(Editor’s Note: We’ve come into possession of a transcript from an Oval Office meeting on July 5, 2021. In attendance were the President; Bruce Reed, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Press Secretary Jen Psaki; Lina Kahn, newly installed Chair of the Federal Trade Commission; and Sen. John Kennedy, Republican from Louisiana.)
Biden: Hi guys, thanks for joining me. Ever heard of an SSS? We had ‘em all the time when I was in the Senate — Shoot-the-Shit Sessions. Just loosen your tie, put up your feet and complain, joke, whatever. Helps us relax and sometimes an SSS leads to some good ideas. This is the first time I’ve done it since I was elected President, I’ve been so damn busy! But I have a few minutes to kill so I asked Ron (Chief of Staff Ron Klain) to go round up some folks who were nearby. So thanks for the time. Lina, you look nervous! Don’t worry, I won’t bite you!
Kahn: No, yeah, thank you Mr. President. First time in the Oval Office, and I think this is the closest I’ve been to you. Thank you, sir.
Biden: No worries, man. Put your feet up! Hey John, good to see you! Haven’t had a chance to trade chitlins recipes since we hung out in the Cloak Room. How are things over there in the world’s greatest deliberative body?
Kennedy: Mr. President, things are getting hotter’n the backside of a hog on the Fourth of July! I’ll tell you what, Mr. President, all I see in the Senate these days is a lot of chopping, but there ain’t a lot of wood chips flying if you get my meaning.
Reed: Mr. President, If I may . . .
Biden: Whoa, Bruce, hold on. When I see you or Jen opening up your binders I get nervous. Let’s keep it chill. Binders closed, man! Look, here’s the deal. I’m coming up to the six-month mark in my first term. I know we were super busy in the first 100 days — I signed 11 bills, issued 42 executive orders and reversed 62 Trump policies. The vaccines, the American Rescue Plan, it’s all going pretty good, isn’t it?
Psaki: Mr. President, things are going extraordinarily well . . .
Reed: Well, hold on Jen, there are some bumps in the road and we shouldn’t sugarcoat ‘em.
Biden: Bruce, lay it on me, man! I can take it.
Reed: Well, vaccines have plateaued and the Delta variant is now the leading cause of Covid cases. Inflation is creeping up. PPP loans still haven’t been fully distributed and now we’re finding out that PPP loans went to Kanye West, Tom Brady, Reese Witherspoon, even some contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. About 30 percent of Americans still believe the election was stolen and the National Education Association just passed a whole bunch of measures embedding Critical Race Theory in public school education. They just called out cisheteropatriarchy. I had to look that one up . . .
Biden: Wait, what? I won’t even ask. C’mon man, I want to talk about happy things. Jen, how are my numbers doing?
Psaki: Mr. President, your approval rating fell to its lowest point last month and it now stands at 51.9 percent coming out of the July 4th holiday. Right now, it seems like that number is holding steady. The video that went viral of you in the Traverse City coffee shop didn’t help. I know you were trying to be transparent, sir, but the optics weren’t good. We need a tighter rein on messaging, sir.
Kennedy: Mr. President, I agree. Your messaging is like frogs in a wheelbarrow these days. Are you for or against reconciliation? Are you going to get in Putin’s face or not? Was Afghanistan a victory or a defeat? Is the border open or closed? What is Kamala Harris exactly in charge of these days? You’re shutting down oil and gas production in the U.S. but also calling on OPEC to increase production so gas prices will stay low. Which is it? As we say in Louisiana, it’s time to put on a shirt with a collar!
Biden: Bruce, what do I think . . . um, I mean what do you think?
Reed: Mr. President, in the spirit of candor, I think you need to make some course adjustments. Pick a path and stick to it. Here’s the deal. America is, in its heart of hearts, a centrist country. Somebody sent me a blog from a site called Just Exactly Perfect titled “The Radical Center” and I think that nails it. Getting to the center these days is a radical act. But it works. Look at Eric Adams. He won the mayor’s election in New York because he adopted middle-class, common-sense, centrist positions, including getting tough on crime. That’s a preview for the mid-terms.
Biden: Well, you know me Bruce — I’m an Amtrak guy! Lina, you’ve been quiet. Everybody gets to participate in an SSS! What do you think?
Kahn: Mr. President, thank you for placing your trust in me as head of the FTC. I believe our battle has just begin — the battle against Big Tech, Big Business, anything that’s too big. We are well on our way toward neutering Amazon, a plan I laid out in my days at Yale. I don’t think we can move far enough or fast enough, Mr. President. And we need to do it now, before we potentially lose power in the mid-terms. If we prevail then, I have a plan to break up break up the big states, like California and Texas, which would place more power in the center of Washington, DC, which is the kind of center I’m talking about.
(At this point, several people are talking over each other. Finally, the President’s voice rises.)
Biden: Wow, Lina, you’ve been doing some thinking over there at the FTC! I’m not too sure about all of that, but I appreciate your energy! (Sotto voce: Bruce, who the hell appointed her?).
Kennedy: Mr. President, I think one of the best days you’ve had so far is when you walked out of the White House flanked by Senators from both sides of the aisle and said, “We’ve got a deal on infrastructure.” Don’t let that get away from you. It’s like a greased hog, sir. They’re hard to catch, so once you do, don’t let go.
Psaki: Mr. President, you do have a press briefing in 20 minutes and they’ll be asking about the Traverse City video. I have an idea how to deflect . . .
Biden: OK folks, look, here’s the deal. People think I’ve lost a step. I know, Jen, that video didn’t help, but this reopening tour of America is running me ragged, man! Look, I ran from the center during the primary and it made me look strong, bucking that field of far-left crazies. In the general election, I had to counter Trump’s fan base by reaching out to fringes of our party. And, to borrow a phrase from you John, once you let a dog off the leash it’s hard to get it back on. Look, the first 100 days were a bit of a blur. But as we clear away the debris of Covid, there are some sight lines opening up. Bruce, I agree with you about where our swim lanes are — right in the middle. By the way, Lina? You’re fired. I’m not sure how you got in here — so Jen, there’s our lead for the presser in 15 minutes. John, I’m telling you right now that going forward, if it ain’t bipartisan, it ain’t getting done. I’ve got three watchwords for the next two years: discipline, innovation and collaboration. Everything we do will align with those three values, folks. Oh, and Jen, don’t worry about that video. When they ask me about it, I’ll just pretend I don’t know what to say and then pull talking points out of my pocket — they’ll love it!
In unison (minus one voice): Yes sir!
I suspect that you really were there….