campaign videos with the retro coils falling from her ears.
While wired headphones have re-emerged as a hip vintage accessory among Gen Z, Harris’ embrace of them is less about fashion than caution. Former aides say that the vice president has long been careful about security and technology — with some describing it as prudent and others suggesting it’s a bit paranoid.
It’s a recurring theme. An aide on her 2016 Senate bid said Harris often preferred texting to email for security reasons. And another former aide when she was attorney general in California said that when a person arrived for a meeting, staff were instructed not to allow them to wait in Harris’ office alone. Instead, the person was asked to wait outside.
That caution and vigilance has not stood in the way of Harris’ meteoric rise to the vice presidency — the first woman of color to do so.
But still, should someone who travels with the nuclear football be spending time untangling her headphone wires? The American people deserve answers!
The vice president’s office did not respond when asked if there was a “fun origin story” to Harris’ Bluetooth wariness, or for any background on the particular security risks Harris believes Bluetooth technology represents.
Afterall, you never know who is listening …
Do you work in the Biden administration? Are you in touch with the White House? Are you HEE JUNG L. SHIM, director for priority placement?
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Which president was the first to light a menorah in celebration of Hanukkah at a public ceremony?
(Answer at the bottom.)
SCOOP — BRITTANY CAPLIN, the press secretary and deputy director of public affairs at Commerce, is joining the White House’s press team as an assistant press secretary, a source told us. She will focus on the administration’s economic portfolio including the Small Business Administration, labor, housing, broadband, data privacy and semiconductors. She previously has worked at the electric vehicle technology company Proterra and the Commerce Department during the Obama administration, per her LinkedIn. ROBYN PATTERSON, deputy communications director for Speaker NANCY PELOSI, will succeed Caplin at Commerce. She previously worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. (Fun fact: deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES hired Patterson on HILLARY CLINTON‘s 2016 campaign and she worked with rapid response director MIKE GWIN on RICH CORDRAY‘s 2018 campaign in Ohio).
MORE COMMERCE ADDITIONS: CODY SIBULO will be deputy director of public affairs and speechwriter at the Commerce Department. He most recently served as communications director for Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.). ANDREW ODGREN will join him as a deputy speechwriter. A native of Johnston, Rhode Island, Odgren recently worked as a researcher on the book Kill Switch about the evolution of the filibuster (and the case for scrapping it).
EVEN MORE SCOOPS: HILARY LEDWELL, an associate staff secretary at the White House, is leaving, one White House official tells DANIEL LIPPMAN. An official at the Department of Homeland Security said Ledwell will be joining the department as oversight counsel. It’s the latest of a number of departures in the staff secretary office in recent weeks, including staff secretary JESSICA HERTZ.
DEPARTURE LOUNGE — DAVID MARCHIK, a close ally of the Biden transition leadership while at the Center for Presidential Transition, is leaving his post at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation at the end of the year.
STRATEGIC PICKS: Biden has embraced the progressive left to fill many corners of his domestic policy making machine, but when it comes to global affairs, a long list of Biden nominees are fixtures of the Washington foreign-policy firmament, ANDREW DESIDERIO reports.
“It creates an ironic contrast with Biden’s domestic nominees, emblematic of a president embracing progressive outsiders, even in the face of opposition from some in his own party,” Desiderio writes.
NEVER TWEET — Republicans are dredging up the tweets of Biden’s tech and telecom nominees, JOHN HENDEL reports. Sen. TED CRUZ of Texas and other Republicans have criticized tweets in which FCC nominee GIGI SOHN called Fox News “dangerous to our democracy” while FTC pick ALVARO BEDOYA labeled Immigrations and Customs Enforcement an “out-of-control domestic surveillance agency.”
“The GOP pushback threatens to slow Democrats’ efforts to regain voting majorities at the two agencies, which play instrumental roles on issues including net neutrality, competition and data privacy,” Hendel writes.
TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE — The White House is coordinating with European allies ahead of the president’s call with Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN on Tuesday, including prepping a package of financial sanctions that would impose “significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy” should Putin proceed with an invasion of Ukraine, QUINT FORGEY reports.
“We have had intensive discussions with our European partners about what we would do collectively in the event of a major Russian military escalation in Ukraine, and we believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures,” a senior administration official said on Monday during a call organized by the National Security Council.
OLYMPIAN STAND-OFF: The White House also announced earlier today that it will mount a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China’s persecution of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region and other human rights abuses, Quint writes.
But as one International Olympic Committee member told ANDY BLATCHFORD, the boycott is unlikely to make much of an impact.
Foggy Bottom bristles at proliferation of special envoys (Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer)
Biden expected to offer warnings and alternatives in call with Putin (NYTimes’ David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt)
Dems plot escape from Biden’s poll woes (POLITICO’s Heather Caygle, Burgess Everett and Jonathan Lemire)
He and Vice President KAMALA HARRIS received the president’s daily brief.
In the afternoon, Biden delivered remarks at the White House about his efforts to reduce prescription drug costs as part of the Build Back Better legislation.
No public events on her schedule, although an administration official told LAURA BARRÓN-LÓPEZ that she was “meeting with leaders of national Black women’s organizations to discuss voting rights, constitutional threats facing Black women, and priorities” like Build Back Better.
Before Biden tapped STEPHANIE POLLACK to be the Federal Highway Administration’s deputy administrator, she served as Massachusetts’ transportation secretary. Massachusetts’ Republican Governor CHARLIE BAKER hired Pollack to lead the city’s transportation department, but the two first met when Baker interviewed her for the job.
Pollack and Baker came from opposite sides of the political spectrum — Baker, a Republican, and Pollack, a lifelong Democrat — so they were careful ahead of the interview, according to a 2017 Commonwealth Magazine article.
Pollack remembered Baker saying: “‘All my friends are going [to] be mad at me if I hire you.’ I said, ‘a lot of my friends will be mad if I take the job.’ And we were both right.”
In 1979, President JIMMY CARTER lit the menorah at the National Menorah Lighting in Lafayette Square, becoming the first president to do so in a public ceremony.
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Edited by Emily Cadei