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.
Byrd nerds: Why the byzantine process of budget reconciliation exists and how it actually works
This week the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 using the process known as budget reconciliation. The upside? No filibuster is allowed. You only need a majority to approve a reconciliation bill. And the downside? There are strict rules about what can be included.
On the last episode of Playbook Deep Dive, Eric Ueland and Greg D’Angelo, two GOP budget nerds, previewed the final challenges that the Inflation Reduction Act would face to pass the Senate. They even nailed one of the parliamentarian’s rulings: she nixed a portion of the bill that would have applied inflation caps to the private pharmaceutical market.
For their most significant policies, neither party has sixty votes. Reconciliation is how presidents get big things through Congress now. And it’s likely to be that way for the foreseeable future. To understand how major policy changes can happen these days, you need to know how this byzantine process works.
In this week’s episode, Eric and Greg step back and explain the long history of reconciliation and how it has come to dominate lawmaking in ways never anticipated when the process was created in the 1970s.
Biden’s big bill: Two GOP strategists on how to kill it
The biggest remaining obstacle for the Democrats is now Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who will continue to host Democratic and Republican aides behind closed doors today (no press allowed) to scrub the reconciliation bill for potential violations of the Byrd Rule.
MacDonough broke the hearts of progressives on several occasions last year, including when she nixed the minimum wage from the Covid relief bill, which was passed using reconciliation, and rejected three different versions of immigration reform from the Democratic reconciliation bill that was eventually scrapped in December.
Republican budget nerds reviewing the latest reconciliation bill still believe they can knock out certain provisions. On Thursday, for the latest episode of the Playbook Deep Dive podcast, we sat down with two of the party’s leading experts on the process: Eric Ueland, who spent 25 years in the Senate, including as staff director of the Budget Committee, and Greg D’Angelo, who spent nearly a decade on the committee.
Legalizing the trip: One ‘shroom advocate’s playbook
Here’s something about Washington, D.C. that even a lot of people who live here don’t know: Psychedelic mushrooms are basically legal. In 2020 voters approved a ballot initiative that made growing, purchasing, and distributing mushrooms the lowest law enforcement priority for D.C. police.
Cities and states are way ahead of the federal government. There are movements in more than two dozen states to either study, decriminalize, or outright legalize mushrooms and other psychedelics. It’s happening in blue states like California, New York and Vermont, as well as in red states like Utah, Kansas, and Florida. Cities such as Ann Arbor, Oakland, Seattle, and Denver, have, like D.C., all decriminalized mushrooms.
The epicenter of this movement, as was the case with cannabis legalization, is Colorado. In November, voters will decide whether to approve the Natural Medicine Health Act of 2022, which would create state-regulated “healing centers” where anyone over 21 could receive psilocybin-assisted therapy.
In this week’s episode, Ryan traveled to Littlejohn, Colorado and sat down with Veronica Lightning Horse Perez, the co-leader of the Colorado mushroom campaign. They talked about how psychedelics helped treat her mental health issues, what it’s like to undergo psychedelic therapy with mushrooms and ayahuasca, and her journey to becoming the unlikely political activist at the forefront of mushroom legalization.
He was right about inflation. Biden wasn’t. Larry Summers on what’s coming next
Ryan caught up with the former treasury secretary — and thorn in the side of Biden White House economists — Larry Summers on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum for a wide-ranging interview about last 18 months of economic debates, why so many policymakers got the inflation debate wrong, what Summers thinks about Joe Manchin blowing up Build Back Better over inflation concerns, what Biden — and Pelosi — are getting wrong in their approach to China, and why we are almost certainly headed into a painful recession.
LA wants to recall its most progressive prosecutor. Inside the DA’s hostile office
THE PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: GEORGE GASCÓN — Gascón was elected district attorney of Los Angeles County in November 2020 with 54% of the vote.
“I won handsomely,” he reminisced Wednesday during a 90-minute conversation at the Hall of Justice in downtown L.A. “I got over 2 million votes.”
It was a big victory for criminal justice reformers: the leading progressive prosecutor in the country taking over the movement’s top target, the largest county in the country and one that has long been hostile to change.
California makes it relatively easy to recall an elected official. It’s been part of the state constitution since 1911.
There was talk of recalling Gascón as soon as he was sworn in. And those calls were coming from inside the Hall of Justice, where many of his deputy district attorneys revolted against the changes.
“The week that I got sworn in, they started talking about recalling me,” Gascón said. “And they had to be told you have to wait at least 90 days.”
Voters will know by August 17 whether a recall of Gascón will be on the November ballot.
Why haven’t there been more Cassidy Hutchinsons?
The question of why so few Republicans have stepped forward to testify about what they heard and saw in the Trump White House, is very much at the heart of much of the House Jan. 6 committee’s work — and of Tim Miller’s new book, “Why We Did It,” which, by chance, was released the same day as Hutchinson’s explosive testimony.
Miller’s arc is, by now, somewhat familiar: At the dawn of the Trump era, he was an in-demand Republican strategist and a top aide to Jeb Bush. He watched in horror as Trumpism swallowed the Republican establishment and his fellow GOP strategists jumped on the MAGA bandwagon. He resisted, left the party, and devoted himself to Never Trumpism.
In his new book, Miller sets out to understand the mindset of those Republicans who remained — friends and former colleagues who weren’t all that different from him, but who enthusiastically worked to elect Trump and later joined his administration.
In one chapter, he traces the journey of Alyssa Farah Griffin. In 2016, she was a 20-something conservative and top Capitol Hill aide who couldn’t bring herself to vote for Trump. By 2020, she was director of strategic comms in the Trump White House — before resigning that December.
On the outside, Griffin joined Miller in the ranks of the Never Trumpers, and began helping others do the same. Most recently, it was Griffin who helped guide Hutchinson, her good friend, through the fraught process of breaking away from the Trump world, a journey that culminated in Hutchinson’s devastating account of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6.
On Thursday, Ryan met with Miller and Griffin at the Georgetown Club for lunch — and to talk about Miller’s new book, their respective journeys navigating Trumpism and what Hutchinson’s testimony could mean for the future of Trump’s grip on the Republican Party.