Playbook Deep Dive
Playbook Deep Dive
Welcome to Playbook Deep Dive, the stories behind the power. From Congress and the White House to bar stools and back rooms, POLITICO's top reporters and Playbook authors bring you the most compelling and confounding stories that explain what’s really going on in Washington.
What Iran and China stand to gain from an Iraq AUMF repeal
On Thursday, the Senate began to re-evaluate one of the most controversial episodes in American history: the Iraq war. After a generation of use and abuse, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling a vote to repeal the Iraq AUMF, or authorization for the use of military force, which has been a key underpinning for America’s so-called “forever wars” in the Middle East. But Stephen Hadley, the man who was the architect of many of the national security policies that the Iraq AUMF enabled, has something to say before Congress votes. Hadley was President George W. Bush’s national security advisor from 2005 to 2009 and was Dick Cheney’s guy at the negotiating table with Russia during the George H.W. Bush administration. Now, he has just published a book called Hand-Off: The Foreign Policy George W. Bush Passed to Barack Obama that chronicles 20 years of war and politics in America. On this week’s episode of Playbook Deep Dive, Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza speaks with the former Bush adviser about what we stand to lose if Congress is sloppy about repealing the Iraq war AUMF, what Bush got right and wrong on China, how Joe Biden’s foreign policy echoes Bush’s Freedom Agenda, and how President Biden can learn from Bush’s successes and failures dealing with Vladimir Putin.
Mar 17
32 min
AI is advancing faster than Congress. Here’s why that’s a bug
Last November, when the artificial intelligence platform ChatGPT launched, an old science fiction question suddenly became very real: How long until the machines are smarter than the humans? It marked the beginning of a new era in technology – one that has enormous implications for the economy and the nation’s politics. On the Hill, members of Congress suddenly needed answers about the coming disruption. The expert they turned to for those was a video game developer from Southern California, Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.). Obernolte is, according to his peers, the guy you need to know on AI. He has a masters in the field and owns a very successful video game company. On this episode of Playbook Deep Dive, he tells Playbook’s Ryan Lizza the truth about this powerful new technology and what it means to Washington, D.C.; from AI’s regulatory forecast to what – if anything – Congress can do to soften a potential white collar job apocalypse that its widespread adoption might bring.
Mar 10
28 min
Finnish Ambassador: Here’s the right way to poke the Russian bear
The war in Ukraine is just over one year old. There is widespread talk of a major spring offensive from both sides. War in Europe, once unthinkable, is now the new normal. But for one nation on Russia’s northern border, this feels like deja vu. Like Ukraine, Finland knows what it’s like to share a long border with Russia. The Finns have had Vladimir Putin as a neighbor, and they’ve been performing the same delicate dance of decoupling under his very watchful eye. Before his posting to Washington, Mikko Hautala was Finland’s ambassador to Russia, where he met Vladimir Putin more times than he can count. Hautala occupied his post in Moscow during the critical years following Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine. Since the war began, he’s become well known as the person to talk to to understand Putin, Russia and the conflict in Ukraine. On this episode of Playbook Deep Dive, host Ryan Lizza talks with Hautala about what Americans don’t understand about the Russian leader, the implications of the growing alliance between China and Russia, Finland’s accession to NATO, and why he believes the West needs to massively ramp up its industrial capability if it wants Ukraine to survive.
Mar 3
35 min
How to investigate the president, his predecessor & keep your job
Until last month, Anthony Coley was Director of Public Affairs at the Justice Department and a Senior Adviser to Attorney General Merrick Garland. Coley was in the middle of some of the most extraordinary episodes at DOJ over the last two years: The appointment of two special counsels investigating one current and one former president. Responding to the drama around the investigation of the president’s son. Taking incoming from right-wing pundits saying Garland was protecting President Biden and left-wing pundits saying the attorney general was protecting former president Trump. And occasionally grappling with perhaps the most difficult dilemma that any government official faces: what do you do when you disagree with the boss? In his first interview since leaving Merrick Garland’s side, Coley joins Playbook Deep Dive host Ryan Lizza from his home on Capitol Hill to discuss how the Justice Department separates law from politics, why two special counsels might just take the pressure off Garland, and much, much more.
Feb 24
44 min
What experts get wrong about Nikki Haley’s run
Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, and President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, is running for president. But not everyone on the right is impressed. In a brutal Valentine’s Day editorial, The Wall Street Journal said that there is “no clear rationale for her candidacy.” Over at The New York Times, the paper assembled 10 pundits to assess Haley’s candidacy, and the majority opinion was that she shouldn’t be taken very seriously. On this episode of Playbook Deep Dive, Rob Godfrey, a senior aide and spokesman for Haley when she was governor, and a longtime ally to her successor, Henry McMaster, shares why the critics may be wrong. Godfrey discusses Haley’s career of defying expectations, her record as governor, and South Carolina’s uniquely influential role in American politics.
Feb 17
47 min
Have China hawks flown the coop?
In Washington, there is now a bipartisan consensus around being tough on China. This was happening even before the Chinese sent a spy balloon drifting across the United States. Last month, by a vote of 365-65, the House created a new “Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.” And with China hawks now dominating the thinking of both parties when it comes to Sino-U.S. relations, Deep Dive host Ryan Lizza decided to check in with Max Baucus, who is one of the leading voices warning that the hawks have things dangerously wrong. Baucus was the U.S. ambassador to China from 2014 to 2017. Before that he was, depending on the year, the chairman or ranking member of the very powerful Senate Finance Committee. And in this fascinating interview, he’s surprisingly critical of Republicans and Democrats alike for muddling the U.S. relationship with China in order to score political points at home.
Feb 10
37 min
Why Kevin McCarthy thinks he’s already won
A small group of longtime Kevin McCarthy aides who decamped downtown to lobby are suddenly some of the most influential and sought-after people in Washington. They remain intensely loyal to the new speaker and serve as crucial sources of insight into his thinking and strategy. Ben Howard, now at the Duberstein Group, was McCarthy’s floor director. He was with him through all of the fraught moments of the John Boehner era, including in 2015 when Boehner retired and McCarthy lost out on securing his job. Howard saw up close how driven McCarthy was to get a second shot at becoming speaker. “I used to sit in the office with Kevin,” Howard told Ryan Lizza, host of Playbook Deep Dive. “We would dream about this day. We would dream about it.” But Howard has a bone to pick. He doesn’t like the way that everyone is talking about his old boss. The conventional wisdom about the new speaker is that he gave up everything to secure the job and that he’s one misstep away from losing it if he angers his restive Freedom Caucus colleagues. According to Howard, that bit of Washington C.W. is wrong. For this week’s episode of the Playbook Deep Dive podcast, Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza talked to Howard in his Penn Quarter office to understand the view from McCarthy world. They had a wide-ranging conversation about the state of the House GOP, the impact of the rules changes McCarthy agreed to in order to win the gavel, the debt limit faceoff, and McCarthy’s relationship with President Biden. Oh, and also about that time Howard was chewed out by GOP members for ruining the most famous episode of Game of Thrones.
Feb 3
1 hr 4 min
Behind the RNC's anti-Trump revolt
After losing both chambers of Congress during Trump’s presidency and after waging a disappointing campaign to recapture them in 2022, the Republican Party is having a lot of intra-party feuds. This week, the post-election search for new leadership moved to the Republican National Committee. Right now, there’s no agreed-upon leader of the party, so like the recent battles in the Senate and the House, the RNC election has turned into a fight to define the GOP’s future. And once again, Donald Trump is at the center of the debate. Playbook co-author Rachael Bade flew to Orange County, California, to watch the fireworks at the RNC’s winter meeting, where the three-time incumbent chair Ronna McDaniel faced a challenge from conservative lawyer Harmeet Dhillon. To understand what this fight is all about, Rachael had breakfast with Bill Palatucci, a longtime party member who is also a close ally of Chris Christie’s and a loud critic of Donald Trump. In this week’s episode, Palatucci explains how the Dhillon-McDaniel contest isn’t just about the RNC chairmanship – it's about who will lead the Republican Party into 2024 — and beyond — and why the GOP could languish for a very long time depending on the outcome.
Jan 27
36 min
The people of New Hampshire vs. Joe Biden
What do you do when you are one of the guardians of your state’s most precious political and cultural institution — the very thing that defines New Hampshire — and the president you love and the party you’ve served your whole life, tells you to destroy it? To find out, we spoke to Ray Buckley. Buckley has served as the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party since 2007 and he was involved in every New Hampshire presidential primary campaign since he was an organizer for Jimmy Carter. A big part of his job is protecting the status of the New Hampshire primary, which by state law is required to be the first in the nation. Any Democrat who wants to be president makes a point of becoming Ray Buckley’s friend. When Buckley got a call in December from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the worst part was that it was Joe Biden who had screwed him. Biden had decided to end New Hampshire’s decades-long reign of hosting the first presidential primary — at least for the Democrats. In its place: South Carolina, the state that resurrected Biden’s candidacy in 2020. On this episode of Playbook Deep Dive, Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza speaks to Buckley about New Hampshire’s fight to preserve their first-in-the-nation primary.
Jan 20
52 min
The strategist who didn't believe in the red wave
In off-the-record conversations and private emails, AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer argued that the pundits focusing exclusively on the fundamentals of the race — Biden’s approval rating and the dismal economic indicators — were missing the bigger picture. Yes, presidents usually lose an average of some two dozen House seats in similar circumstances, but that wasn’t the whole story. While many analysts argued that inflation would be more important than the diffuse issue of democracy, Podhorzer said that was myopic. He was much more right than wrong. Podhorzer has now left the AFL-CIO after 25 years and is able to speak freely. On this episode of Playbook Deep Dive, host Ryan Lizza sits down with him in his kitchen for his first wide-ranging interview. They talk about what everyone got wrong about 2022, his critiques of the media’s coverage of the right, his ongoing battles with the so-called popularists in the Democratic Party, and why Podhorzer already thinks the presidential election of 2024 is headed for a dangerous endgame.
Jan 13
1 hr 2 min
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