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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When CHRISTOPHER INGLIS was confirmed as the country’s first ever national cyber director, he knew he faced a difficult task in setting up an entirely new government office. What he didn’t quite appreciate was that he would literally need an office.
Inglis’ team currently consists of roughly 50 new people. And finding actual space for them was a complicated matter of internal politicking.
“Turns out that the spaces we’re in were occupied by other people,” Inglis said. “For every gain, there’s got to be some kind of loss.”
The job of putting down actual, physical roots remains incomplete. The new office is currently divided between three different locations. Inglis and his front office staffers work from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Some staff are temporarily working from a “swing space” at 18th and G Street in northwest D.C. And about 25 to 30 people are in a townhouse close to the White House on Jackson Place. Inglis also said he expects the office to roughly double over the next year.
The search for office space is indicative of the challenges that Inglis has faced more broadly since his Senate confirmation in June 2021. A veteran of the National Security Agency who rose to become deputy director, he has been tasked with tackling one of the major threats to America’s security and infrastructure while operating in an administration where policy turf is fiercely contested.
“We are the newest agency within the federal enterprise,” he explained, the key word being “within.”
In addition to not starting his job until five months into the administration, Inglis didn’t even have his full funding until November.
“We showed up a little bit late in the stand-up of this administration and that was a challenge, right – first impressions matter,” he said. “We had to crack that nut beginning in July of 2021.”
That also led to some delicate turf tug-of-war with ANNE NEUBERGER, the deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology who worked with Inglis at the NSA in the past. “There’s some things we need to reconcile,” he conceded. “We’ve sorted that out such that we have a highly complementary set of roles.”
Those roles, in the end, come back to the same objective: enhancing America’s cybersecurity. It’s an area where, Inglis says, the U.S. is suffering from “decades of deficit.” In his mind, the nightmare scenario is “a repeat of Colonial Pipeline,” when hackers breached the largest oil pipeline in the U.S. in the spring of 2021 and the company had to pay millions in ransom money.
“What then happened was an attack on the confidence of the American people up and down the eastern seaboard, who for a moment thought that perhaps they weren’t going to get access to critical resources,” he said. “That is a worst case scenario: an attack on confidence.”
But Inglis’ concerns extend well beyond the nightmare scenarios. He is, for example, not on TikTok and thinks you should be careful before you join the Chinese-owned platform.
“Caveat emptor in terms of the use of that,” he said, the Latin phrase for “buyer beware.”
The country’s cybersecurity director is, at his heart, a wary internet user. “Do I really need to do all of these things on the internet? Do I really need to store–I don’t–passwords on the internet? Do I really need to make my financial transactions on the internet?” he said.
“If I do a financial transaction on the internet, which I do, I will then ensure that within 24 hours I follow up to ensure that it’s posted the way I expected it to post.”
As he put it: “I bring a renewed sense of positive skepticism to the task of making use of the internet.”
MESSAGE US — Are you DEENA AL-MOHAMED, director of disability policy? 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].
A two parter for today’s trivia question, courtesy of reader KENNETH MCCLINTOCK. What is the name of the jurisdiction that has commissioned statues of all the presidents who have visited while in office—except one?
(Answer at bottom.)
It’s cartoon feature time! This one is courtesy our very own MATT WUERKER. He also publishes a selection of cartoons from all over the country. View the cartoon carousel here.
FIST JAB POLITICS: The much-anticipated meeting between President Biden and Saudi Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN took place today. It did not feature a handshake but, rather, a fist jab.
Putting aside the mechanism of the greeting, the actual meeting itself resembled a capitulation for the White House, which had pledged to turn the Saudi’s into a “pariah” and which had promised to conduct a foreign policy founded in morals and human rights. While a group of foreign policy thinkers on the left said Biden had done the right thing by bowing down to realism, the main reaction was a mix of anger and disturbance.
“Top five most depressing fist bumps in history,” wrote TOMMY VIETOR, BARACK OBAMA’s former national security spokesman, and a man who lived through a fist-bump saga of his own.
Later in the day, Biden told reporters he raised the case of the murder of journalist JAMAL KHASHOGGI (a Saudi national) at the top of his meeting with the crown prince who, he said, professed he wasn’t involved (U.S. intel says he was). Not clear yet if MBS feels chastened. Read ALEXANDER WARD’s NatSec Daily for more.
QUITE THE QUOTE: Appearing in East Jerusalem today and addressing the plight of Palestinians, Biden drew some interesting historical parallels.
“[T]he background of my family is Irish American,” he said. “And we have a long history not fundamentally unlike the Palestinian people, with Great Britain and their attitude toward Irish Catholics over the years for 400 years.”
This is, depending on one’s vantage point, either one of the most pro–Palestinian or Britain-critical lines to come from a modern American president…. Or both.
Our own Alex Ward has more from the trip, including Biden’s call to reinvigorate the two-state peace process and his recognition that the conditions aren’t ripe for it.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: A tweet from @GasBuddyGuy, which notes that the national average cost for gas per gallon has declined now for 31 straight days. White House Assistant Press Secretary EMILIE SIMONStweeted it out with some liberal use of the caps lock: “Gas prices have dropped for 31 DAYS STRAIGHT!”
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: This piece from JONATHAN CHAIT that declares the Democratic party’s failure under Biden to achieve large-scale domestic policy reform is “complete.”
RELATED: ADAM CANCRYN and BURGESS EVERETT have the latest on the domestic policy negotiations including Biden’s acquiescence to Sen. JOE MANCHIN’s demand that climate change be stripped from any bill that gets considered this summer.
COME ON IN, THE WATER’S WARM: Our own CHRIS CADELAGO has an item this morning on the burgeoning Bidenworld fantasy that DONALD TRUMP will take the bait and announce another White House bid before the midterm elections.
“It puts in perspective what’s at stake, shows that the Republican Party is still extreme and helps set up the contrast,” said CEDRIC RICHMOND, a former White House senior adviser now at the Democratic National Committee.
A little peek under the hood of this piece: Chris started reporting it before reports emerged that Trump is seriously considering an announcement this fall. Democrats were already making plans to capitalize on another Trump bid. Those plans are being accelerated now.
CHANGING COURSE ON CLIMATE: The Biden administration has been quietly working with nations like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to help get Saudi Arabia on board climate change initiatives, our ZACK COLMAN reports. Special Climate Envoy JOHN KERRY made frequent trips early in the Biden administration to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to nudge Saudi Arabia into friendly competition on climate change, Zack reports.
NEW WHCA LEADERSHIP: NPR reporter TAMARA KEITH’s tenure as the White House Correspondent Association president started today. She replaced CBS’ STEVEN PORTNOY, who held the post for the past year. She tweeted out an internal NPR newsletter announcing the news, which noted this was the first time an NPR staff member has “served in this high-profile role.”
Good luck! You’re gonna need it.
DEPARTURE LOUNGE: ROHINI KOSOGLU, Vice President KAMALA HARRIS’s longest serving aide, is leaving the office in August, WaPo’s DAVID NAKAMURA reports. Kosoglu told the Post that the change stems from a desire to spend more time with family.
Harris’ speechwriter MEGHAN GROOB is also leaving less than four months into the job, Alex scooped this afternoon.
PLUS: NBC News also first reported that Harris will keynote the NAACP convention Monday in Atlantic City.
THIS IS FINE: The Washington Post’s DAN DIAMOND reports on some frustration with the administration’s response to Monkeypox so far. He writes: “As with coronavirus, doctors, patients, public health experts and even some administration officials are frustrated with decisions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration, saying they have taken too conservative an approach to the rapidly widening outbreak and should have further expedited tests, vaccines and treatments.”
SERIOUSLY, DON’T SMILE: It’s been widely reported that President Biden and his team did some serious planning to try and avoid the perception that he was anything but stern during his meeting with Prince Mohammed. The extent of that prep, however, seems to be even more extensive than widely known. NBC reported Friday that “officials decided to advise Biden not to smile with the crown prince.”
Those officials appeared to recognize that this would be a tough task for Biden. According to the report, they conceded “that he would probably wind up doing whatever he wanted to do despite a recommendation.”
How Inflation Upended Biden’s Climate Agenda (NYT’s Jim Tankersley, Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport)
Biden Expects Further Steps From Saudi Arabia on Expanding Oil Supply (Bloomberg’s Justin Sink)
RNC’s Biden ‘cheap fake’ paints a misleading picture of mental fitness (WaPo’s Adriana Usero)
CECILIA ROUSE, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers will be a guest on Rev. AL SHARPTON’s PoliticsNation this Saturday at 5 p.m. EST
DAN CLUCHEY, Biden’s senior presidential speechwriter, is a big fan of his alma mater, Amherst College in Massachusetts. So much so that he and his wife, MIRIAM BECKER-COHEN, who is also an Amherst alum, got married on campus.
While the two didn’t meet while they were attending school, they did meet while heading to homecoming in 2012. Cluchey’s friend said he had room to take other alums in his car, and Becker-Cohen took up the opportunity and met Cluchey on the way.
Their wedding was jam packed with odes to the college, according to The Amherst Student, the college’s newspaper: The ceremony was on the campus’s Memorial Hill, a college roommate of Cluchey officiated, the band that played was made up of Amherst alums, and the cake included cider donuts from Atkins Farm nearby.
Puerto Rico’s Paseo de los Presidentes, or the Walkway of the Presidents in English, includes statues of U.S. presidents that have visited the area — THEODORE ROOSEVELT, HERBERT HOOVER, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, HARRY S. TRUMAN, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, JOHN F. KENNEDY, LYNDON B. JOHNSON, GERALD FORD and BARACK OBAMA. DONALD TRUMP’s statue has not yet been commissioned, though he did pay a visit in Oct. 2017.
A CALL OUT — Thanks to Kenneth for this question! Do you think you have a more difficult trivia question? Send us your best on the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.