Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice.
The presidency of JOE BIDEN continues to cause schisms in the Catholic church.
Cincinnati Archbishop DENNIS SCHNURR complained Tuesday that he wasn’t contacted about Biden’s visit to a local Catholic university, Mount St. Joseph, where the president is scheduled to hold a CNN town hall Wednesday night, and said he wouldn’t have approved it.
The university isn’t under his jurisdiction, but he felt like making his opposition known.
Schurr’s public reproach comes a month after Catholic bishops in the United States voted to move forward on drafting guidance that could ban politicians and other public figures who, like Biden, support a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, from receiving communion at Mass. The vote, pushed by conservative U.S. bishops, was opposed by the Vatican. And even if it’s finalized, it would still be up to local bishops to decide whether or not to offer communion to people in their diocese.
Biden, a devout Catholic who regularly attends church services and carries rosary beads, is still receiving a warm reception — and communion — at the two main parishes he attends: Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown and St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.
“He’s been here six times since the inauguration,” Fr. KEVIN GILLESPIE of Holy Trinity told West Wing Playbook. “The first time I said, ‘You’re welcome here at any time.’ He thanked me for that. But he is really private about that [his faith].”
Gillespie’s church is following the lead of the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who has spoken out against the communion ban.
Parishioners at Biden’s D.C. church have also spoken out in opposition to it, declaring in a statement from the Parish Council that, “The great gift of the Holy Eucharist is too sacred to be made a political issue.”
“There was applause when a parishioner, a representative of the parish council, made that statement, saying, ‘This is what we’re saying, all are welcome,’” Gillespie said.
Holy Trinity is no stranger to politics or politicians themselves. Over the course of its 234-year history, visitors and parishioners have included President ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President JOHN F. KENNEDY and first lady JACKIE KENNEDY and most recently, Secretary of State TONY BLINKEN, who arrived with his wife for a baptism about an hour after the president left a recent Mass, Gillespie said.
“It’s in our tradition to welcome leaders on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Gillespie said Biden knows he’s supported by his archbishops, both in Delaware and in D.C. — despite differing opinions.
“But both Archbishop Gregory and I have said, ‘we don’t agree with everything he’s saying about abortion, but we’re not being asked to be politicians on this,’” Gillespie said. “Pastorally, we are welcoming to the Eucharist, even though we may disagree with him on how far he’s taken the abortion issue or the pro-life issue. At the same time, this is not the context to do it, namely to weaponize the eucharist.”
Asked about the bishops’ debate on communion last month, Psaki told reporters the president’s faith is personal and private. “He goes to church, as you know, nearly every weekend. He even went when we went on our overseas trip, but it’s personal to him. He doesn’t see it through a personal prism, and we’re not going to comment otherwise on the inner workings of the Catholic church.”
Biden told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that he’s only been denied communion once over his position on abortion — by a priest in South Carolina in 2019. “That’s a private matter. I’m not going to talk about that. But it’s the only time it’s ever happened,” he said in the 2019 interview.
JIM MANLEY, who served as a top staffer to another powerful Catholic liberal, the late Sen. TED KENNEDY (D-Mass.), told West Wing Playbook he sees similarities in the way his old boss and the current president have handled the criticism and politicization of their faiths.
Both Biden and Kennedy “are really reluctant to talk about their faith, which is very important to them and very personal,” Manley said. “Sen. Kennedy at the time was one of the most famous Catholics in the world, but every once in a while, he had to deal with Catholic officials that were trying to politicize his love for his faith.”
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According to the FEC data, how much money did Biden spend on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream during his presidential campaign?
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SPOTLIGHT ON DACA — SABRINA RODRIGUEZ reports that Vice President KAMALA HARRIS will meet with recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and immigrant advocates Thursday as the White House urges Congress to move quickly on immigration reform — potentially in a budget reconciliation bill Democrats hope to vote on this year.
The meeting comes after a federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled that DACA is unlawful and blocked the Biden administration from approving new applications for the Obama-era program, intensifying the sense of urgency among Democrats, immigrant advocates and other DACA supporters.
FOR TRANSPARENCY SAKE: The White House is updating its disclosure process for breakthrough cases of Covid-19 among staffers, press secretary JEN PSAKI told reporters aboard Air Force One this afternoon. Psaki said going forward they will provide “updates” on any White House official who tests positive for Covid-19 “that the White House medical unit deems as having had close contact” with the president, vice-president, first lady or second gentleman.
“At no point has the president been required to change his behavior or self-quarantine due to a close contact with an individual who tested positive for Covid,” Psaki said, adding an email went out to White House staffers on Wednesday to notify them that their case will be disclosed to the press if they were in close contact. The White House will also share the name, if the staffer allows.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: Chief of staff RON KLAIN and deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES want everyone to know the infrastructure bill isn’t dead, even though Senate Republicans on Wednesday rejected an effort to begin debate on the deal. Bates retweeted a statement from the bipartisan group of 22 senators who are negotiating the bill: “We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement.” Klain retweeted an NBC News story that says “the deal isn’t dead.”
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: The Hill’s AMIE PARNES and BRETT SAMUELS say Biden has been “freewheeling” with his remarks in the last couple of weeks, “leading to slip-ups the White House has had to clean up.” They include Biden’s accusing Facebook of “killing people” — and then walking that back.
“It’s caused some consternation among people close to the White House and raised memories of past Biden gaffes,” they write. “‘A little bit cringeworthy, not going to lie,’” said one major Democratic donor, who referenced former President Trump to underline the discomfort. “I think these sorts of things can be said more artfully and less Trumpy.”
OLD PALS — Biden will nominate three major Democratic bundlers to serve as ambassadors:
VICTORIA REGGIE KENNEDY, the widow of Sen. Ted Kennedy, to serve as ambassador to Austria; DAVID COHEN, a former top executive and lobbyist for Comcast, as ambassador to Canada; and JAMIE HARPOOTLIAN, a South Carolina lawyer and wife of longtime South Carolina Biden booster Dick Harpootlian, as ambassador to Slovenia.
LAUREN GARDNER and ANDY BLATCHFORD write that if confirmed, Cohen will likely have a direct line to the White House — a valuable trait to Ottawa.
BREAKING — Attorney General MERRICK GARLAND issued the Justice Department’s eagerly anticipated contacts memo this evening, outlining how DOJ officials should communicate with the White House.
Garland writes that “the procedural safeguards … are designed to protect our criminal and civil law enforcement decisions, and our legal judgements, from partisan or other inappropriate influences.”
We reported last week that the failure of the Justice Department and White House to produce the dual set of memos, six months into Biden’s term, had puzzled critics, given Biden’s campaign pledges to reaffirm DOJ independence.
TETE-A-TETE: Biden will host Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY at the White House next month, QUINT FORGEY reports. The news of Zelensky’s White House visit, scheduled for Aug. 30, comes at a delicate moment in the alliance between Washington and Kyiv, as the United States nears a deal with Germany on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
TIE BREAKER — The Senate voted 51 to 50 to confirm JENNIFER ABRUZZO to serve in the powerful role of general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, with Vice President KAMALA HARRIS serving as the tie breaker. REBECCA RAINEY has more for Pros.
The Senate also confirmed BONNIE JENKINS to be undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, 52 to 48.
FUN FACT: Bloomberg’s political data guru GREG GIROUX notes that this is the eighth tie-breaking vote Harris has cast in just over six months as vice president — “as many votes as Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney cast in 8 years.”
Jay Powell has broad support among top Biden aides for new Fed term (Bloomberg’s Saleha Mohsin, Nancy Cook and Jennifer Jacobs)
Senate Republicans are threatening to vote against an increase to the debt ceiling (WaPo’s Tony Romm, Seung Min Kim and Mike DeBonis)
Biden visited the IBEW/NECA Electrical Training Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he talked about his “Build Back Better” plan.
The president will participate in a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University at 8 p.m. ET. Then he will travel back to Washington, D.C.
She met with poll workers and other election officials in the VP’s Ceremonial Office.
Domestic Policy Council director SUSAN RICE played an array of sports growing up — some of her favorites were tennis and basketball.
“I had some excellent coaches and the opportunity to play on some really fun teams that molded my … competitive nature and my desire to work collaboratively in teams, my readiness to throw an elbow and receive one when necessary,” she told The Undefeated in 2016.
She said she still plays tennis and basketball every once in a while, but that she never played against former President BARACK OBAMA when she served as U.N. ambassador. She went on to say she wouldn’t even take him up on a game of H-O-R-S-E.
“I’ve seen him shoot,” she added. “He’s got a much better shot. All he’d have to do is stay outside the 3-point line and keep going around the ring shooting and he’d smoke me any minute.”
Obama’s had his moments on the court, including a cold-blooded three-pointer while campaigning with Joe Biden in 2020. But he’s streaky too, like the time he missed 20 out of 22 while shooting hoops with little kids at the White House. We would have put our money on the ambassador.
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Edited by Emily Cadei